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A Very Brief History of Industrial Inkjet Printing

(October 2015) posted on Wed Oct 28, 2015

Industrial applications for inkjet are expanding rapidly – perhaps the most exciting developments in all of printing. The roots of these breakthroughs can be traced back further than you may think.

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By Vince Cahill

First: What makes something “industrial?” “Digital inkjet?” Or “print?”

The word “industrial” primarily denotes that which is part of a manufacturing process. While the word “digital” derives from counting with fingers or digits, it commonly refers to computer-controlled processes. I define “inkjet” as a digitally controlled process that deposits drops of ink or other material on a substrate without the print head contacting the print surface. While the word “print” derives from the Old French and Latin words for pressing, this article focuses on inkjet and inkjet-like non-contact methods for depositing inks and other materials.

(On-contact methods dominated the early days of print from Mesopotamia before 3000 BCE, where people used cylinders to roll over clay tablets to imprint seals. By about AD 200, folks in China were using woodblock to print paper and cloth. By 1040, Bi Sheng in China made movable type characters in porcelain. Metal movable type, first used in Korea around 1230, eventually appeared on the Mainz printing press of Johannes Gutenberg in about 1439. Other printing technologies arrived: etching in about 1515, mezzotint in 1642, aquatint in 1772, lithography in 1796, offset in 1875, and screen printing in about 1910.)

Sir William Thompson, later called Lord Kelvin, acquired the first patent in 1867 for a drop-deposition, inkjet-type device that recorded the Morse code signals received over the Atlantic cable. But it took almost a century for further developments to occur.

Product Marking, Carpeting, and Textiles
One of the first industrial applications for inkjet came in 1965 when Carl Hellmuth Hertz and Sven Simmonsson applied for a patent on a version of CIJ they developed at Sweden’s Lund Institute of Technology. Stork and Scitex Iris Graphics used this technology with their high-resolution CIJ technology for color photographic proofing for commercial and textile printing.

A few years later, A.B. Dick commercialized Richard G. Sweet of Stanford University’s patent (issued 1968) for continuous inkjet (CIJ) with the VideoJet 9600. Miller Brewing and others adopted it for marking and coding their beverage cans in-line with their production processes. In 1975, Milliken (Spartanburg, South Carolina) introduced the Millitron, a digitally controlled valve-air deflecting-drop CIJ printer for in-line carpet printing. The following year, J. Zimmer Maschinenbau (Klagenfurt, Austria) launched its digital valve drop-on-demand Chromo Jet carpet printer.


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