Defining Different Types of Inkjet Printing: Industrial, Functional, Decorative, 3D!

Jim Hamilton
Jul 30, 2012

The expanded use of inkjet heads for document printing in production environments is just one application of the technology. At drupa, in addition to a dedicated focus on document printing, there were also examples of functional and 3D printing. Heidelberg showed a technology demonstration of a printed touch screen, Ricoh displayed Objet 3D printers, and there were quite a few other examples.

A “Tree” Made of Printed Solar Cells (University of Chemnitz demonstration in the Windmöller & Hölscher booth at drupa 2012)

A “Tree” with Leaves Made of Printed Solar Cells (drupa 2012)

When I hear terms like ‘decorative,’ ‘functional,’ ‘industrial,’ and ‘3D’ used in relation to inkjet printing, I want to understand what they truly mean. To start, I went looking for a sensible definition for ‘industrial printing’ in regard to the way it is used in the markets InfoTrends covers. I soon came to the conclusion that ‘industrial’ means different things to different people. In the end, with support from members of the InfoTrends Production team, I divided the market into five broad inkjet printing categories (some of which could fit under ‘industrial’). Here are those definitions:

  • Graphic communication — Inkjet printing on paper or plastic substrates in application areas such as consumer (including photo and fine art), general office, labels, packaging, promotional, publishing, transactional, and utility documents. This includes A4, A3, and larger format document printers and also wide & grand-format printers for billboards, display graphics, point-of-purchase graphics, posters, signage, and vehicle wraps.
  • Coding & marking — Use of inkjet heads to add serial numbers, barcodes, and other marks, mainly to primary packaging (bottles, cans, etc.) and secondary packaging (mainly corrugated cartons) as well as inkjet coding of mail for sortation by postal services.
  • Decorative — Inkjet printing on a wide range of substrates including ceramics, glass, metal, paper, plastic, textiles, wood, and even food (like candies, cookies, or cakes). Applications include product decoration, textiles (fabric & clothing), and floor & wall coverings.
  • Functional — Inkjet printing to create electronic components (such as antennas, display panels, and resistors), electronic circuitry/products (membrane switches, solar cells, lighting, electro-acoustics, keyboards, and batteries), sensors (i.e., layers that change color or react in some way on impact or exposure to certain substances), barriers (to prevent migration of substances or to selectively allow migration), and functional surfaces (those that are water repellent or reflective).
  • Three-dimensional — Layering of inkjet ejected material to create objects such as engineering prototypes and models. This technique may be referred to as ‘additive manufacturing.’ 3D printing also has bioscience and medical applications in areas such as skin grafting or artificial organs.

These definitions are just a start. I’d be very interested in hearing what others think of this, particularly whether I’ve left out any categories or erred in any of the definitions.

I’m interested in this because of the inkjet focus that InfoTrends has developed in a number of these areas through our On Demand Printing & Publishing, Wide Format, and Color Label & Packaging consulting services. We’ve published many analyses and forecasts across these areas and have conducted studies, such as our High-speed Continuous-feed Color Inkjet study. We are also embarking on a study of the use of inkjet in textile markets.

I encourage you to comment below or contact me directly.

More blogs from

2016 InfoTrends, Inc.

WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux