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Three Mainstream Printheads for Digital Printing

Printheads used for digital printing are becoming more and more popular in the market, and more and more products are printed with digital technology. The current quotation for transfer printing has reached more than 3 yuan per square meter, and the price of reactive printing is about 15 yuan. The processing costs that are most similar to traditional printing costs are transfer printing. The gap between reactive ink and traditional screen printing is still about half. The key point that affects this processing cost is the printhead and ink.

Currently, the mainstream printheads used for digital printing are Kyocera, Starfire, and Samba. The first two types of printheads have been used in the Chinese market for more than five years. Everyone knows their advantages and disadvantages. For example, Starfire printheads are mostly used for coatings and then dispersion; Kyocera printheads are mostly used for activation and then dispersion; and for the application of Samba printheads, domestic equipment is mainly used for more dispersion and less activation. In addition, the time used is still far less than one year, so now It’s still difficult to evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. However, judging from the previous application history of the two printheads, the risk of using them for activity is far greater than that of dispersion.

We want to reduce the loss cost in the application of printheads. Only by carefully caring for the printheads and understanding the characteristics of various types of printheads can we make them work longer. This is the key thing we can do to reduce costs at present. Let’s talk about some of my opinions and suggestions on the three currently commonly used printheads.

1. Kyocera Printheads Application

① Ink tested and certified by Kyocera Corporation. Currently, some ink manufacturers cooperate with Kyocera and issue ink test reports. The main test items are as follows:

A. Material compatibility testing. Epoxy glue, filter, nozzle mouth, sealing material.
B. Injection test. The temperature and ink droplet speed during spraying are up to standard, as well as satellite spot conditions, tailing conditions, and ink leakage.
C. Others. The degree of quick drying and the measured speed of ink droplets.

There are some domestic ink companies whose ink has passed the test of Kyocera, but I have not seen the certification certificate issued by Kyocera. It is said that Kyocera mainly cooperates with equipment factories to do this kind of business cooperation, so there are related supporting ink factories. It can only sign relevant certification certificates with Kyocera through its supporting equipment factory. Several companies said they expect to see certification certificates soon by the end of the year.

The certified ink must not only pass the compatibility of the ink with the printhead but also pass some printing performance of the printhead. In this way, Kyocera must also do the corresponding ink waveform matching work, so that the corresponding waveform must be used when using it. The printhead produces the best printing effect. At present, it has only passed the test of Kyocera. There is no corresponding small matching ink. It can only be said that it can be used, but it does not bring out the best performance of the printhead.

Of course, the cost of ink certified by Kyocera will increase by at least 5-10%. Perhaps for this reason, many equipment manufacturers now only need to pass the inspection and do not need a certificate. Therefore, customers who also want to use Kyocera inks are best to ask and see if they have passed the inspection certificate from the Kyocera printhead factory. This is a guarantee for the printheads they use.

② Improvement of commonly used reactive inks. Customers often tell me that the printheads used for black and royal blue inks break down faster than printheads of other colors. In addition, some users also have complaints about yellow and cyan. For this reason, some ink factories are also making continuous efforts to improve several inks that cause greater damage to the printheads.

A. Black ink. At present, most companies use dark black made of black 5 raw materials. In order to prevent hydrolysis, this ink usually has a pH value of about 4.0-4.5. This pH value has a great impact on the glue in the printhead. Therefore, some powerful ink factories will modify the black 5 raw material. According to their own introduction, the improved PH value will become about 7.0-7.5. Therefore, the degree of damage to the printhead caused by using their black reactive ink is basically the same as that of other colors. Ink factories that have not yet modified it can also make attempts in this regard.

B. Royal blue ink. The raw material is sapphire blue No. 49, which is characterized by slowly hydrolyzing. To prevent it from hydrolyzing, its pH value should not be too high. Therefore, when using this color, you must control the ink’s factory time. In other words, ink used for more than three months will cause greater damage to the printhead.

C. Yellow ink. It is a double-dye structure. It is much better to synthesize them separately than to synthesize them in one pot. This can at least increase the light-fastness by more than half a level. However, the yellow findings of some companies also have a certain impact on the glue of the printhead. Ink factories with problems should pay attention to this and make timely improvements.

D.Cyan ink. The color of the ink from some companies is a bit dark, and there are certain problems with washing, so this aspect is also a point of concern when choosing a good cyan ink.

Yang Cheng: Among the machines exhibited at the 2018 ITMA exhibition, Kyocera printheads accounted for the highest share of 40%. This also shows that it is currently the most widely used printhead in digital textile equipment. However, in terms of its glue and structure, It is not very ideal, so its application life is often only about one to one and a half years, which will bring greater burden and pressure to users when they choose equipment again.

I also met relevant personnel from Kyocera Printhead Company at the exhibition. They confidently told me that new and improved printheads will be launched by the end of this year. But such good news does happen every year, and the quality of Kyocera Printheads is also improving every year. Improvement, but it is still a bit far from the user’s expectations, which shows that this improvement is also very difficult. It is not as easy as everyone thinks and can be improved in one step.

This improvement is mainly to improve the strength of the printhead and the corrosion resistance of the glue and water-resistant ink. This improvement can extend the service life of the printhead, which is also one of the improvements that everyone expects. But next year more printheads will be launched, which will have a greater impact on Kyocera’s position as the leader in digital textile equipment. By this time next year, it will be very difficult to maintain this high proportion. I hope This improvement can further consolidate and enhance the dominance of Kyocera printheads in digital textile equipment.

2.  Starfire Printheads Application

This printhead is currently the most durable among the mainstream printheads in use, and it is usually used first for the most difficult inks. It’s just that the ink droplets of this printhead are a bit large at present, and the physical accuracy is not very high, which restricts its wide application. For this reason, the printhead factory has also developed a 7PL small ink droplet nozzle, but its variable point performance is not so ideal in practical applications. Therefore, I also suggest that some board card manufacturers should conduct in-depth research and practice on the characteristics of Starfire printheads that are powerful and difficult to control the changes in the number of ink droplets at variable points. From my experience, the main reason is that it is difficult to find the phase of the oscillation wave when the waveform cuts in at a large point, which makes the size of the ink droplets difficult to control when there are multiple waves. At the same time, the speed of the ink droplets is also constantly changing. If the ink drop volumes of large, medium and small ink droplets are not spread out, the variable point where the speed difference is too large cannot be used. For this type of ink droplet with relatively high energy, currently, only one fixed point can be used to ensure the above requirements. Sometimes, when the match is not very good, the satellite dots or tailing phenomenon behind this fixed point are more severe than other printheads.

Once a company enables the three-level variable point for small picolitre Starfire printheads, this printhead will pose a great challenge to Kyocera printheads. Interested equipment manufacturers can pay attention.

Yang Cheng: The proportion of Fuji series printheads used in all exhibit machines at the exhibition was 29%, ranking second in the proportion of printheads used in all exhibit machines. This also shows that Fuji series printheads are still widely used in digital textile equipment. Fujifilm mainly displayed several water-based ink-supporting nozzles specially used for digital textile printing equipment.

Starfire printheads have different ink droplet printheads (7, 10, 24pl) to choose from. These printheads are used in the equipment exhibited at the exhibition, mainly for coatings, and reactive and dispersed inks (only these three inks were demonstrated at the exhibition). As for the SG600 printhead that was highlighted this time, two companies have applied it to Single-Pass machines and high-speed scanning machines respectively. Judging from the samples printed on-site, its printing accuracy and output are both satisfactory. It is expected that more equipment manufacturers will adopt this printhead at next year’s exhibition. The fact that this printhead can be used in such a short period of time from its introduction to actual equipment shows that it is relatively mature, and on the other hand, it shows that Fujifilm’s improvement of this new printhead and the cooperation and efforts of the equipment manufacturers are Inseparable, from the perspective of output alone, an SG600 printhead is basically equivalent to a Kyocera printhead, so the successful application of this nozzle in digital printing equipment is also a strong competitor for other ones.

3. Samba Printhead Application

At present, the equipment for using reactive and dispersed ink in Samba printheads has been put into use in actual factories, but it has not been used for a long time. Some of its problems have not been publicly exposed, so many people do not know much about the current application status of this printhead. Therefore On many public occasions, both the printhead factory, equipment factory, and customers said that everything about it was fine, and they could only talk about it before they could figure out the problem. But this statement is also an incomplete review of the Samba printhead. It also shows that we really don’t know whether it can adapt to different inks, and we can’t tell where its current shortcomings are.

A printhead has its advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, at this meeting, I originally wanted to hear some about the shortcomings, so that some improvements can be initiated to adapt to its shortcomings. Only by understanding it correctly can we give full play to its talents and place it in the most applicable industry and ink. This is also the most responsible evaluation of this printhead. Because I haven’t heard any reviews in this area, some uninformed risks are hidden in investment and application.

Judging from the application process of the first two printheads, for a printhead to be maturely used in this industry, it must have at least two years of application experience. Only then will everyone have a correct understanding of its performance. At the same time, the factory will also collect some existing problems. Some major improvements are required to adapt to the application needs of this industry. But regardless of the fact that this printhead still has some shortcomings in its current use in this industry, the technology is the direction of future development. As far as I know, every factory is currently developing this type of printhead and will work hard to solve and improve problems that arise during application.

Yang Cheng: Only one foreign company was using Samba printheads at the exhibition. It used G3L printheads for display on a scanning machine. It is currently being promoted as the main equipment and is mainly used for reactive ink. In fact, it is also suitable for dispersion and acid inks.

Domestic equipment using this nozzle has launched several Single-Pass machines in the past two years and has been used by several customers. The ink used is active and dispersed, but this year we have not seen any new growth in the application of this type of printhead. This also shows that there are still many problems that need to be solved in the application. Only by working hard to solve these existing problems can we break through the situation of no new growth.

The Samba simplified nozzle GAMA33 printhead has also been launched by domestic manufacturers as equipment for dispersing ink. I know that some users have found the overall situation to be good after half a year of trial use. For example, one of the problems was originally excessive heat (long printing time and the frequency reaching the standard will lead to a higher temperature in the printhead) affecting the ink viscosity and printing quality. Later, there were countermeasures to solve this problem (involving solutions, It is not convenient to inform you at the moment). It’s a pity that we still haven’t had time to participate in this exhibition. We have to wait until the exhibition early next year to see it.

The GAMA99 with a printhead width of 99mm has not yet been put into mass production. It is estimated that equipment with corresponding ones will be launched next year. There is a company abroad that uses two GMA99 heads to form one head for Single-Pass digital textile machines. Although the physical accuracy of the dual head has reached 600dpi, because its maximum ink droplet volume does not exceed 20pl, it is still insufficient for printing deeper patterns, so other solutions are still needed to make up for it. But at least the dual GMA99 appears. One of its printheads is equivalent to the output of about 0.9 Kyocera printheads, and the quality and lifespan are better than Kyocera nozzles. Therefore, its appearance is also a serious challenge for other printheads used in digital textile equipment.

4. Assessment of Damage to Printheads

When analyzing the damage to a printhead, four aspects are usually considered:

A. First, the most vulnerable parts and components of the printhead itself are damaged;

B. Second, the impact caused by ink;

C. Third, maintenance issues during use;

D. Fourth, the equipment manufacturer has problems when designing the ink path.

From what we have collected so far, the reasons for premature damage to the samba printhead are mainly based on these four aspects, and it is not easy to determine which one has the greater weight. Through analysis, solutions can be formulated, so that the nozzle can be used better and longer, and the application cost can be greatly reduced.

At present, we are trying to reduce the price of printheads through various improvements. Only printheads such as Samba that use MEMS thin film PZT technology are the most promising, while other nozzles have little chance of reducing their prices. Therefore, only by increasing the quantity of samba printheads can it be possible to reduce the price. The probability of falling is at least half. Therefore, we should pay attention to all issues in the application of this printhead, not confidentiality issues.

5. Price of Ink

Many users’ expectations for ink would ideally be reduced by another 30-40% so that the application volume in this industry will increase. It is estimated that news about ink price cuts will continue to emerge in the next two years. For this reason, the price of supporting parts for ink production cannot escape the trend of price cuts. Therefore, each manufacturer must be mentally prepared for price cuts to adapt to this round of ink price cuts.

Some traditional printing and dyeing manufacturers have introduced or will introduce some digital printing equipment. They discussed with me whether they could prepare ink by themselves. This is also a way to reduce ink costs. After the meeting, we also communicated with some raw material factories capable of producing and purifying pulp. Several raw material factories were very interested and said they would launch this type of business idea before the end of this year. They provide the purified color paste to some customers who use large amounts of ink and small ink factories. This way, they do not have to worry about transporting low-priced ink on the road, but only worry about transporting their own high-purity, high-priced color paste.

It is not difficult to prepare ink by yourself. In terms of equipment, you should consider building a small water station and purchasing some mixing tanks (separate for each color). For ink preparation with a filtration output of no more than 400 liters a day, you only need to buy it once. A capsule filter for sexual application is sufficient and has the lowest investment cost. For companies with a daily output of more than 1 ton, it is better to purchase a filter trolley with replaceable filter elements.

As for the process, usually, the raw material factory will provide a relatively classic formula, but each company has to make some minor changes according to its own situation. In discussions with experts from a technology company, they also said that for some additives required for mixing and dispersion, several packages like instant noodles can be provided and put into the mixing tank in sequence. Just control the temperature, pressure and time.

Freshly prepared ink is usually very easy to use and will not clog the nozzle. In this way, the ink produced at one time can be used up within a few days, which is very beneficial for reducing costs and improving printing stability. You can consider this option when you expect to use more than 10 tons of ink per month. At present, there are several companies that provide purified active, acidic, and dispersed ink pulp materials, and there are also companies that provide mixing tanks and filtering equipment. It is estimated that this solution will be put into practice by some major ink applications in two years.

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