Print something on craft beer cans with this new digital printer

Check out these cool cans. Read about how you can potentially print some of your own.

While canning craft beer is growing in popularity, it is still a fledgling industrial practice, which means that equipment, technology, and procedures will continue to evolve to improve and streamline production as it becomes more of an industry standard. A new solution for printing graphics on these craft boxes is Tonejet Limited.

Tonejet Limited is best known for developing a digital cylinder decorator which now works for Ball Packaging Europe, one of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers of beverage cans. The reason you might be interested, Craft Brewer, is because the company has scaled this digital can printing solution for small manufacturers like you.

With this new, lower throughput cylinder printer, different images can be printed in sequence without the need to create and change plates or inks. At the heart of the Tonejet printing machine is electrostatic drop-on-demand printing technology, which enables high-quality printing directly onto the metal cylinders at high speed without the need for expensive primer coatings or plastic sleeves. Thanks to Tonejet’s high resolution digital imaging process, both high quality photos and traditional graphics can be printed.

Tonejet’s super thin layer of ink (<0.5 μm) combined with inexpensive inks results in running costs that are similar to traditional analog printing. This extremely thin layer of ink means that when the printed cylinder is formed, shaped, and bent, the ink will not crack or flake, which is required for many metal packaging applications. The printheads have no nozzles or moving parts, which increases their reliability and performance. Tonejet uses its own unique charged pigmented ink with an oil carrier fluid, resulting in an ink that is safe for use with primary food packaging and personal care applications.

Tonejet expects its first craft brewing system to be up and running in early 2015. So stay tuned for this news. We got in touch with the staff at Tonejet Limited for a quick question and answer on how this printer might fit into the craft brewery.

Tonejet digital printer for craft beer cansThis lower throughput printer can print different images in sequence without having to make and change plates or switch inks.

CBB: What is the output speed range of your printers? Which brewery sizes do you think is the sweet spot?

Simon Edwards, VP Sales & Marketing, ToneJet:: The output of the printing system is currently between 10 and 120 cans per minute, depending on the machine options selected. Because of this, the sweet spot for breweries that print up to 12 million cans per year would only be up to 1 million. In addition, some of the larger craft breweries may only digitally print some of their products, while the smaller breweries may digitally print all of their cans.

CBB: How long does it take to set up the machine for each job?

Edwards: There is no real set-up time. When the graphics file is ready, a different picture can be printed one after the other, therefore a different picture every second. Set-up time is just a few minutes to load the image file, print a can, and then have someone from marketing sign the result. Once this is done, the job can be started immediately.

CBB: How well does this integrate into production at the moment as this is a newer solution for the craft brewery? Can that fit exactly on the line? Or do the graphics have to be printed on the cans first and then moved to the line later?

Edwards: If the canning line corresponds to the printing speed from a production point of view, it can be integrated into the canning line. When the canning line is running faster than the printer, it can be printed off-line with the cans stored and ready for production.

CBB: What’s the biggest question you get from brewers?

Edwards: The brewers biggest question is what kind of graphics can be printed. And the answer is all they can create. The system has a resolution of 600 dpi x 600 dpi and eight shades of gray, from line graphics to photos.

CBB: Tell us why you think this solution is suitable for craft brewers.

Edwards: The reason this is a significant opportunity for the craft beer industry is because brewers can print their own cans very cheaply when needed. The running cost of the system is significantly (better than ten times) less than labeling. So not only can they print their own cans and use it to manage the volume of cans they print, but also print whatever they want. This enables innovative marketing ideas, which nowadays are usually costly and time-consuming.