Solid Ink Printers

Updated 05/09/17

Solid ink sticksIf solid ink printers were a rock star, they’d be Brian Johnson….Everyone’s heard of inkjets and laser printers, just as Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey are household names.

But like ACDC frontman Johnson, not everyone has heard of solid ink printers or really knows that much about them. Yet more than one million of these printers are being used around the world today, producing more than six billion pages every year, so how are they different to their more renowned equivalents?

 

What is solid ink?

Solid ink is basically wax. Whereas other printer cartridges are filled with different types of ink, solid ink sticks, are exactly that- solid sticks of ink.

When they’re loaded into a solid ink printer and when you click print, the sticks are heated to melting point and the ink is then transferred onto the paper to produce the printed image. It’s a little bit similar to offset printing, where the image is produced and then placed onto the paper to create the print.

For this reason, if you ever take a look at a page printed by a solid ink machine, the texture of the print feels waxy to the touch.

How long has solid ink been around?

Solid ink technology has been around since 1986. It was developed by Oregon based company Tektronix; they’d been finding that many of their customers were having trouble coping with the high cost of printing pages.

This prompted Tektronix to find a solution. They initially experimented with water-based cartridges before, in 1991, they released their first solid ink printer, the Phaser III. It was the first printer to use thermal technology to make a print and the first to use a waterless cartridge/stick.

Tektronix went on to produce a couple more models throughout the 1990s before, in 2000, Xerox bought the printing division of the company and, with it, the rights to the solid ink technology.

Solid ink vs Inkjet & Laser Colour Printing

Advantages

When they were first launched, solid ink printers were aimed at graphic designers. That’s because the print quality allows for brilliant colour definition, particularly for lively colours such as oranges and yellows. The melted wax also creates a glossy surface across the top of the paper.

Unlike inkjet and laser printer cartridges, solid ink sticks mean that there is no empty cartridge to dispose of once the wax runs out. This means that less waste is created and there is no need to worry about finding a way to recycle your empty cartridges.

In addition, solid ink sticks don’t dry out in the way that ink cartridges do if a printer hasn’t been used for a long period of time. Solid ink sticks, can last forever.

Disadvantages

xerox solid ink sticks combo

Unlike cartridges for inkjets and laser printers, solid ink sticks are heated to melt a print onto the page.

Unlike cartridges for inkjets and laser printers, solid ink sticks are heated to melt a print onto the page.

As they are thermal based, solid ink printers can take a good number of minutes to heat up before the first print and also need to pause and reheat in between prints. This can be very frustrating if you are in a hurry. We have a Xerox ColorQube 8580 in our office, and it drives me insane!

Although the sticks solidify again after use, Xerox recommends that you opt to leave the printer in ‘sleep mode’ as opposed to switching it off at the wall when it is not in use. That’s because a small portion of each coloured stick needs to remain above the ‘freezing point.’

Also, solid ink printers need to complete a ‘cool down’ cycle after use. This means that the printer cannot be moved until this cycle is finished. However, this shouldn’t take any more than 10 minutes.

Solid ink printers aren’t cheap.

You can’t print on photo paper / specialty papers.

Lastly, not all of the sticks are used in the printing process and is left to waste, in a separate tray.

Summary

Here’s a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of solid ink versus inkjet or laser printers:

Advantages Disadvantages
Less waste / better for the environment Expensive / bulky
High quality glossy prints Slow
Lastability Unable to print on photo paper

Solid ink

Should I choose a solid ink printer?

Well if you understand the differences, there really aren’t too many reasons why you shouldn’t! That is unless you are very impatient like me!

Solid ink printers are a good choice if you almost always have to print in colour every time, as the coloured sticks will last a little longer than coloured ink and toner cartridges. As a result, you can realise lower running costs when compared with inkjets and laserjets, whilst getting a really high quality colour print.

But don’t just think that solid ink printers are only beneficial to specialist industry people such as graphic designers. If you’re looking for a printer for your home to be used just ‘every now and then,’ having solid ink sticks that don’t dry out over time could be a great way to avoid having to always order new cartridges when you need to use your printer.

And the reduced waste from not having empty cartridges makes solid ink printers a great choice if you’re looking to make your printing efforts more environmentally friendly.

If you are wondering how quickly solid ink printers warm up, here is a video that also shows the print quality:

 

What’s your opinion of Solid ink printers & sticks?

Let us know in the comments section below!

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