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Direct Mail Production: Spotlight on Inkjet Print

May 29, 2014 2:26:39 PM

If you have a printer at home, chances are it’s an inkjet. Anderson’s five commercial inkjet machines are bigger and more complex than the average desktop model, but they operate on the same printing principles.

The Basics

Inkjet printers operate by using heads to spray droplets of ink onto the paper below.

Commercial inkjet printers are hooked up to a computer, just like a home printer. The heads are mounted over a conveyer belt that carries pieces of paper under them—at Anderson, these pieces are most commonly postcards, glued self-mailers, and closed-face #10 envelopes, all in need of an address block. The computer programs exactly when to spray each address block based on how fast the conveyer belt is moving and the width of the postcard, mailer, or envelope. The finished piece then passes under a heating lamp that quickly dries the ink to prevent smudging. This process can move very quickly—even up to tens of thousands of pieces an hour!—depending on how many heads are being used, as well as the type of paper, which affects how quickly the ink can dry.

Your home printer only deposits ink in one location at a time, but commercial machines often have the capability to use multiple heads at once. Our machines can be configured to spray using two heads in two locations that are very close to each other, or two heads in two different locations on a piece. For example, if a mail piece has a very large and specialized address block—perhaps it has a code and sequence number above the recipient’s name and address, or is using a large font—it will often end up being wider than one inch. Each inkjet head only sprays the width of one inch, so a larger address block will need two heads spraying right next to each other; this is called a “dual head” printing. Other pieces might also be dual head but be spraying a one-inch basic address block in the middle of an envelope, and then simultaneously spraying an indicia in the top-right corner of the piece.

The Benefits

Inkjet is a fast and relatively inexpensive way to personalize a high print volume, especially when compared with laser printing. Inkjet can be used in tandem with the sometimes-less-expensive offset printing press. The offset press will print the full-color areas of the piece, but there will be a blank area left where the address block or other personalization can be inkjetted on. A laser printer can print the same exact same thing, but it will be more expensive, and it will take longer—it’s the difference between a few thousand pieces per hour and tens of thousands of pieces per hour. Now, if you want to personalize more than 3 areas of your piece, or want a very precise level of personalization, laser will be the ticket. But if you have 2 versions of art that match two different mailing lists, offset press plus inkjet is probably going to be your fastest and least expensive option, and will produce a very similar level of print quality.

Furthermore, inkjet printers sometimes have the efficient ability to be hooked up with machines that execute different processes on the mail pieces simultaneously—like tabbing and stamping.

Our Capabilities

Anderson’s five inkjet machines can be configured into single-, dual-, and triple-head configurations. We also have one machine with the ability to do duplex (double-sided) printing. The machine is configured so that the heads spray on both the top and the bottom of the piece simultaneously, and drying lamps are also directed on both sides of the paper. Though this is a much slower printing rate and takes over two hours to configure, it is possible! We even have some clients who consistently mail triple-head, duplex, inkjet jobs. Furthermore, there is no real limit to the size of the piece going through the machine, so long as it can be delivered off the end of the conveyer belt; the biggest piece we inkjet right now is 31” long.

As mentioned before, some machines can be set up next to tabbing and stamping machines to process those parts of the job simultaneously, or “inline.” For instance, if a self-mailer has been printed on the offset, cut to size, and folded, it can then be inkjetted and tabbed closed all on one belt. Anderson has three machines that can apply up to four tabs in each pass through the machine—most companies only have one machine with this capability. Anderson can also stamp inline, so a closed-face envelope could receive an inkjetted address block and a stamp in one pass through the machines.

Lastly, inkjet has the reputation for only being used for ‘basic’ or ‘standard’ fonts like Times, Helvetica, or Arial. However, any True Type font, even ones that are script or comic in appearance, can be generated on our inkjet machines. You could create a triple-head, duplex postcard that uses Lucida Handwriting for the recipient’s name, prints the rest of the address block in Times New Roman, and features a snipe on the back in Comic Sans MS!


If you have a direct mail project in mind, Anderson is here to help. Post a comment or give us a call at 888-694-5094.

Kelsey Mathis

Written by Kelsey Mathis

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