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Elevating Inkjet Printheads with Next-Generation Electroformed Nozzle Plates

Jan 8, 2024 4:41:27 PM By Hua Fan

Inkjet printheads work by jetting tiny droplets of ink onto paper or textiles to create text and images. A key component that enables this process is the inkjet nozzle plate. This thin metal plate contains hundreds or thousands of microscopic nozzles through which the ink droplets are ejected. The nozzles follow a two-dimensional grid pattern that matches the pattern of ink chambers in the printhead. While traditional inkjet printers use round nozzles, current printers typically employ a tapered, funnel-like nozzle shape. This helps optimize the drop formation process and ejection direction.

Inkjet

The inkjet nozzle plates need to be precisely engineered and arranged to control the volume, speed, and direction of the ink drops, to produce sharp, high-resolution prints. Beyond the nozzle structure, surface characteristics like the hydrophobicity of the nozzle surface are critical. Any deposited ink residuals or particulates on the plate can deflect droplets or cause nozzle clogs. As this is detrimental to printhead performance and lifetime, these nozzle properties must be robust and long-lasting.

Electroforming technology has long been the technique of choice for producing inkjet nozzle plates, as it provides key advantages not feasible with other manufacturing processes. The unique bell mouth nozzle cross-section has enabled proper drop formation while the slight nozzle inset provides protection. However, through the years the industry demands become ever taller, requiring innovations in the electroforming process.

Veco, as the world leader in Electroforming technology, has applied recent advancements in lithographic capabilities to overcome prior technical constraints, offering the industry's next-generation nozzle plates that can further enhance inkjet printer capabilities.

Veco’s innovative processes allow nozzle diameter control down to ±0.5µm within a nozzle plate. A performance that can only be matched by the most precise manufacturing techniques. This allows adjacent nozzles to be produced with nearly identical inner profiles and exit diameters, resulting in precise, predictable droplet sizes and trajectories across all nozzles on the printhead. With minimal variation between nozzles, errors like sub-optimal drop volumes or misdirected spray are also minimized. Consistent drop formation translates to sharper printed dots and lines, especially crucial for high-density nozzle arrangements.

inkjet nozzle dense-1                      Protruding nozzles                                                         Densely packed conical holes

Beyond precision, Veco’s advanced Electroforming technology also enables more nozzle shape diversity. Nozzle cross-sections can be customized rather than using a one-size-fits-all design. Besides bell-mouth-shaped nozzles, conical nozzles with various taper angles and various other custom geometries can be fabricated without sacrificing accuracy and consistency. As the nozzle profile directly influences fluid performance, including drop speed and refill time, the enhanced nozzle profile diversity and customization possibility expand options for optimizing nozzles based on ink properties and printing parameters. Veco’s toolbox can create the ideal nozzle for your specific application.

inkjet nozzle shape diversity
                   Freedom in nozzle shape                                                       Freedom in the channel definition

Besides sculpting the nozzle apertures, Electroforming allows the building to integrate channels and components on the nozzle plate itself. Its unique capability to stack product layers allows for functional integration within a single metal part without the need for adhesives or bonding processes. Integrated pathways for ink recirculation and reclamation can be seamlessly integrated without risk of layer peeling or adhesive deterioration and sub-micron overlay accuracy can unlock new freedom in channel design.

ink channel integrated in a nozzle plate                                            an  ink channel integrated into a nozzle plate

In addition, finishing the Electroformed part with protective metal coatings can produce a reliable, corrosive-resistant, and hydrophobic performance that lasts over the lifespan of the inkjet nozzle. At Veco, we are also able to provide our customers with a unique value-added service for product tracking by laser marking customers’ tracking codes or product info on individual products.

As inkjet printing extends into new applications like 3D printing, bioprinting, microfluidics, solar cell manufacturing, and printed electronics, Electroformed nozzle plate performance becomes increasingly crucial. The new possibilities opened up by Veco’s Electroforming advancements offer inkjet printer manufacturers competitive advantages in engineering the next generation of printheads. The continuous advancement of lithographic and Electrodeposition processes has allowed Veco to take the next step in Electroforming nozzle plates, enabling inkjet printhead developers to innovate with higher nozzle density for greater print resolution, smaller drop volumes for finer details and graphics, optimized nozzle profiles for different ink formulation, faster print speeds through improved fluid performance, more robustness from integrated metal construction, low nozzle-to-nozzle pitch and minimal spread in first-to-last nozzle pitch not previously seen in this technology.

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