One of the two most exciting new printing technologies to emerge since the advent of offset in the early 1900s is inkjet. The other was Chester Carlson’s 1930s invention of xerography, or electrophotographic printing. However, unlike xerography, inkjet’s origins go back at least to the 19 century – it’s just taken a while for the ideas to be matched by the technology capable of delivering millions of tiny ink droplets onto a substrate, in the form of the modern inkjet printhead.
Around 1873, famed British inventor Lord Kelvin patented his ‘Syphon Recorder’ for tracing incoming telegraph messages. This was the first printer to use ejected ink droplets to form an image. However, not to be outdone, France claims the first theoretical inkjet application because, in 1754, a Msr. L’Abbé Nollet, Master of Physics for the Dauphin of France, conducted research into the effects of static electricity on the flow of liquid droplets from capillary tubes. According to Inkjet guru Graeme Minto, who went on to found Domino Inkjet Sciences in 1978, Nollet also reported the very first blocked nozzles!
Inkjet remained an idea looking for a market until the 1950s when the Siemens company introduced a medical recorder that used ejected ink droplets to mark the paper. In the years that followed, inkjet was seen as primarily a marking and encoding method of printing, placing a single colour of informational data onto cartons, boxes and products such as plastic pipes.
Fast forward to 2015 and we can see that inkjet for full-colour printing with stunningly vibrant detail, is all around us. What caused this acceleration in inkjet’s capability?
Printheads – The Final Interface Between Ink and Material
Without doubt, it was the development of precision inkjet printheads and the jettable inks to pass through the fine nozzles. These printheads fall into three categories:
- Continuous –a constant stream of tiny droplets is electrostatically excited to deposit ink on a substrate, with the remainder being recirculated.
- Thermal –heat is used to repeatedly create a ‘bubble’ inside a chamber, which forces the ink droplets out of nozzles.
- Piezo –a piezo crystal receives an electric charge causing it to oscillate and eject ink droplets with great precision.
All three have their applications in today’s inkjet printing market, but it is piezo’s precision and ability to jet a variety of inks and substances that has caused it to experience the greatest growth rate.
All printheads can be divided into two loose categories: consumer and industrial. The consumer versions, although often capable of excellent print results, are relatively short-term in lifecycle or even regarded as disposable items, just like a cartridge of ink. For industrial applications, durability is essential as, for example, a billboard printer might be continually printing for 18 hours a day across a 5-metre media width. Industrial-strength printheads are a must.
Flatbed UV and wide format roll printer manufacturers tend to be protective about revealing what printheads are in their machines. To be fair, the printhead is only part of the story; the whole ink carriage and control system is equally important, and the ink must be perfectly matched to the printhead. The whole system must be perfectly in tune – just like the fuel injectors in a Formula 1 racecar.
Some printer manufacturers use printheads from more than one supplier, depending on the application and speed required. Replacing industrial-grade printheads is expensive since a fast and wide printer might have anything up to 128 or even hundreds of printheads under the hood. At something between $2,000 and $6,000 apiece and sometimes even more, it’s easy to see how it adds up.
One of the world’s fastest industrial flatbed UV printers capable of near-photographic quality is the Inca Onset S50i, which has 56 Fujifilm Dimatix Sapphire printheads per colour and is capable of delivering up to 2.3 billion droplets of ink every second!
30 Years of Experience in Printheads
Fujifilm acquired Dimatix in 2006, recognizing the future growth of industrial inkjet. Prior to being renamed Dimatix, the company was known as Spectra Inc and the Spectra name lives on in some of the product names. Established in 1984, Spectra became the pre-eminent name in printheads all over the world with dozens of manufacturers incorporating Spectra heads into their machines. This tradition continues to today.
FUJIFILM Dimatix, Inc., the world’s leading supplier of drop-on-demand inkjet printheads, supplies printheads to several leading wide and grand format printer manufacturers. Heavy R&D investment has resulted in faster and finer ink droplets and the newest Samba head, which has an incredible 2,048 individually addressable nozzles per 43mm head and a native droplet size of 2.4 picolitres (trillionths of a litre) and 1200 dpi native resolution, Dimatix claim as the “Most Advanced Technology Available in the Industry.”
But not every application needs such specification. Dimatix also makes printheads for materials deposition, as used in 3D printers, such as the SX and SE 3 speciality units, which work best at 10 or 30pl drop size. Dimatix Galaxy PH printheads are for hot-melt fluid deposition and work well at 30pl drop size. In all, more than 30 printhead variants are in the Fujifilm Dimatix range, with names like Starfire, Emerald, Sapphire, Polaris, Nova and Spectra. Every variant has its own application to suit printer manufacturers and inks all over the world.
Fujifilm Dimatix works with all of the world’s leading ink manufacturers to make printheads optimized for all kinds of inks – the symbiosis between printhead and ink cannot be over-stated. Of course, Fujifilm is a leading ink manufacturer with Fujifilm Imaging Colorants in the USA having the world’s largest capacity for aqueous ink production and Fujifilm Specialty Ink Systems, based in the UK, a leading innovator in UV and other inks. It may come as a surprise that, despite having no offset inks, Fujifilm is ranked as among the ten largest ink manufacturers globally by Ink World magazine.
With printheads being such a vital part of any industrial-grade inkjet printer, it’s always worth knowing what is ‘under the hood.’ If you find they are Fujifilm Dimatix – you know they’re the best!
1. World’s first inkjet? Lord Kelvin’s Syphon Recorder, 1873
2. A modern printhead – Fujifilm Dimatix Q class