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Continuous Inkjet Printers

    Continuous inkjet printer

    Continuous Inkjet Printers, or CIJ printers, have been around for over 10 years, but they’re exclusively used by big companies, with high speed productions lines and most importantly, conveyor belts.

    I only discovered them a couple of years ago at a trade show, when they became relevant to my own business at Christmas, after hand dating hundreds of products.

    Manual Labelling

    I’ve tried all sorts of solutions to label my biscuit boxes:

    • hand written – slow and inconsistent, especially when I got tired and wrote the wrong year on them
    • ink stamp – even quick drying ink doesn’t dry fast enough, or it dries on the stamp and is messy to clear for the next batch
    • stickers / labels – expensive and slow to peel and stick small stickers
    • labelling gun / price gun – temperamental, only available on eBay and from retail supply shops with specific labels required for each brand

    When I first saw “mini” continuous inkjet printers I was immediately sold. I wanted one right there and then and they were only £3,000. (I didn’t actually have £3,000, but at bakery equipment trade shows, budgets are expected to be £50k+). After a walk around I discovered even cheaper versions, hand held printers that looked like electric drills. You could just hold them up to a box, pull the trigger and see your logo or any text sprayed onto the surface, instantly dry and indelible.

    Professional Encoding

    Then I saw the ultimate version. It was tiny. It included a mini conveyor belt, a printer cartridge on a stick and a 4″ screen. Like all the CIJ printers, it printed up to 12mm high, or with two cartridge heads, 24mm high. It was unbranded and only £1,000. That’s when I realised they were everywhere and readily available. I held back my enthusiasm and decided to research them further before purchasing anything. I quickly disguised my complete lack of experience that showed I had no idea this technology had existed for over ten years (found that out later on YouTube) and approached a stand to explore them further. Here’s what I discovered:

    Rea Jet continuous inkjet printer
    Continuous inkjet technology from Rea Jet
    continuous inkjet printer
    Unbranded CIJ printer

    The first machine you see above, is the industry standard. It does everything you need for batch and date labelling, as well as logos, multiple product variations and a host of other features for large scale production. Typically, when you talk to sales people, their first pitch is “we’ll send someone out to your factory.” This is perfectly reasonable. Almost everything in the commercial bakery world has an element of custom fitting to your production line. My factory was 300 square feet. Baking at home, it’s 1 metre of counter top and the kitchen table. I would look a right plonker if an engineer came out.

    I would like to mention, I didn’t visit the Rea Jet stand, where the first photo above comes from. I really like the look of their products though, and from their website they seem like ideal suppliers. You can see the printer on their website here:

    The people I did talk to at the trade show eagerly explained how the printers have to be a set height, carefully installed and would be ideal for my inline production area, i.e. installed on my conveyors. I only had two conveyors and neither of them moved fast enough to justify the machines they were selling.

    What I really wanted, and why I mention them at all, is because I had developed a home flow wrapper. A machine that could automatically wrap bakery products at small scale, which immediately opened up the potential for mini conveyor belts, with cheap continuous inkjet printers. They won’t do everything the professional machines will do, and they certainly don’t operate at the same speeds, but that’s ok. I can’t bake 70,000 products every eight hours anyway.

    The second photo is a cheap unbranded continuous inkjet printer. It has a 4″ screen, comes with the inkjet head and the mounting kit. Conveyors are sold separately. So is ink. Most of them seem to use Brother inkjet cartridges but on Alibaba where I found this one, cartridges are £30 each, while the printer is only £200.

    A little conveyor is another £200-£300 but prices for the printers vary wildly across Alibaba, Amazon and eBay, between £300 and £1,500, but all with similar looking machines. The ink also worries me. If I buy a cheap unbranded machine, will I still be able to get ink for it at a decent price in a years time, or five years time? (These prices were checked in July 2023).

    Even without my future bagging machine, a mini high speed batch and date coder would save me a ton of time, especially at Christmas. I could also print onto plastic wrapped products, not just cardboard outers, for wedding favours, hospitality and corporate gifts. I could even print ingredients and best before dates on individually wrapped products. The possibilities look brilliant, but I’ll have to test them first.

    Keep an eye on my YouTube channel. For the last quarter of 2023 I’m planning on getting a couple of CIJ demo machines to test them out. When I have the results I’ll post them here and on my YouTube channel, then you can decide for yourself how much time you would save and if it’s worth the money.

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