Most people have never heard of MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) ink. Yet this is a substance that is placed on millions of products every day, and which has a part to play in our modern world that is more far-reaching than most people would believe.
MEK ink is the secret ingredient of continuous inkjet printing
The reason that MEK ink is so pervasive – and so important – is that it is the ink of choice for most continuous inkjet applications.
Continuous inkjet printing equipment is used to apply text or symbols onto packaging or directly onto products (rather than using labels). They are important because the information printed is essential to the distribution, sale and use of those products. Food products, for example, often need to have expiry dates printed on them, cables need technical specification to be printed along their length, and products from furniture to electrical components need a symbol, a number or a scannable code on them so they can be identified at all the different points of the supply chain.
The printed information is not only key to the distribution of products, it is also useful for users – keeping them informed about the products they are using and (by meeting compliance and safety requirements) keeping them safe from hazards.
But what’s so special about MEK ink?
Industrial marking happens at high speed, with products passing in front of a print head for only a brief moment – during which time the continuous inkjet printer applies the mark or text. The products are then swiftly passed along to the next stage of the production line process. It is therefore essential that the ink used dries as quickly as possible. Smudged ink would impair legibility and producer need to know that printed information – for example, symbols, marks, barcodes and logos – are printed as clearly and sharply as possible.
Another complication facing these manufacturers is that most inks – especially water-based inks – will not adhere well onto many surfaces, specifically plastic, metal and ceramics.
MEK, however, is a powerful and volatile solvent, which means that it evaporates very quickly – and thus provides the quick-drying properties required of industrial inkjet printing. As a solvent, it can carry dyes in solution (or pigments in suspension) – which leaves the colour in the mark on the product when it evaporates. Water-based inks are simply not effective on many materials, which is why 700 million litres of MEK is produced every year – and a large part of it is used to create ink.
Why effective CIJ printing requires more than just MEK...
The process of industrial coding and marking varies enormously. Packaging and products come in different shapes and sizes and materials, and each manufacturer has to cope with a number of different production environments.
Successful printer manufacturers such as LEIBINGER must therefore have a big enough range to meet the requirements of companies in all industries.
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How to ensure effective print performance
Since LEIBINGER is a family-owned company that has been specialising in continuous inkjet printing equipment for three generations, we bring expertise and understanding of the challenges facing all kinds of manufacturer.
We provide the training, the advice and a range of accessories that help you to ensure your product printing – and your use of MEK ink – is as effective and efficient as possible.
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