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Nowadays, it seems that almost anything can be made of Tyvek material. The material has found uses far beyond its original design parameters – initially conceived of primarily as a building material, it is now used extensively for the packaging of medical supplies, for producing clothing, and even for envelopes.

If you routinely handle large mailouts, switching your envelopes to Tyvek versions could save you a lot of time, money, and hassle. And with the latest printing techniques, it is even possible to make your new custom Tyvek envelopes look better than the traditional paper ones.

What is Tyvek?

Tyvek is a registered trademark of Du Pont, who first discovered the material in 1955. It was trademarked in 1965, and released for general use two years later. Since then is has become ubiquitous in many industries, and is now used extensively in packaging.

Though superficially similar to paper, Tyvek is completely synthetic. It consists of spunbound Olefin fibers, each between 0.5-10 µm in width, which are bonded together using heat and pressure.

Tyvek has many useful properties. It is extremely lightweight, and yet also tough. It resists tearing very well, and yet can be cut easily with scissors. It is not flammable, has good opacity, and a neutral PH level. Perhaps most usefully, it is breathable, being permeable to water vapor but not liquid water.

Tyvek is used in a vast variety of roles, including HAZMAT suits and wristbands for festivals, and is a familiar sight protecting buildings for adverse weather. One of its most common uses, though, is in packaging. Critically, Tyvek can withstand the conditions used to sterilize medical equipment, meaning that Tyvek packaging is able to keep this equipment sterile for long periods.

Advantages over Paper Envelopes

Using expandable and colored Tyvek envelopes offers several advantages over traditional paper envelopes.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, is that Tyvek is a much more hardy material than paper. Paper envelopes can get torn, ripped, or totally destroyed, in a variety of different ways, and this makes dealing with them in industrial quantities quite difficult.

If you are routinely sending heavy items through the postal system, you will be well aware that in a lot of cases paper envelopes are liable to tear open when not handled very carefully. Tyvek is a lot stronger than paper, and so using Tyvek envelopes ensures that your items will reach their destination intact more often than not.

It might seem strange, but using expandable Tyvek envelopes can actually allow you a greater freedom on the design of your envelopes, allowing you to brand your envelopes with brighter colors, for instance. This is because Tyvek envelopes are produced in a vast variety of colors, and this gives your printer greater freedom when it comes to making envelopes with large sections of block color.

Whilst many people who are not experts in printing think that paper will always be the medium of choice for complex printed designs, advances in the technology used to print Tyvek means that this is no longer the case – the best printers will be able to print even complex mixes of graphics, block color, and text onto Tyvek envelopes.

Printing on Tyvek

For the printing of large-scale designs, such as when a company’s logo needs to be printed onto Tyvek sheeting, Flexographic printing is most often used. Care must be taken, whilst doing this kind of printing, to optimize the tension of the substrate, keep temperatures within recommended bounds, and use the correct levels of pressure.

Our focus here, however, is on printing Tyvek for packaging, and the techniques used to do this are slightly different. Typically, batch production of packaging or labels requires that each item be uniquely printed, for instance with a unique bar-code. In addition, printing information onto small labels necessitates good print quality for the label to be read easily, especially if the package is destined for medical use. Same goes for printing tags or hang tags printing.

Unfortunately, Inkjet methods are not suitable for printing on Tyvek. It is possible, with the correct set-up, to obtain reasonably good quality images. However, the non-permeability of Tyvek means that even with the perfect system, Inkjet ink is slow to dry on the substrate. This makes these methods unsuitable for large-scale batch production of labels.

It is difficult to find a reliable thermal printer that can work with Tyvek, but overall this is the optimum solution for batch production of packaging with the material. These printers can produce labels and packaging quickly, and have good enough resolution for medical environments. In addition, many systems can now automatically generate unique bar-codes and other information for each package. This is great for bag label applicator systems.

What to Look For in a Tyvek Printer for Packaging

Choosing a Tyvek printer for packaging depends on your own requirements, and the types of orders that you are processing. However, no matter the type of printing you are doing, some things should always be taken into account when choosing a Tyvek printer:

One of the most important considerations is speed. Print orders for the health-care sector are often of very high volume, and so a printing speed of at least 5 inches/second is a must. In addition, some Tyvek printers now have a slew capability, allowing them to quickly skip over non-printed sections of the substrate, greatly improving overall speed.

Print quality should also be a major consideration. Often, packaging and labels require that very small writing be reproduced precisely, and this is of special concern in the health-care sector. Nowadays, the best thermal Tyvek printers are able to print at up to 300 DPI, which is more than sufficient for these purposes.

If you are dealing with extremely large orders, an automated and motorized sorting module is also extremely useful. In many cases, an order for Tyvek packaging will contain several varying types or sizes of package, and a motorized sorter means that each type will be automatically stacked in the correct pile.

Another consideration should be the adaptability of the printer. A good Tyvek printer will be able to deal with a wide range of thicknesses, offer several different fonts, and even cut packaging into a variety of formats and shapes.

The cost of consumables should also be considered. Whilst most Tyvek printers use thermal printing techniques, some now come with advanced features that significantly improve efficiency, meaning that consumables will last longer.

Last but not least, of course, the ruggedness of the printer should be assessed. Tyvek printers, like a lot of industrial printers, often need to work reliably in quite difficult environments, and the printer should be able to deal with heat, dust, and other complications.