The inkjet cartridge-based addressing machine has been a staple in the direct mail industry for a long time. I think most would agree that they’re reliable machines and maintenance is almost non-existent on the print heads themselves. So how do you know if this is the right inkjet for you?
If you’re leaning towards an inkjet addressing machine that sits on a tabletop, then you’ll have almost no choice to but to go with a cartridge-based system. It’s also the most logical technology for an inkjet that’s designed for smaller footprints and lower price points. The print heads (inkjet cartridges) take-up very little room and are a perfect choice for these types of machines like the one shown below.
For greater volumes of mail addressing that may include larger mail pieces, the need for higher throughput, or the ability to run inline with other equipment, then a floor-model inkjet system is necessary. The floor-model inkjet systems are typically either cartridge-based or piezoelectric drop-on-demand (DOD) print systems. What’s the difference and which one is right for you?
For the purpose of this article, we’ll keep our focus on the main features of both and how to determine which is best for your application:
Cartridge-based inkjet: At 600 x 200 dpi, the typical cartridge-based inkjet system can average about 360 feet / minute which translates into about 20,000 #10 envelopes / hour.
Piezoelectric inkjet: At the same print resolution of 600 x 200 dpi, the piezoelectric inkjet can run up to an astounding 600 feet/minute, or almost twice as fast. If you need to crank out mail, this is the clear winner.
Cartridge-based inkjet: Typical print quality ranges from 600 x 150 dpi to 600 x 600 dpi which offers enough variety for almost every application. If you’re printing an address and postal barcode, then a setting of 600 x 200 dpi or 600 x 300 dpi is a good choice to conserve ink, but also to help barcode reading errors at the USPS.
You can get excellent print quality from a cartridge-based inkjet system by choosing the right ink and substrate. Porous paper stocks are the best choice to help ensure the ink penetrates the paper which is a must for the best print quality, but it also helps with drying and avoiding smudges when the piece is handled. The inkjet cartridges print in 1/2” swaths which means they have to be “stitched” together (usually three to four cartridges) to cover a 1.5” or 2.0” print area. The drawback to this technology is that images and fonts that straddle between two cartridges may not line-up perfectly and require some adjustments in the software. The other option is to adjust the image or font so that it doesn’t straddle between two cartridges also. This is easy to do with all but the larger images in most cases.
Piezoelectric inkjet: For mail addressing, print heads range from 1” to 4” in size, depending upon the manufacturers and what they offer. This helps avoid the need to stitch together heads and with the larger 4” print head, gives you the ability to rotate the mail piece ninety-degrees for faster throughput too. The print quality on the piezoelectric print heads is far better than cartridge-based systems at any speed. For finer print needs, the piezoelectric stands out here too. Another advantage is the piezoelectric has is the ability to run U.V. Cured inks which give you the ability to print on a much wider variety of substrates without worrying about ink smudges. U.V. Cured inks require a U.V. Curing System which instantly cures the ink when it’s exposed to U.V. Light. A print sample is below.
Either of these inkjet technologies is a good choice, but if you need the best print quality on a wide variety of substrates at the highest speeds possible, then the piezoelectric inkjet system is probably your best bet.
Cartridge-based inkjet: The great thing about cartridge-based inkjet technology is the cost of each cartridge is somewhere around $28 for most types of non-solvent inks. If it’s damaged or stops printing for some reason, $28 isn’t going to set you back too far. However, anyone running their inkjet addressing machine every day and maybe on multiple shifts will be buying a lot of inkjet cartridges. A typical inkjet cartridge contains 40 ml of ink. It takes 25 inkjet cartridges to get to 1 liter of ink. $28 x 25 inkjet cartridges = $700 / liter.
Piezoelectric inkjet: The average cost of ink for this system will cost around $150 / liter. Compared to the cartridge-based inkjet, it’s practically a steal at this price. You could by 4.6 liters of this ink for every one liter of the cartridge-based ink. However, if you damage a print head on a piezoelectric inkjet, this will set you back as much as $10,000 for a new 4” print head. With proper care and maintenance, the print head will last for years, but it is something to keep in mind especially if the equipment in your shop isn’t maintained like it should be.
Cartridge-based inkjet: A typical new floor-model cartridge-based inkjet system with a friction feeder, inkjet base, two 1.5” print heads, dryer, and shingle conveyor will cost between $45,000 and $50,000. The Kirk-Rudy NetJet is a good example of this type of system.
Piezoelectric inkjet: A typical new floor-model piezoelectric inkjet system with a single 4.0” print head with the same basic configuration will cost around $100,000. The Kirk-Rudy Phoenix or Kirk-Rudy UltraJet are good examples of this type of system.
For many of our customers, the cartridge-based inkjet system makes the most sense based upon the initial investment requirements and the use of familiar and proven technology. However, if the work is piling up and you can’t get the mail addressed fast enough, then the piezoelectric inkjet system may be a better fit and save you quite a bit of money in ink and labor too.
I hope this article helps you decide which technology is right for you. Your comments are welcome and appreciated. – Greg Polk.