Inkjet Printing on plastic
I appreciate this question is borderline for this site (apologies), but I checked the FAQs and I think it is permitted.
I'm investigating ways to get single-colour text onto a thick plastic sheet, such as plastic business cards.
There seem to be a host of options: pad printing, screen printing, flat-bed printing (inkjet), thermal transfer printer (as in this post) and more that I cannot remember.
Of particular interest is inkjet methods because the printers are potentially so cheap. Flat-bed inkjet printers are often marketed as being able to print full-colour on iPhone covers, with a scratch- and water-resistant finish. However these machines seem to retail at $1k and up for A4 size. There also seem to be variations within this category, I believe that one is UV-curing of ink, and non-UV curing. I noticed that on a low end machine, some non-UV types actually uses an Epson print head.
This leads me to believe that perhaps a regular consumer inkjet printer could be used to print on thin plastic, if filled with an ink that will not smudge on plastic. While cartridges might not be available for them, there are cheap continuous-ink systems where perhaps the ink suitable for paper could be replaced by ink for plastic.
My question: does anyone know if there are inks that could be used on plastic with a regular inkjet printer?
I know there are specialist OHP transparencies that can be used with inkjets but not only are the opacity and brilliance is poor, but it is also not resistant to smudging.
Does anyone know if there are inks that could be used on plastic with a regular inkjet printer?
Please understand I am answering your question to a degree without getting completely into the technical side.
YES, there are inks on the market that would work on inkjet printers. The most common used inkjet printer head is made by Epson. Some people will reconfigure the head and motherboard based on their flow of output or ink used. However, unless you have a commercial licence, or the like, you as an individual consumer will not be allowed to purchase these types of inks because they have to be disposed and managed in a certain way based on your city's codes.
If you do have the correct paperwork your local supplier should have an option but be aware some machines have their own cartridges with ink pre-filled. I would suggest going to STS Inks for a 3rd-party solution to inks.
Also, you must understand depending on the substrate you may need to do a pre-treatment because "plastic" is vague and different printers output different solvents.
Now if your question is in regards to "Can I buy a printer at Staples and print plastic business cards" the answer is also yes but the quality will be very poor and I would not advise on it. The only best solution I find with over the counter printers, such as the Epson Artisan 1430 Inkjet Printer is with plate creation for screen printing.
If you're trying to print credit card like cards I would advise in thermal printing. Any option you use I would note that it will be very costly to do quality work in-house and I would outsource what you need unless you plan to spend around 5 grand easily for quality equipment. You can do it for less but I've seen poor quality work when it comes to printing cards.
You can get solvent based inks that can stick to plastics but not for a "regular" inkjet. They are used mostly on large format inkjets and will provide a waterproof and almost scratch proof print.
You cannot print from a regular inkjet which uses water based inks onto plastic. It will not dry and it will smudge.
Your best option here is screen printing for sure.