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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Inkjet Printing on Wood

You can inkjet print on practically anything these days, from garments to wallpaper to sheetcakes. So I wasn’t surprised when I read an article about custom printing on wood (“Digital Printing for Wood: Advantages in Finishing,” in Woodworking Network, by Karen Koenig, 1/24/14).

Although I had always believed that woodgrain printed on veneer looked cheap (consider the office desks of the 1970s and 1980s), clearly a lot has improved over the years.

When to Use Digital Technology to Print on Wood

The article lists the following, for starters: “furniture, flooring, store fixtures and point-of-purchase displays, wall paneling, and even cabinetry.” To this, another article by Karen Koenig (“Picture This: Digital Printing on Wood,” Woodworking Network, 1/24/14) adds wall paneling and ceiling tiles, noting the benefits of this technology for large format printing within retail environments and trade show exhibits.

Benefits of Inkjet Wood Printing Technology

Keep in mind that prior to the recent strides in inkjet technology, printing anything on wood required expensive set-ups (both time and materials) of custom screen printing paraphernalia. You would need to print a huge press run to recapture your set-up costs. In contrast, you can now print “one or one thousand,” as Koenig notes, “quickly and easily.”

So speed, press run flexibility, and ease of use make this technology as appealing for wood as for paper or fabric. It also allows for economical one-off printing. That is, you can produce one custom design for a client in a cost-effective manner. With prior technologies, you couldn’t do this. Therefore, both mass customization and prototyping are now affordable.

Along with the ease of use comes speed. Unlike custom screen printing, inkjet printing requires almost no makeready, so printed wood products can be produced and sent to market much faster than before. The technology also requires less staff, since there are no set-up and clean-up tasks.

In addition, there’s the ever-improving quality of inkjet technology. High-resolution images of woodgrains, photos, drawings, corporate logos, or patterns can be inkjetted onto wood with photo-quality resolution.

But quality is more than high resolution. It also demands color fidelity. And with the newer inksets (UV or aqueous versions of CMYK inks or even extended color sets), this equipment can print a wide color gamut on wood-based products.

Multiple substrates can also be employed. On large-format (or grand format) flatbed equipment, you can print on solid wood, composite wood panels, plastic products, veneers—the list goes on. (This is also due to the newer options for custom printing on rigid substrates. Prior iterations of inkjet printers were roll-fed, so rigid substrates required an interim transfer step.)

In addition, the environmental benefits are material. The inkjet printing facility can be smaller, since there’s a limited need for inventory. After all, the designs are repeatable and can be produced on an as-needed basis. And since flatbed printers can inkjet images directly onto substrates, no interim supplies and papers are needed for transferring images. All of this saves energy, space, and raw materials.

Aqueous inkjet inks also have a lighter impact on the environment. Inks low in VOCs (volatile organic compounds) can be used, as can UV inks that are cured with UV light rather than heat. Without the need for large ovens to dry inks, the UV inkjet printing process allows for a much smaller custom printing plant.

Limits of Inkjet Wood Printing Technology

As with anything else, there are limits with printing on wood. Karen Koenig’s articles note the following:

    1. You cannot “replicate the wood flip” (“Picture This: Digital Printing on Wood,” Woodworking Network, 1/24/14). That is, when you look at real wood or wood veneer from different angles, the woodgrain looks different as well. Inkjet custom printing cannot simulate this.


    1. If you print on wood or veneer and the flooring (or wall) is severely damaged, the pattern or image will also be damaged. In contrast, even gouged wood still has the same woodgrain, since the grain extends throughout the wood. To protect against damage, therefore, it is important to add the proper “topcoat” for protection.


  1. It is also essential to properly prepare the wood surface prior to inkjet printing. Otherwise, the substrate will absorb the inks and make them less consistent and vibrant.

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