The “chain of pain” – optimising image quality

When you go into a store to buy a new desktop printer do you look at print samples? These days probably not, as just about every printer produces excellent image quality. Therefore when developing industrial inkjet products or processes, it’s an easy trap to fall into that just putting together the right printheads, inks, data path, RIP and so on, the image quality will automatically be high. Unfortunately that’s not the case, as many other factors will affect the image quality you will achieve.

 Banding – there are a multitude of causes, so where to start?

Banding – there are a multitude of causes, so where to start?

There’s the 80:20 rule that everyone has heard about, that 80% of the development will take 20% of the time. These days most of the remaining 80% of the development time will be spent working on optimising image quality. After all, if you can’t achieve the high image quality required for the applications your machine is destined for, then potential customers will walk away.

So for weeks, but more likely months, the development team will be looking closely at the images and test charts that they print, and will then try to work out which parts of the ‘chain of pain’ – from the RIP to dried or cured drops on the substrate – that need further optimisation.

For instance, visible artifacts such as banding are most likely due to mis-directed jets. Or a data issue. Or a printhead alignment issue. Or the way that drops wet the substrate and coalesce. Or…you get the idea. The problem could be software, electrical hardware, a printhead or ink problem, air entrapment in the head, variations in meniscus pressure, the list is almost never-ending.

So the development of a great inkjet printer is more than just integration of the components, for which the component suppliers are offering more and more support and knowledge. It’s about choosing to do things the best way and then optimising the whole process. It’s also about understanding what development work is likely to be needed, the options open to you, and the time realistically required.

With this in mind IMI Europe has decided to launch a new seminar this autumn, in Barcelona on 4-5th November, immediately preceding the IMI Europe Inkjet Conference. A series of experts representing the chain from RIP to image will discuss the issues and optimisation of all of the sub-systems and data paths of the process. It’s a good time to find out more about the parts of the process you know less about, or to re-examine what you already know but haven’t thought about for a while.

Mike Willis, IMI Europe