Printheads : Part of the EquationShahid
By Melissa Donovan
Printheads are in many ways the muscle of a printer. When constructed correctly, they enable printing to various materials and surfaces at specific speeds. Working in tandem with ink, other hardware components, and software enables print service providers (PSPs) to continue digitally decorating and creating applications far beyond what was once imagined.
Above: Epson PrecisionCore MicroTFP printhead.
Despite a volatile past 12 months, many printhead manufacturers debuted new printhead technology in 2020.
Epson’s latest generation of printheads are larger and more advanced than the previous version. These offer more nozzles, speeds are over 2.5 times previous printers, and include nozzle verification technology to manage and monitor each nozzle automatically by the printer. There are also additional nozzles for dedicated channels for photo and matte black ink.
FUJIFILM Dimatix Inc. launched the DIMATIX Samba G5L in October 2020. It features a parallelogram design on the nozzle plate to offer simplified printhead stitching—enabling integration in production environments. The DIMATIX Samba G5L offers a 30 to 45 percent larger drop size, providing higher ink coverage at production speeds at 1,200×1,200 or 1,200×600 dpi printing to produce color rich prints.
Konica Minolta announced in June 2020 the KM1024aLHG-RC, a large drop, dual-path nozzle-level recirculation printhead. The dual-path recirculation removes air or ink sediment and ensures it can reliably run with the most difficult inks and fluids. A native 25 picoliter drop volume combined with new analog-waveform electronics greatly enhances the printhead’s laydown rate.
In December 2020, Kyocera Corporation announced the KJ4B-EX 1200 printhead, designed for a range of printing applications with a focus on graphics. A 1,200 dpi ink recirculation structure achieves high-resolution printing with 25 percent faster print speed over conventional models. The maximum jetting frequency is 80 KHz to enable single-pass printing up to 100 meters per minute when printing in the 1,200 dpi feed direction.
Memjet added enhancements to its second-generation printing technology, DuraLink XL, in October 2019. DuraLink XL enhancements include a robust printhead, four times the printhead life, and an expanded color gamut. Memjet added orange, green, and violet to DuraLink, creating a seven-color option for OEM partners. To reduce the possibility of contact between the printhead and the substrate, DuraLink is now positioned up to three millimeters above the board.
Ricoh Printing Systems America launched the TH5241 thin film printhead in July 2020. It features a 1.04-inch print swath at a two to three picoliter drop size. The high-performance flexibility includes one-, two-, and four-color printing at 600, 300, and 150 dpi, respectively. The printhead targets label and direct to garment applications.
SII Printek Inc.’s newest printhead announcement centers on its RC1536 series printhead. A 1,536 nozzles recirculation printhead with an active print width of 108.3 millimeters, it offers a firing frequency of up to 37 KHz. The drop volume ranges from 13 to 225 picoliter depending on the printhead in the series.
Xaar’s biggest announcement in the last 12 months is its ImagineX technology, a new bulk printhead platform using high laydown technology. It enables frequencies up to 150 KHz, a resolution of 1,440 dpi, viscosity above 100cP, temperatures up to 200 degrees Celsius, and works with all fluids including aqueous.
The Big Picture
The newest printhead innovations improve the daily operations of print providers’ businesses in positive ways. Namely, they enable PSPs to increase productivity.
There is a focus on delivering higher flux or ink laydown per unit time while also enhancing jetting accuracy, according to John Harman, director sales and strategy, Ricoh. The Ricoh MH5320 printhead series delivers 42 percent higher ink laydown than the MH5420.
“These effect a PSP’s daily business by enabling increased productivity—i.e. more print jobs per day and delivering higher image quality output to their customers,” he says.
Viscosity increases demand more of the printhead. “A specific example in graphics is the ability to increase the color loading in an ink, meaning more vibrant colors can be achieved with fewer print passes—making machines faster,” notes Jason Remnant, go to market manager, Xaar.
Another example, Kyocera’s KJ4B-EX 1200 printhead is designed to facilitate ink circulation while enabling strict temperature control for stable printing at high resolution and high jet frequency.
“By installing this printhead in a digital printing machine, you can achieve high-resolution output with higher added value and higher productivity consistently. In other words, this device can help PSPs in their quest to increase revenues and profit margins,” explains Ayumu Matsumoto, deputy technical manager, printing device division, Kyocera.
It is all about simplifying the process for the print provider. “Improved print speeds and other innovative technology simplify customers’ usage of these devices,” shares Reed Hecht, group product manager, professional imaging, Epson. Like with the company’s latest generation of printheads, the new technology allows print providers to press print and the printer automatically checks the nozzles to ensure a high-quality print; accurate, consistent color; and no printing artifacts.
Printhead advancement is driven by printers and ink. Although, it can be argued that printheads influence both printer and ink innovation as well.
“This is kind of a chicken or egg question. From our position as a printhead manufacturer, we aim to contribute to the industry by developing better-performing printheads that are compatible with a wider range of inks,” admits Matsumoto.
Hecht says Epson combines the development of the printhead and the ink. “We develop a new print and new ink technology together in one process to confirm that the printhead and ink work together ensuring reliability and delivering the extreme image quality our customers expect.”
Everything is interconnected, with PSPs and OEMs both influencing updates to printheads. “The PSPs and the markets they serve are driving and prioritizing the needed features and performance enhancements. The OEMs in turn are driving technology enhancements to meet these needs and increase their own competitiveness,” explains Harman.
He says new application demands are large drivers, for example the use of different substrates and increased productivity that require the use of different or modified ink types and printer design. A successful printhead manufacturer anticipates these requirements and provides the widest performance window to enable the OEM to deliver these enhanced features to PSPs.
A powerful component to any printer, the printhead dictates much of what and how something is printed. Collaborating with ink and OEM vendors enables printheads to reach their full potential.