Demystifying Continuous Inkjet (CIJ) Printing

As an entrepreneurship consultant, I often get asked "What is continuous inkjet printing, and how can it benefit my small business?" In this article, I‘ll provide a detailed overview of how CIJ works, its evolution and capabilities, along with perspectives from my experience helping companies implement CIJ solutions.

A Brief History of CIJ‘s Origins and Innovations

The foundations of CIJ were laid in the late 19th century, but it wasn‘t until the 1960s that the technology became commercially viable. Key milestones include:

  • 1833: Felix Savart discovers liquid ink streams can break into uniform droplets.
  • 1878: Lord Rayleigh mathematically analyzes droplet formation.
  • 1948: Rune Elmqvist invents first inkjet device for recording medical data.
  • 1960s: Richard Sweet pioneers modern CIJ printing at Stanford, applies charge to droplets.
  • 1970s: IBM and other companies launch early CIJ printers for commercial use.
  • 2005: Konica Minolta introduces new printhead designs for higher precision.
  • Today: CIJ capabilities and inks continue advancing, expanding applications.

How CIJ Printing Actually Works

CIJ might seem mystifying, but the technique boils down to controlling a continuous stream of microscopic ink droplets:

  • Ink is pumped under high pressure through a tiny nozzle to create a steady stream of uniform droplets.
  • The droplets are then subjected to an electrostatic charge right before exiting the printhead.
  • As the charged droplets enter an electrostatic field, their trajectory is deflected by electrostatic plates.
  • Charged droplets hit the substrate to form the desired print pattern, while uncharged ones are recirculated into the ink system.
  • This entire process repeats up to 100,000 times per second!
[Diagram of key CIJ components]

The Benefits Driving CIJ‘s Popularity

CIJ adoption has accelerated thanks to benefits like:

  • High Quality: Precise droplet placement enables sharp, consistent printing at 300+ dpi.
  • High Speed: Print speeds exceeding 1000 feet/min are possible for inline coding.
  • Uptime: No nozzle clogging means runtimes of weeks or months before maintenance.
  • Substrate Flexibility: CIJ can print on plastics, metals, cardboard, shrink wrap, and more.
  • Simplified Operation: Intuitive setup and controls reduce operator training time.
  • ROI: Code Assurance analytics can reduce rework and recalls, delivering ROI in months.

Innovative CIJ Applications Across Industries

From cookies to circuit boards, CIJ enables countless custom coding and marking applications:

  • Product coding – Expiration dates, logos, barcodes on food, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods
  • Component marking – Part numbers, serials, dimensional data on circuit boards, automotive parts
  • Anti-counterfeiting – Unique serialized codes to verify legitimacy, prevent grey market diversion
  • Apparel tagging – Care instructions, branding directly onto fabrics, eliminating tags
  • Packaging – Identifying contents, dates, destinations on cartons, crates, wraps without labels

Guidance for Entrepreneurs Exploring CIJ

As an entrepreneur, focus on using CIJ to add value – not just meet regulations:

  • Carefully assess your unique coding needs across products, packaging, and production processes.
  • Seek maximum uptime and minimal touch for operators through latest printhead and fluid innovations.
  • Consider leasing options to deploy CIJ affordably.
  • Integrate coding data with ERP, MES and QA systems for actionable Code Assurance intelligence.
  • Let CIJ enable just-in-time production, customization, and branding for strategic advantage.

While CIJ has advantages, also evaluate thermal inkjet, laser marking, and label printing options based on your requirements. The key is using coding automation to unlock strategic benefits, whatever technology you choose.


[1] Smithers Pira, The Future of Digital Print for Packaging to 2024
[2] Harpell Associates, State of Industrial Digital Printing 2020
[3] Packaging Strategies, Survey of Food Manufacturers‘ Coding Practices