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Choosing an Eco-friendly coding solution does not have to be a challenge. Identifying Eco-friendly ink jet inks begins with understanding VOC’s.

VOC’s, volatile organic compounds, are the vapors emitted from volatile chemicals. Volatile organic chemicals include gasoline, industrial chemicals such as benzene, solvents such as toluene and xylene, and tetrachloroethylene (perchloroethylene), the principal dry cleaning solvent; just to name a few. These materials are linked to the formation of ground level ozone and smog.

From an environmental standpoint, reducing VOC’s helps to improve air quality. Eliminating these materials can reduce the need to obtain emissions permits, which can be time consuming and expensive. This is particularly important in EPA nonattainment areas where clean air standards have not been met.  A current map of nonattainment areas can be found on the Environmental Protection Agency website.

Many wire and cable production facilities have several sources of VOC emissions in their wire extrusion process. Bakeries emit ethanol, a VOC, as a part of the fermentation process related to the yeast in bread making. Electronics manufacturing contributes emissions from photoetching and developing of integrated circuits.

When searching for reduce VOC fluids, start with certification.  To provide an example, we will use SCAQMD (Southern California Air Quality Management District). Created by the California legislature, their job is to enforce regulations that work to improve air quality in the state. Companies offering ink jet fluids free of reportable VOC’s or under a certain threshold may receive certification as clean air solvents. California has the most stringent regulations for emissions. Gem was first ink jet provider recognized by SCAQMD in 2005.

Clean Air Solvent Certificate

Depending on the location of the facility, the regulations can vary or be non-existent. In this case, an in depth look at the ink’s formulation can help. The VOC content is measured in pounds per gallon. If an ink contains methyl ethyl ketone (MEK), then it has VOC emissions. Section 9 on an SDS identifies VOC content.

Take the following example. If you have an ink producing 5 Ibs/gal of VOC’s and you switch to an ink emitting 2 Ibs/gal, a 60% reduction in VOC’s would occur as a result of the switch.
Below is an actual example of Section 9 – Physical & Chemical Properties of an SDS:

Section 9 of SDS

The third method, and probably the easiest of all, involves finding inks that are labeled VOC exempt. This means the ink contains zero VOC’s that need to be reported.

At GEM, one example in particular is the BKG5661 Ink which is 100% free of reportable VOC’s and HAP’s (hazardous air pollutants).

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Colorant can be dye, soft pigmented or heavy pigmented. This component gives the code its color and opacity.

Choosing between dye and pigmented inks involves a number of different criteria. The type of ink you need for your application will also determine the type of ink jet printer to be used as well.

Dye inks can have bright colors but are transparent. They do not show up when printed on dark surfaces. Dye inks run in all standard printers without the need for mixing during operation. Dye inks tend to be easier to operate in the printer with less maintenance requirements (print head cleaning, etc.). Dye inks are less likely to survive exposure to direct sunlight and high temperatures after printing.

“Most colors can be seen right through a typical dye based ink, the only way to really have contrast is to have opacity which block out 40 – 60% more background giving a visibility like no other.”

-Jon Jensen, National Sales Manager

Soft pigments run in most standard printers, similar to a dye based ink. Some are opaque, producing codes that stand out on dark surfaces. Soft pigments withstand more exposure to direct sunlight and heat than dye inks. They are much less likely to fade or disappear. Gem yellow and orange inks are examples of opaque soft pigmented inks.

Heavy/hard pigmented inks require pigmented printers for good operation. Heavy pigments generally contain titanium dioxide, giving them a bright white color. The heavy pigmented inks allow for opacity when printed on dark surfaces. Mixing is required to keep the titanium dioxide evenly distributed throughout the ink. These inks appear bright and easy to read on any color surface. Gem white inks are examples of this type of ink.

Here are Gem’s recommendations.

• Choose dye based inks for applications involving printing on light colored surfaces.

• When printing on dark surfaces, use an opaque ink and printer to provide the best code visibility on your product.

• Choose an opaque system when printing on a variety of different color surfaces. This is a cost effective solution since opaque systems can run dye and opaque inks.

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On Sunday, May 1, 2016, more than 35,000 people and 2,000 volunteers met at Boston Commons to raise hunger awareness in Massachusetts. Every year, Project Bread organizes the ‘Walk for Hunger’ to raise money for hunger relief programs.

The programs have a positive impact on families and individuals in over 120 communities across the commonwealth. This year, The Walk consisted of a 10 mile walk across along the Charles River with the option to participate in a 5K run. The 2016 Walk raised over $3 million dollars.

This year, Gem Gravure’s third, our team consisted of 21 employees along with friends and families. Together, the group raised more than $5,315.00 for this worthy cause.

Group Photo of Walk for Hunger 2016 Team

We are proud to have participated in this event. Congratulations to all those who devoted their time and money to making the 2016 Walk successful. We look forward to participating in Project Bread’s Walk for Hunger in the future.

“Gem Gravure and Project Bread, Transforming Hungry to Healthy”

It’s not too late to help. Donations are still being accepted. To donate or learn more about Project Bread or The Walk for Hunger, please visit their website at

Don't Forget Ink
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You may already be aware that date coding is not a standard industry regulation in craft brewing. Rather than spend resources on date coding equipment you might be more focused on increasing total beer output by purchasing additional tanks and large capacity canning/bottling lines. The truth is…date coding offers more than just a date on a bottle.

3 Main Functions of Date Coding for Craft Beer

  1. Provides traceability in the case of a quality or safety recall
  2. Serves as a valuable tool for wholesalers and retailers to rotate fresh inventory
  3. Shows the consumer that your beer is the freshest choice

Read the Full Article from Brewers Association

Take for example the opinion of Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing Company below. Jason expressed the importance of date coding in terms of creating a traceability system within a brewery’s quality control. The statement comes from the Brewers Association Press Release on Date Coding Best Practices.

“We on the technical committee feel that it is critical for all brewers to find a way to effectively code all their package beer for full traceability. It is an absolute necessary aspect of any brewery’s quality and safety programs. Methods for big and small brewers may vary, depending on resources. But all should have a clear way to discern the packaging date and specific lots that were used to make the beer.”

Date coding protects the consumer and the producer. The date code makes your brand transparent to your customers and assures your product’s freshness. In the unfortunate case of a quality or safety recall, your facility can efficiently trace the bad batch using a lot code with a batch number without compromising the whole production.

The equipment, inks, and processes are essential to your date coding application. Even on difficult surfaces such as moisture, Gem can provide the right code for any surface. Whether it is plastic, glass, or cans, there is an alphaJET ink jet printer to do the job. The YLG3364 was made to print on bottles and withstand moisture from condensation.

GEM is a world leader in product identification. We provide the best inks, printers and service to help you meet you marking and coding challenges. Our coding experts are familiar with the brewing process making printer integration with your bottling and canning lines seamless.

Black Ink
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Continuous ink jet printers require three types of fluids: ink, solvent to replace fluids lost to evaporation during operation and a cleaning solution.


Ink is the key to successful ink jet printing. It contains the components that actually form the printed code. Materials used to create the ink are responsible for the following:

  • Appearance on the surface when printed
  • Adhesion and physical characteristics of the code
    • Abrasion resistance
    • Solvent resistance
    • Moisture resistance
  • Operation in the printer

Inks typically contain resin, colorant and solvent carrier.

Resin sticks to the surface being printed and holds the colorant. Characteristics of the resin determine if the code will resist solvent, moisture and abrasion. Resins are chosen according to the final code characteristics required by the customer.

Colorant can be dye, soft pigment or heavy pigment. This component gives the code its color and opacity.

Solvent carriers:

Solvent carriers keep the resin and colorant in the correct mix to be jetted. Solvents can be water, ketone or alcohol based. The choice of carrier for any particular ink is based on the final dry time required by the customer and the type of resin and colorant needed to form the final printed code.

All inks contain some amount of solvent. As mentioned in the Overview of Ink Jet Technology post, unused drops are recycled back into the printer. During this process, the drops are exposed to air, causing a certain amount of their solvent components to be evaporated. Solvent replacement is necessary to correct for evaporation. It is provided by the second fluid placed in the ink jet printer. This second fluid is called several names: make up, top up or additive, depending on printer manufacturer. Whatever the name, the function is identical. Solvent is added to the main ink holding tank of the printer based on some form of viscosity measurement (ball fall, flow time, etc.). The most important thing to remember is: the make up/top up/additive replaces the evaporated solvent, so ink being printed is identical to the ink prior to recycling. The formula and cleanliness of the solvent are critical to good performance of the ink and printer.

Cleaning Solution:

Cleaning solution is designed to remove dried ink from the interior and exterior of the printer. It must be compatible with the ink since it may enter the printhead during cleaning or be left in the ink lines. Cleaning solutions are formulated for their ability to clean the printer without contamination.

In summary, inks and solvents are crucial to have a well-functioning printer and the cleaning solution is important for cleaning and maintenance. Remember that when purchasing ink, look for the solvent which has the same solvent base. For example, when purchasing a MEK based ink, you will need an MEK based solvent to run your printer effectively.

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Ink Jet Technology:

ink-jet printer (ĭngkjĕt’)

Ink jet technology consists of two different pieces of equipment, drop-on-demand and continuous ink jet. This post discusses the basics of continuous ink jet technology.

A continuous ink jet printer is a printer that forms an image by using electromagnetic fields to guide electrically charged ink streams onto the page.

Ink jet technology emerged in the late 1960’s and became commercially accepted in the 1970’s. The technology was used to introduce the first commercial ink jet printer then the world’s highest speed, noiseless, line printer in June of 1969. As the 1970’s began, continuous ink jet printers began to appear in industrial coding applications. In the 1970’s, Gem Gravure was the first to introduce ink jet printing to the wire and cable industry as a replacement for printing wheels.

The first commercially available printers were based on continuous ink jet (CIJ). This method sprays continuous droplets of ink that either reach the surface being printed or are directed to a return gutter. The nozzle uses a piezoelectric crystal to synchronize the drops. A charging tunnel or plate selectively charges the drops that are deflected. The image below shows the process of ink jet printing.

Ink Jet Illustration

Ink jet printers are used to apply variable information including dates, text, batch codes, QR codes and logos. The continuous ink stream is broken down into identical droplets at a rate of up to 120,000 per second. Depending on the message to be printed, these drops are selectively charged and deflected to print dot matrix characters. The drops that are not deflected for print are re-circulated into the ink supply.

Why use ink jet instead of contact printing?

The main advantages to ink jet:

  1. Variable information – Ink jet printers allow the customer to change messages easily. The printer can be programmed to change the code with each print.
  2. Non contact printing means ink jet printers can deliver codes to delicate materials without damaging the surface. The material being printed does not have to be as controlled as with contact printing. Print quality will change substrate movement, but the surface can still be printed.
  3. The size and shape of the surface being printed is unlimited.

The main disadvantage to ink jet:

  1. Adhesion on some materials – contact printing can use ink ingredients that enhance adhesion but are not compatible with ink jet printers. Inks or transfer ribbons do not recycle through the printer. This means that contact inks can be made with a wide range of materials. They may stick on very difficult surfaces that can not be marked with ink jet.

Continuous ink jet printers are available in different varieties depending on the specific application.  Nozzle sizes and the frequency of the printhead affect the number of drops that can be produced and how fast they can be jetted. Smaller drops and higher frequencies allow messages to be created at 2000 feet per minute. Printers also differ in the type of ink being used. Dye-based inks do not require ink stirring whereas pigmented/opaque inks do.  Printers are manufactured in opaque or dye versions to provide the needed agitation.

CIJ systems are versatile and can be integrated into many assembly lines and manufacturing processes easily. Ultimately, continuous ink jet printers are a cost effective solution for printing variable information on your product.

Be sure to see our next post which will discuss the basic concepts, use cases and chemical properties of ink jet inks.

Gem West
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Gem Gravure Co. Inc. offices now cover the United States coast to coast. GEM is pleased to announce the opening of Gem West in the San Diego area. The new location provides a work shop for printer preparation and repair. Office space is available for customer meetings, training or demonstrations. The new facility joins Gem World Headquarters in Hanover, MA and the Midwest Research Facility in Nixa, MO.

“We are excited to have a home in California, near our expanding west coast customer base.” said Paul Gemelli, Executive Vice President of GEM. “The new location allows us to stage equipment within our western region. It represents GEM’s commitment to provide the best service to our customers, no matter where they are located.”

GEM West is located at 10746 Kenney Street, Suite 305, Santee, CA 92071. The office can be reached at (619)328-0186 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Pacific Time.

Gem Gravure Co. Inc. is a leader in product identification. Family owned and operated since 1952 and located in Hanover, MA, GEM designs specialty inks for a variety of applications. All GEM inks are RoHS compliant. Inks are designed and manufactured in the United States. Please ask about our reduced VOC and VOC exempt inks.