The packaging industry uses laser marking as an important alternative to ink-based coding solutions. The decision to opt for laser as opposed to inkjet comes down to a number of factors.
Lasers have the edge for coding on PET bottles, film, cardboard boxes and labels. They are also very precise and capable of producing accurate, small characters. They deliver better quality and contrast, and the results are very durable. Inkjet usually scores higher on speed, and works well on glass, rigid plastics, cables and cans, and can use colour.
For authoritative advice on laser marking check out PPMA Member Companies who provide expert services on Laser Marking Machines and Laser Coders.
How does a laser marking machine work?
Laser marking is based on a laser’s ability to either remove a coating (e.g. a coloured layer on white paper) or to burn an image onto a surface. In either case complex and precise marking is possible, with programmable content.
What do laser marking machines cost?
Cost matters for any investment decision. Lasers generally require a higher initial investment, but once attached to a packaging machine, will run at high speed without ink costs. Ink costs alone mean that lasers can work out as a more cost-effective option than ink jet printers. And because they do not use ink, they are more environmentally friendly, an increasingly important consideration for all businesses.
Expect an inkjet solution to have lower initial costs than a laser marker. If ink jet quality works for your application they may well be the best choice. The answer will come from the number and type of characters or graphics you need to print and the way in which they are read.
What is laser marking used for?
Laser coding is adaptable to the needs of different categories of product, such as heat sensitive chocolate and confectionery to more delicate items such as cakes, biscuits and eggs. They are also frequently used for powdered, fresh and frozen foods because they work well in cold and damp packaging environments as well as hot and dusty ones. They will work well with a large variety of substrates including glass, plastic, paper and cartons. They also offer great control of contrast to help readability. Lasers can also be programmed for large amounts of complex information in the codes they produce to aid consumer experience as well as traceability and tracking.
Laser coding developments
Laser coding developed with traditional CO2 lasers which work by using carbon dioxide which is stimulated with electricity to create a high-quality beam. Recent years have seen the adoption of fibre lasers which produce a higher intensity beam suitable for working with metals and plastics as well as the light, flexible films used in the food industry. Fibre lasers also last significantly longer than CO2 lasers.
Laser engraving machines show a further use of laser technology, particularly for small volume and speciality purposes (e.g. engraving metal cutlery, wood and glass including mirrors).
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