[Guest Article] How Print Activates All Senses

On the occasion of the 5th Annual InkJet Conference, from 16th to 17th October 2018 in Düsseldorf, this article takes a closer look at three examples of how smoothly inkjet enters our daily lives.

Header Picture © Messe Düsseldorf/ctillmann

Let’s imagine you are reading this text on your lunch break, from time to time resting your eyes on the stony yet warm office walls and snacking on potato crisps, each one decorated with a message from the local farmer-turned-retailer. Then, you decide to take a step outside, sun is still up and it’s a good moment to charge your mobile phone, simply by putting it in the pocket of your jacket. It does not sound extremely futuristic in the end but would you guess that inkjet printing is involved in all this? This is why we take a closer look at three examples of how smoothly inkjet enters our daily lives.

Digital Touch and Feel

Surface imitation and creation is not a new trend in printing, so the expectations of end users have had enough time to grow and won’t be satisfied with a photo realistic reprint anymore. Nowadays, the surface must also feel like wood, stone or brick for instance. Only then a wall or a floor gets the chance of becoming something special – the haptic effect will draw more attention, will encourage touching and in this way it will leave stronger memories. When one tries to rank the five human senses in regards to memory recall, touch scores higher than sight. With virtual or augmented reality on the rise, optical stimuli can be more deceptive than ever before, while touch still remains fairly intuitive and trustworthy.

Film lamination, hot foil stamping or blind embossing were the traditional technologies for achieving haptic effects but their application was often limited to raw surfaces of specific materials. Modern digital printing offers much more possibilities using special inks: Engravings can be created by so-called sinking inks and reliefs can be enabled with structure-forming inks either in a multi-layer or multi-pass process.

With inkjet engineering and chemistry in place, the last piece of the puzzle is the image data and by that, 3D image data is meant. Very few companies have the equipment or personnel to create 3D data – either from a real template or generated in an appropriate program. Relying on external scanning service providers and assembling all the information required to start the actual printing process surely takes a lot of time, testing, proofing and compromises.

Launched in 2018, the 3D Surface Creator is the new solution by the German company ColorGATE, which captures natural surface objects, such as weathered wood or leather, including colour, glossiness and depth information. It can scan templates of up to 49 x 85 cm with several shots taken with different illuminations. All surface characteristics are digitalised, visualised, manipulated, evaluated and reproduced at one work station. The same decors can then be replicated at different production sites under different conditions.

Capturing and adjusting the design is the critical step in the workflow of any designer and manufacturer, whether it’s a small run and lower volume printer using commercial UV flatbed machines for e.g. tactile phone cases, or a large scale producer of decorative surfaces such as laminate, ceramics or furniture veneers. With the latest software developments, forming a virtual image of the physical model and reproducing it with both visual and haptic accuracy is available and affordable.

Learn more about “2.5D-3D printing: New trends in digital surface creation with inkjet” in the presentation of Thomas Kirschner from ColorGATE at TheIJC on 16-17 October 2018!

Tasteful Prints

Cookies and biscuits inkjet-printed with edible inks © Sensient Imaging Technologies


You would be wrong thinking that digital printing’s appeal is limited to sight and touch. Taste is an even more reliable sense and yes, there is a mouth-watering development in inkjet. Swiss-based Sensient Imaging Technologies has introduced a water-based edible ink “SensiJet FSE” which finds its application in confectionary, baked goods and other food items for personalisation.

Printing inks onto foodstuffs or pharmaceuticals such as capsules and tablets has been established for some time to allow traceability in the supply chain and date coding to be done on the fly. This has been dominated by continuous inkjet printing e.g. date coding of eggs and marking pills with a logo. Each day thousands of food and pharmaceutical items are printed, as bigger and smaller businesses are looking to leverage inkjet to add value to their products.

However, the quality standards must be at the highest level. Conscious consumers want to know exactly where the food ingredients are coming from, and sensible print service providers must ensure that their process is free of risks such as micro contamination, presence of heavy metals, pathogens or adulteration.

Creating an ink that is edible is a challenge when it comes to material selection but even more when it comes to regulatory requirements to meet global standards. The ink has a critical impact on the suitability of a printed cookie or pill to be accepted as safe and so control of materials, manufacturing processes and supply of this is a key consideration.

Learn more about “Inkjet printing of edible inks: Challenges for food and pharmaceutical applications” in the presentation of Simon Daplyn from Sensient at TheIJC on 16-17 October 2018!

Solar Panels Everywhere

And how about jetting fluids to save the planet? Renewable energy is much talked about but still relatively expensive and far from balancing out the traditional fossil sources. Inkjet-printed solar cells based on halide perovskites could be the game changer – “Science” magazine listed them among the top ten scientific breakthroughs in 2013 and since then the technology has been gaining ground.

The ultimate goal is to make a solar cell that is efficient, cheap, long lasting, and environmentally friendly. Perovskites absorb the visible light and return it as electrical energy. You can find them in nature, e.g. in rocks, but it turns out that they can also be fabricated at low cost in a laboratory, as proved by the Polish start-up Saule Technologies. Currently, the perovskite efficiency is on par with silicon cells and is predicted to increase. Perovskites have one more major advantage: They can be solved and deposited on random surfaces, including clothing, paper or even building walls.

Inkjet printing enables designing of freeform perovskite solar modules, as the shapes and areas covered by each layer can be all tailored according to the requirements. Saule Technologies was the first to present a working demonstrator in 2016, a module that contained 24 solar cells with an active area of 1 cm2, capable of charging a phone under intense illumination.

During 2017, Saule has increased the scale through an automated method that covers the size of an A4 paper and has also developed encapsulation which prevents moisture and oxygen from penetrating into the cells. Currently, Saule is collaborating with the construction giant Skanska on an office building project where semi-transparent and opaque perovskite solar modules will be integrated in windows and facades.

Evolution of inkjet-printed perovskite solar cells © Saule Technologies

While Tesla is installing their first solar rooftops in California, we can definitely dare to dream bigger – about electricity generating walls and windows, skyscrapers, car roofs or even clothes covered in inkjet-printed photovoltaic layers!

Learn more about “Inkjet-printed perovskite photovoltaics: From laboratory to industry” in the presentation of David Forgacs from Saule Technologies at TheIJC on 16-17 October 2018!

Want to know more about inkjet entering the manufacturing processes of today and near future? Visit the world’s biggest conference for inkjet engineering, chemistry and all applications, TheIJC, taking place on 16-17 October 2018 at Crowne Plaza Düsseldorf. The event is supported by drupa as enabling partner, features over 60 technical presentations and over 500 participants from around the globe: http://theijc.com


  About the Author:

Maciej Bochajczuk, graduated in International Studies at University of Wroclaw, Poland and lives in Belgium since 2010. Since 2015 he has been responsible for Marketing and Communication activities at the European Specialist Printing Manufacturers Association, ESMA.

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