Looking for some clarity (pun intended) around edible inks? Here’s a few things we know.
There are two main kinds of edible ink. First, there is the edible ink that is used freehand and can be found in edible ink markers, paints and even used for airbrushing.
Second, and our main focus in this article, is the ink used for edible ink printing. This ink is decanted into food safe edible ink cartridges which work just like regular ink cartridges, except they are safe for human consumption - unlike regular printer ink. The edible ink cartridges are used in edible ink printers that are solely dedicated to producing edible images for cakes, cookies and other edible applications.
Edible inks and printers have come a long way in a short time and you can now achieve impressively sharp and vibrant edible images. To do so, however you do need to be using quality products. The difference between standard and quality inks and cartridges greatly relates to the adjustment and precision of the cartridges’ ink nozzle, its inner construction and the edible ink density.
Quality edible ink cartridges use food safe plastics and sponges. They have a near solid, inner sponging device that allows the passing through of the precise amount of ink while retaining any ink that is not required. By passing this way the ink is finely sprayed onto edible sheets providing a vivid and sharp photo like edible image.
Quality ink cartridges are a must if you want trouble free printing. High quality edible ink cartridges contain a specialised chip, which allows for refilling (which saves you $ in the long run). Edible ink refillable cartridges with automatic refilling chips allow you to reuse the cartridge a number of times. You just top them up from your edible ink refill bottles (reputable edible ink printer suppliers will stock these). At EIS we recommend refilling cartridges no more than 4 times as the outlet port of the cartridge can wear out over time.
Still on the topic of cartridges, make sure you know what you’re purchasing. Some suppliers will pass off cartridges with a “one time chip” as a reusable. This chip will allow the printer to count the number of prints that you print and once you run out of ink the cartridge will no longer work. You also want to be confident that the cartridges you are purchasing are true virgin cartridges. Frighteningly some cartridge manufacturers clean out regular ink cartridges and then sell as virgin edible ink cartridges. Needless to say, in the edible industry, this is just dangerous and not risk you want to carry. Once standard ink has been inside the cartridge, the cartridge is no longer food safe.
Not only do you need to source quality edible ink cartridge sets, you also need to ensure the edible ink within the cartridges is compatible with your printer. Different brands require different ink viscosity. And, just like printers, edible inks vary in quality. Invariably one of the best indicator of ink quality is usually the price. If the price is low, most likely you are going to have problems. Be warned - poor quality ink will not only give you inferior prints with incorrect colours, it will also clog your printhead and possibly ruin your printer.
We’re not going to shy away from the fact that edible inks can clog more easily if printer maintenance isn’t conducted regularly. Clogging can occur even in regular non-edible ink printers without regular maintenance. Those non-edible inks have (toxic) chemicals in them to keep them from clogging. Obviously, those chemicals can’t be used in the edible ink, which is just a fact of a food-based product.
Another good indicator of quality edible ink is an ingredients list. A reputable supplier will not shy away from providing a complete ingredients list, you should be hearing alarm bells if this is not available. They should also be able to direct you to instructions on how to get the best quality image from your inks.
Lastly, when it comes to edible ink printing it’s important that you manage expectations - yours and your customers. Everyone involved needs to understand that you will never get a perfect match in edible printing to a non-edible ink print, this is due entirely to those chemicals we mentioned earlier - the ones not safe for human consumption and therefore not used in edible ink. However, by using quality products and also printing on superior ”white” icing sheets, you will achieve the best edible image possible.
Imagine. Print. Create.