Regardless of whether you are new to production inkjet or trying to work through production challenges, success often comes with a well-rounded approach that includes filling knowledge gaps and executing critical process steps. Otherwise, confusion commonly sets in and frustration builds among all parties involved.
Success with inkjet technology is greatly increased by focusing on these 8 areas. They will accelerate the learning curve and reduce many unpleasant surprises.
- Color and Image Quality Expectations – It’s important to understand the the capabilities of your inkjet print technology, fluids and substrates and properly set expectations. While similar quality output can be produced on different equipment, the unique capabilities of your press may impact the final print product and it’s important to take into account YOUR artwork, workflow, speeds, feeds and substrates.
- Following Delta E (dE) Standards from Conventional Processes – Inkjet Inks are not ISO controlled and there variations can range as wide as 12 dE from one ink set to another. Depending on your ink combinations (4 or 4+) regardless of the chemistry, you will find certain hue or shades are harder to reproduce. Aqueous pigment inks have a different reproducible color range than dye or UV. Each ink chemistry and substrate combination will lend itself to different reproducible ranges and dE standards should be represented to what YOUR inkjet process can reproduce.
- Ink to Substrate Compatibility – Substrate, coating, surface tension, temperature and static cause different reactions when ink droplets makes contact with the substrate and can cause print quality issues. Identifying and understanding the cause and effect of these issues should be a part of every material handling and production guidelines.
- Compare Process Costs and Preparation to Expectations – When working with any inkjet application, understand “add on” costs which may be needed for your chosen substrates. Depending on your color and quality expectations, you may need special chemistry or technology added to your process. You should balance substrate costs with these add-ons as well as understand how they may affect your process. This may include the need to slow down a device, add additional dryers, add treatments, increased energy, increased maintenance. They all add to your overall costs as well as introduce new elements to manage in the process. You should also understand adding fluids or process additions affect your print quality requirements. For inkjet, when a solution is introduced, you also introduce new process variables.
- Understanding the “Right” Amount of Ink – Just because your print technology can produce a range of resolutions, the highest resolution doesn’t necessarily mean that it is the best setting for your required substrate. Higher resolutions with larger drop sizes can produce a layering affect which causes saturation and dry/curing issues as well as plugging in highlight and mid tone areas. Whereas, small drop sizes at low resolutions such as 300-600 can limit the ink volume required for proper densities. It is a balance between the drop size, drops per dot (DPD), resolution and wet out of the substrate. You should test combinations to find the best ink to substrate combination for density and color requirements. In the process, you could also discover ink savings.
- Artwork Development – This one should be a no brainier. Often, we see artwork which is prepared for a conventional process but doesn’t work well on an inkjet press. Graphic transparency, solids and highlight areas can give us unexpected results and if expectations are based on conventional processes, print rejection can occur. Each inkjet process has its limits based on speed, motion control, drying, press width, ink and substrate compatibility. Understanding the limitations of your print process will assist your designers and sales people set proper expectations and help avoid surprises.
- Color Management and the RIP Connection – It is important to understand the reproducible color space of your print device and substrate combination. Proper profiling each substrate at different drops per dot (DPD), resolution, and speeds will create a well-rounded selection of profiles and ink settings that help meet print quality expectations and help with ink savings. Once you have developed accurate profiles, creating simulation profiles for Adobe color management will help designers understand the process’s reproducible color space to prepare properly designed files. This will also ensure that the files are accurately and efficiently processed through the RIP.
- Production Changes – Substrate, speeds, pre & post coatings or ink settings changed in your print process can affect everything in the process from upstream to downstream. Once you determine the correct process and substrate conditions, lock it in. Understand and document why you are using set process conditions so future changes can be discussed clearly. There will always be someone within your organization with grand ideas of increasing throughput or reducing fluids for cost savings who does not understand the impact it will have on the process. Showing them documentation and print samples creates a clearer explanation of why process changes do not come without consequence or mechanical changes.
I recommend that you set proper expectations for everyone involved who can affect your process. Inkjet is moving fast into every aspect of production printing. No matter if you are transactional or direct mail roll-fed shop, commercial sheet-fed or industrial, inkjet brings change and that change can be managed if process variables are understood clearly.
Need some help? Well, that’s why Inkjet Insight is here. Give us a shout with any questions or requests to help with investigation through integration.