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cable marking and printing methods

Cable markings make identification and branding easy. However, there are many printing methods available and it can be difficult to determine which is best for your cable and application. There are several different factors that go into deciding which printing method will work best:

  • Jacket Material
  • Cable Diameter
  • Cable Surface Texture
  • Line Speed
  • Type of Message
  • Location of Printing
  • Industry Specifications
  • Cost

Jacket Material

Not all printing methods work well with all jacket materials. Here is a list of which methods can be used with which materials:
  • Hot foil— XLPE, PVC, PE, and PTFE, but not rubber
  • Laser printing— PTFE and PVC, but not untreated PE
  • Inkjet printing— PVC jackets, but not untreated XLPE or PE
  • Ink wheels— most materials

Requesting printed samples is the best way to determine which method will be most effective. The cable surface also has a major impact on which method works best. Printing methods are categorized as contact or non-contact.

Contact Vs Non-Contact Printing

Contact printing works well with cables that have smooth surfaces while non-contact printing works better for cables that have uneven, rough, or convoluted surfaces. Line speed comes into play for some industries more than others. The method that produces the highest print quality may not be the fastest, but for many industries, reducing set-up time by having easily legible print takes priority over reducing line speed.

Cost and industry standards are usually the most important factors. If a certain method of printing is widely accepted in your industry, it is often the method you should use. For example, building wire generally uses inkjet printing while cables for direct burial are usually hot-foil printed. Ink wheel printing is common for small gauge wire. To choose which method is best for your cable and application, consider the factors described above with the advantages and disadvantages of each type of printing discussed below.

Inkjet Printing

Inkjet printing is a non-contact method of printing that marks the cable using dots of ink.

Advantages of Inkjet Printing:

  • The most common method for cable manufacturers
  • Machinery is simple to program
  • High line speed

Disadvantages of Inkjet Printing:

  • Certain chemical solvents and surface rubs can remove this type of print, but using pretreated wires and UV curable inks, or printing on warm cables can make the ink stick better

Ink-Wheel Printing

Ink-wheel printing is a contact printing method that uses an engraved print wheel to transfer ink onto the cable surface. Ink-wheels are also called gravure wheels.

Advantages of Ink-Wheel Printing:

  • Can be very durable so long as you choose the right ink
  • Highest line speed (over 3,000 feet per minute)

Disadvantages of Ink-Wheel Printing:

  • The print is fixed, so different wheels are needed for each print legend
  • Sequential marking is impossible with this method

Laser Wire Marker

Laser wire markers are used for non-contact printing. This method directs a laser at the cable jacket. When the beam reacts with the particles on the cable’s surface, it leaves a mark. Different wavelengths of the laser produce different results and the color of the printing depends on how the laser reacts with the cable jacket. PVC creates a light orange mark while other untreated materials show dark gray. This method is common in the military and aerospace industries.

Advantages of Laser Wire Markers:

  • High-quality printing
  • Creates a permanent mark, so long as the jacket material reacts with the beam
  • The software can be used to print graphics

Disadvantages of Laser Wire Markers:

  • Slow line speed which may cause a back-up in production

Hot Foil Printing

This contact method of printing puts a permanent indent in the cable jacket, stamping letters into the surface.

Advantages of Hot Foil Printing:

  • Simple, low-maintenance process
  • Works with a wide range of jacket materials
  • Easily legible because it features an indent as well as color
  • Mark is durable even in harsh environments
  • Hot foil tape makes color changes easy

Disadvantages of Hot Foil Printing:

  • Does not work for thin-jacketed cable as indent would damage the jacket
  • If the hot foil tape breaks, the print could be unclear
  • Code for the wire must be set into print drums manually

Indent and Emboss Printing

Indent printing is similar to hot foil printing but without color. Embossed printing is raised print on the outside of the jacket.

Advantages of Indent and Emboss Printing:

  • Creates permanent marks
  • Requires very little maintenance
  • Does not use ink or tape, so the cost of materials is reduced

Disadvantages of Indent and Emboss Printing:

  • Printing is the same color as the jacket, so it may be harder to read

Each wire printing and marking method has its own advantages and disadvantages, but now you should be better prepared to make an informed decision about which is best for you.