There has been huge growth in the use of personalization on and in packaging. Today’s brands need to differentiate themselves from crowded shelves or vast internet searches of “me too” products.
Campaigns that move past the outside packaging and print directly onto the product are customizing candies, cakes, cookies, cappuccino froth and even printing a picture of fido on his dog biscuits.
Such personalized campaigns have been made possible by inkjet technology. Inkjet has created a simple technique to offer high impact brand recognition with the customer. This personalized customer connection gives brands an opportunity to increase sales and expand upon existing brand loyalty.
As easy as it is to jet a customized message or image, creating the custom ink chemistry to enable the process was not. It should be appreciated that companies who are manufacturing food contact ink have had many obstacles to overcome.
Developing Edible Ink is no Easy Task
One company who is leading this challenge is Sun Chemical. They are one of the top world-wide ink manufacturers investing over 100million in R&D each year through 17 locations around the world. As the leading manufacturer of flexographic inks, they have expanded their market share into inkjet inks. Innovating new ink chemistry compatible with the growth and needs of custom fluid jetting for wide format as well as packaging applications. So, what does a company do when they have already developed inks for most of the worlds printing technology?
Start developing edible ink. Sun Chemical moved from ink applied on the outside to printing on the inside… on the food products themselves.
When developing edible inks there are many considerations:
- Product safety- brand reputation
- Testing protocols for contamination
- Food regulations by country
- Print consistency
- Process control
- Hardware and ink performance
- Colorant selection
- Cost vs value
It is important for the jetted fluid to taste good or provide no taste at all, but critical for ink to be food safe. Adding even more complexity, each country has different regulations. The ink used to decorate and provide value-added personalization must be managed according to its fitness for use.
Sun Chemical has partnered with various printers on the desktop side (printers for you and me) as well as high-speed production. Marketed under the Victus and SeniJet Brands, CMYK synthetic-colored inks are developed with an aqueous ink base developed for a range of printheads. Natural ink colorants are available in brown and magenta, and which are based on caramel (brown) and beet root (magenta). Other natural colors are currently being developed.
Printing for Mass Production
One company using natural-colored ink chemistry is Procys. Procys designs an inkjet printer which can jet print one or two colors, printing in scalable lane configurations. This mobile unit is constructed of print heads designed into an arm which can be raised or lowered depending on the product and where in the process the food is to be printed; before or after the oven, after flow, or before packaging.
Mounted over a moving production line of sweets, the printheads stay in a fixed position while product is detected by photcells and printed as lanes of goodies continuously pass under the print heads.
The Procys units print 400dpi in monochrome and 200 dpi for color .bmp images with a surface width of 25”. With this configuration is important to control the placement of the cookies. Any rogue cookies that fall outside of the print area will be unprinted.
Printing for Bakeries
Even for mom-and-pop bakeries there are options to create a little fun for your customers. These units are different from the higher speed production configuration. The product is arranged on a fixed bed which moves into position under the printheads. A fixed array of print heads printing bi-directional (XY) as the bed slowly advances.
The X2 EdiJet by InkCups Now can print a bed size of 20”x24” in just under 5 minutes. Using food grade CMYK ink, this unit jets 1200×1200 dpi piezo variable grayscale print heads printing at a maximum 2.95” print height. The X2 is not a small unit at 1,300lbs taking up 66”x61”x54” kitchen space it may be bigger than the ovens.
To make it easier for the user, the X2 directly connects via printer driver and is Illustrator and Photoshop compatible. They also mention Corel Draw, but to keep my designer friends from cringing, let’s not go there.
So, what does printing on a cookie cost? Well it depends on the unit. But on average, both printers estimate 1-2 cents per printed goodie.
With any of these printers head height over the product is imperative. For the professional baker, baking a cookie at a consistent height is part of their process. But for you and me, well maybe just me; I am not sure how long my print heads would last. I am sure a head strike on a sugary confection would kill the head indefinitely.
So, I guess I will just stay out of the kitchen and keep to printing on non-edibles. But if you want to cook something up with inkjet, the solutions are out there.