Compensating for blocked or deviated nozzles

As digital presses become wider and higher resolution, supporting additional inks beyond CMYK, the total number of nozzles required per press increases, which in turn raises the likelihood of at least one of those nozzles failing to jet or becoming deviated (and needing to be disabled). Each nozzle that is out will result in a lack of ink where it should have been in a straight line along the direction of print.

One obvious response would be to fix the problematic nozzles, when they have been detected, but this kind of physical intervention interrupts production and can be impractical. Replacing the affected printhead altogether is another possibility, but again this will have an unwelcome financial impact.

Our sister company, Meteor Inkjet, offers NozzleFix™, an embedded software/hardware solution to compensate for missing nozzles.  But for digital printing equipment which does not incorporate Meteor printhead electronics, software compensation may also be beneficial.  In this post, we will look at a software-based approach where good working nozzles can compensate for any misbehaving neighbors as required.

Nozzle-Out compensation in software

As the word “compensation” suggests, this solution works by telling certain nozzles to jet more ink than they otherwise would have to make up for a deficit caused by nozzles that were not jetting or had to be turned off because they had deviated.

For one-drop screening, this could mean that whenever a drop should have been output by a nozzle that’s out, a nozzle on either side could be asked to jet that drop instead. An alternative to this, which can accommodate any drop size, is to apply compensation before screening, working with intensities rather than drops.

Here’s how it works: when a nozzle is off, the intensity for each pixel associated with that nozzle is used to boost the intensity of neighboring pixels, which are then screened as normal.

This is best understood by way of an example. Consider an 8-bit continuous tone input TIFF™ which has the value 160 for every pixel. If we are using one neighbor on either side of a pixel to compensate, we will add 80 to their intensity before screening. If we are using two neighbors on each side, we would add 40.

The greatly zoomed-in images above illustrate the results after 3-drop screening for this example: the left image has one nozzle out and no compensation; the middle image shows compensation with one neighbor either side; the right image shows the use of two neighbors on each side.

Of course, the impact is best judged from the actual prints, where the combination of high resolution and ink results in an impressive optical illusion!

Image shows nozzles out and then a compensated version

 

The scans above were printed at 1200dpi. The image on the left simulates a number of missing nozzles, which can be seen by the presence of thin horizontal white lines (you may need to enlarge it for the full effect). The image on the right shows the impact of applying compensation to each nozzle neighboring a missing nozzle.

Rapid response and adjustment

A key benefit of this software-based approach is that a rapid response and adjustment can happen as soon as a problematic nozzle is detected. There is no need to wait for engineer and parts availability. Additionally, there is no trade-off to make between taking costly action each time a problematic nozzle presents itself or having a tolerance or threshold where nothing is done until a certain number of quality issues have accumulated.

Learn more about the technologies available to improve the quality of your inkjet output by visiting our website.

About the author

Ian Bolton, Product Manager, Direct
Ian Bolton, Product Manager – Direct

Ian has over 15 years’ experience in industry as a software engineer focusing on high performance. With a passion for problem-solving, Ian’s role as product manager for the Direct range gives him the opportunity to work with printer OEMs and break down any new technology barriers that may be preventing them from reaching their digital printer’s full potential.

Further reading:

  1. What causes banding in inkjet? (And the smart software solution to fix it.)
  2. Streaks and Banding: Measuring macro uniformity in the context of optimization processes for inkjet printing

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Image Access joins the Global Graphics Software Partner Network

Image Access offers book, flatbed, sheetfeed, duplex & art scanners for digitizing large format originals for archives, libraries, museums & industry.
Image Access offers book, flatbed, sheetfeed, duplex & art scanners for digitizing large format originals for archives, libraries, museums & industry.

Leading German scanner manufacturer Image Access GmbH has joined the Global Graphics Software Partner Network as a technology partner. The two companies began working together last year to develop a solution that would enable printer vendors to implement a new family of Image Access line scan bars called WideSCAN into their printers to support the creation of PrintFlat™ calibrations. The WideSCAN scan bars, together with PrintFlat, will dramatically increase print quality with minimal impact on overall production time.

PrintFlat technology maximizes the print quality of your printer by addressing common defects found in inkjet printing, including banding and stripes, as well as mottling, streaking and chaining. By adding PrintFlat to a print workflow it helps to boost printer sales and reduce support calls for OEMs by expanding the range of printable jobs and consistently achieving exceptional image quality.

For the PrintFlat process to work, printed target pages need to be scanned and the resultant image data fed into the PrintFlat solution. This is where the Image Access partnership comes into play: the WideSCAN scan bars will be available in various sizes in 12-inch increments, starting at 24 inches, and are the most compact and easy-to-use line scan bars in the industry.

Justin Bailey, managing director of Global Graphics Software commented: “Image Access are known for their experience and innovative use of emerging camera technologies and I’m really pleased to welcome them to our Partner Network. Introducing the new WideSCAN scan bar is a game changer for printer manufacturers. Now they will be able to implement the scan bar into the printer so that calibration and PrintFlat correction can all be done inline on the printer, making that device PrintFlat Ready.”

Image Access has manufactured wide format scanners, including brands Bookeye® and WideTEK®, for more than 25 years.

If you’re interested in joining the Partner Network visit our website to find out more.

 

Shade and color variation in textile printing – why it’s important and what you can do about it

Printing soft furnishings

With fewer design limitations, a faster turnaround, no minimum run length and higher margins (not to mention reduced use of power and water, and of pollution), it’s not surprising that the digitally printed textile market is growing.1 Inkjet has certainly made textile design and printing much more flexible than screen printing – and that goes for everybody involved, from the designer through the printing company, to the buyer.

But printing textiles on inkjet doesn’t come without its challenges: as a software provider focusing on print quality issues, we often hear from print service providers who can only digitally print two thirds of the jobs they receive because they would not be paid for the quality they could achieve on the others.

Shade or color variation is a common problem. It’s not new in digital printing (it’s always been an issue for screen-printed and dyed textiles as well) and is usually managed by providing a shade band, which printer operators refer to, to check allowable color variations between pieces.

But, unlike screen-printing or dyeing, the color variation on an inkjet press can be visible over a small distance, just a few centimeters, and this results in visible bands across the output. Banding describes features that tend to be 1 – 10 cm across and they’re often caused by variation of inkjet pressure or voltage differences within the head, which typically results in a frown or smile shape. We also see a certain amount of manufacturing variation between heads so that one may print lighter or darker than the head next to it in a print bar. Some types of heads can also wear in use, which can result in less regular banding that can change over time. This means that large areas which should be flat color may not be.

When such a variation occurs it can greatly complicate a lot of post-print steps, especially if you need to put more than one piece of textile together, either in sewing or use (such as a pair of curtains). If that’s the case, then a significant difference may be unacceptable and your printing rejected by your buyer. Ultimately this leads to print service providers rejecting jobs, because they know their digital press can’t handle printing those tricky flat tints or smooth tones.

What can you do about it?

The first thing many companies do to try to overcome this banding is to adjust the voltage to the inkjet head, but this is often time-consuming and expensive because it requires an expert technician. A better alternative is to make the correction in software, which is a more cost-effective and faster solution. It means it can be automated and can act at a much finer granularity, so printing is more accurate. There’s no need to mess with controls that could damage the press, and printing companies themselves can make corrections without the vendor sending a technician on-site.

Our solution at Global Graphics Software for improving banding is PrintFlat™. It corrects tonality to hide banding based on measurements from the press. It adjusts every nozzle separately and doesn’t need a specialist engineer to make press adjustments. PrintFlat can be integrated into different digital front ends, using a variety of RIPs, including Caldera and Colorgate and, not to mention, our own Harlequin RIP®.

Over the years of working with many press manufacturers we’ve discovered that many technical issues and solutions are common across different sectors, including transactional, wide-format, commercial, labels and packaging, and industrial, including ceramics, wall coverings, flooring and of course textiles. That means that we already have years of experience in correcting for banding. Using PrintFlat in your press means print service providers can now take on those jobs they would normally reject.

To learn more about how to eliminate shade and color variation when printing on an inkjet press, listen to Global Graphics Software’s CTO Martin Bailey’s talk for FESPA 2020:

“New techniques to eliminate in-lot shade variation when printing textiles with inkjet.”

Or visit the PrintFlat website: https://www.printflat.com/

Further reading:

  1. What causes banding in inkjet? (And the smart software solution to fix it.)
  2. Streaks and Banding: Measuring macro uniformity in the context of optimization processes for inkjet printing

To be the first to receive our blog posts, news updates and product news why not subscribe to our monthly newsletter? Subscribe here

Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter

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  1. Digitally printed textiles are estimated to be between 2% – 5% of the total printed textiles market. Estimated at $146.5 billion in 2018 by Grand View Research