Inkjet Integrators – an introduction

By Ralf Schlozer / Published:

In the last 20 years, we have seen a proliferation of inkjet printing solutions with inkjet addressing more and more market segments. There are well-established markets for inkjet, like continuous feed document printing, ceramics, or label printing, while in other markets, like folding cartons or flexible packaging, inkjet presses are just about to reach the market in bigger numbers. For many applications, there are commercial inkjet press solutions available. In other markets, there are no existing presses available or those are not a good fit for the production requirements of a specific company. This is the point when inkjet integrators come in to provide custom solutions

Of course, commercially available inkjet press models can often be configured, for example by speed, number of colours, drying capacity, inline finishing, ink sets, or other factors. They draw from a limited set of modules or options, however. An inkjet integration solution is a lot more bespoke than this. An integrator might have certain pre-defined modules but they can usually be adapted in width, speed, types of inkjet heads, inks, drying, substrate transport, and more. Accordingly, a key differentiator is the consultative approach of an inkjet integrator in determining the requirements of a customer first and matching them with the technical possibilities (and budget) of the components. An integrator is also willing to build a press in the run of one – for one specific customer according to his requirements.

Three drivers are often cited as the main reason for investing in a bespoke inkjet solution:

  • A lower price compared to standard print lines.
  • Integrating inkjet into existing print lines (typically older analog presses) or enabling other processing lines (finishing, packaging, manufacturing) to print.
  • Creating a print solution for applications where no commercially available solution exists.

Cost is always an important investment criterion and if commercially available solutions are too highly specified, a tailored solution can save costs. This extends into reusing an existing substrate transport for inkjet printing, either by adding inkjet to an analogue press (hybrid press approach) or replacing the analogue imaging units. While this could lower the equipment cost, the transport specifics might not be optimised for digital print, however. Integrating inkjet into an existing processing line can extend its capabilities, like imprinting in a finishing device or offering in-line print in a packaging line. Incorporating inkjet printing components into existing production systems can require a thorough adaptation of the inkjet technology to make it fit into existing processes, however – not just in the hardware but also in process control.

The last driver is the most interesting and can be the most profitable one: when no other service provider has a matching solution. Especially when non-paper substrates are concerned, various requirements in transport, formats, drying, and inks can arise that are not covered by commercially available inkjet models. Often these markets are small in terms of print volumes produced and require special know-how as well, which does not bode well for mass-produced presses and require in-depth solution and custom solution knowledge instead.

Identifying the right solution partner

Inkjet proved to be an extremely versatile technology among all the application areas requiring print or surface decorations. The necessities of specific companies producing print differ even more. Imagine, there are more than 20 providers of inkjet heads, each with several models and options to drive the heads. There is an immense latitude in ink formulations. Obviously, not all heads and inks are suitable for a specific application, but the combinations are still countless. It does take an expert however to identify and test the most promising combinations, hone them to create an efficient and reliable solution, and provide the necessary substrate transport and workflow integration.

The choice of inkjet integrators can be confusing, however. Often companies have certain regional or application strengths and the smaller size (compared to large digital press producers) results in a lack of wide market visibility. At Inkjet Insight, the leading publication on inkjet technology, we would like to raise the awareness of inkjet integration options by profiling integration companies, including their application and technology focus, the geographical reach, services offered, and special skills.

This article is set to be the start of a series of pieces looking at specific inkjet integration providers, their focus and capabilities. The upcoming articles will be based on interviews with each company. Please contact me, if you feel, your company should be included in a future edition: .

About the Author

Ralf Schlozer

Ralf Schlozer is Independent Print Analyst. Ralf provides analysis, sizing and forecasting the market for digital printing technologies and associated applications and business processes. Connect with Ralf on LinkedIn

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