Designers, Are You Ready For Industrial Inkjet?

Author: Mary Schilling, Inkjet Insight

Inkjet is everywhere. Inkjet technology is moving fast, leveraging new solutions and imaginative chemistries to print on new and challenging materials. Expanding the number of substrates and their compatibility has opened new markets within production facilities, which have typically outsourced their design and print production to other suppliers. Now, much more of the process can move back in-house to provide agility, higher profits, and stunning effects on the final product. This may result in salaried design positions, or on-going relationships with independent designers can work in an industrial environment.

berner child color
Industrial Inkjet Print Samples

From automotive, interior design, and décor to personal care and pharmaceutical, products which may have been screen or pad printed are now shifting towards inkjet technology. These markets are not just creating opportunities for in-sourcing; they can also improve customer service.  By engaging trained designers who are knowledgeable in designing artwork, vector, or photo work on industrial inkjet, companies can expand and test market new offerings they could not before.

For example, products that were dependent on large run printed labels are moving to direct-to-shape inkjet printing. AP InBev in Leuven, Belgium, is assisting in lessening their use of plastics by shifting from using preprinted plastic labels to printing directly onto the bottles. A great example is their limited-edition bottles, designed by various artists, as part of the Becks’ Artist Series. Each of the 200,000 bottles is unique, and a piece of artwork. Beck’s Limited-Edition Artist Series- Direct-to-product inkjet printing

This type of work is commonplace for marketing campaigns and targeted direct mail, but for a large bottling company, this was revolutionary. A run of 200,000 may be typical for a direct mail, but for a large bottling company, the production volume is quite small. Having the capacity and technology to run on-demand specialty graphics, whether it be twenty or twenty thousand, can let brands continuously evolve and keep current. Higher engagement means more customization and, in turn, more design work and business.

Beck’s Limited Edition Artist Series- Direct-to-product inkjet printing

Designing for industrial inkjet is not only about the brand’s aesthetics. Creating for inkjet requires a technical grasp of obscure topics like ink combinations, which are needed to assure proper curing, drying, or adhesion to the substrates. It’s essential to understand how image quality and color variations can happen simply by changes in the environment. These items may seem complicated but are not difficult to grasp once you understand it. Technical knowledge is essential to design and help your clients manufacture pleasing and engaging products. For a designer, it is a skill that differentiates you from the rest of the pack.

Inkjet printed garage door panels by axpanel

Proper color matching for branding is essential. Parts, that are coated, laminated, molded, or filled, post-print, can shift or alter the color. How the product moves through the manufacturing process, including abrasion, heat, and glaze, all can affect the image and how the final product looks.

Designing for the production process is important, but creatives should also think about how the product will be shipped, displayed, and used. For example, bottles are stored in refrigerators while flooring panels and even temporary isle branding are walked on.

Inkjet printed garage door panels by axpanel

There are unique design requirements within décor. Designing patterns for wallpaper or flooring applications is different than product displays. Our textile contributor Kristen Dettoni wrote an article on pattern design, which you can read here. The many components of a product design must come together to create a whole picture. A designer may not understand all of the product use cases in advance, but they should understand expectations for the basic conditions such as indoor/outdoor, heavy traffic, etc.  Other items to consider are physical logistics like will it roll, fold or bend.  This is so that patterns are seamless or gapless from all angles, no matter the use.

Knowing the entire process is crucial to ask the right questions. It also provides designers an opportunity to work with new creative elements like white inks, varnishes and non-process color ink combinations.

Mike Scrutton, Director of Print Technology and Strategy at Adobe agrees, “While the creative process can be somewhat artisanal, where the artist creates something that captures their innermost voice, it’s only when we share our creations with others though a physical media that it can live. Being able to design for a tangible & physical world where our creations are transformed from digital to a manufactured product requires a particular set of skills and tools.

Inkjet Diapers – Image from Kodak

Knowing when and where things happen in the process will assist a designer. By understanding what areas of a product free-space and those are that may be un-impacted by the production, designers can then set their imagination free. It should excite you to understand all the cool areas to which industrial inkjet can help you design.

Creative niches for custom-designed products is growing and will continue. Products like diapers, carpet, wood flooring, tiling, car parts, gages, bottles, glasses, cans, housing, electronics, garage doors, sunglasses, toothbrushes, floss, the list goes on. Production knowledge creates design possibilities and can make you a valuable resource that sets you apart from your peers.  Hopefully, you will find your heart racing for good reasons.

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