If you're wondering how edible ink printers work and whether you should add one to your cake decorating business, read this first! Edible ink printers are great for creating custom cakes, but most of the people I know who get them end up throwing them out the window in frustration at some point.
I print about 100-150 pages a week, and I still get irritated trying to figure out what the printers are doing sometimes. They're a little complicated to use and maintain, and it takes time to master their tricks.
Edible ink printers are regular inkjet printers, but they use special ink cartridges that contain food coloring inks that have been formulated to flow evenly through the printer. The edible inks are used to print onto wafer paper or icing sheets, which are types of edible media that can be applied to cakes after printing. Because the cartridges don't have regular ink, the colors that are printed can vary widely from printer to printer. You may need to adjust the printer settings to adjust the color balance, and this is one of the main challenges with food coloring printers.
The print head is the part of the printer where the ink cartridges sit, and it's generally the part of the printer that will cause problems when used with edible inks.
In inkjet printers, the print head disperses the ink by creating droplets that are basically sprayed onto the surface of the paper. It doesn't know the difference between edible inks and non-edible ink, so it sprays the color out the same way.
The problem comes in the makeup of the edible ink, because it can't contain the same chemicals that regular inks do to keep them moving freely through the print head.
Regular non-edible inks contain toxic chemicals that keep the ink flowing through the print head evenly.
Food coloring cartridges obviously don't contain those chemicals, so the ink can flow through in different balances, which can affect the final color.
Printing with edible inks can give you very different results from printer to printer, so you have to plan for a fair amount of test prints and printed pages that won't be usable.
You might also have to adjust the color settings on each printer to get the color to print the way that you want it to.
This can be done from the printer settings on the computer, or on the printer itself. Some printers don't have a built-in settings panel, so all adjustments for those will have to be made from your computer's control panel.
You can also adjust the image itself using color-correcting photo editing software like Photoshop to "trick" the printer into printing it a certain way.
Some printers tend to print one color more intensely than you would expect, even if you adjust the color settings.
This can sometimes be corrected if you change the printed image's color in the opposite direction so it balances out how the printer wants to print it.
People have asked me how I get the edible money that I print to look as good as it does, but the truth is that not all of my printers work to make a good-looking edible hundred dollar bill.
One of them refuses to print the file correctly at all, and I can't even use it to print edible money unless I use a file that has a red tint to it. What prints well on one printer looks totally different on another one.
Printing wafer paper or icing sheets to use for cake wraps is a common use for edible ink printers. The main ingredient of edible wafer paper is potato starch, so the food coloring ink will be slightly absorbed into the paper and can give you a more muted look to the print.
Icing sheets are made from sugar and other ingredients that end up as a plastic-like surface that is less porous than wafer paper, so it will usually give you a brighter color.
However, the color can also spread slightly after time, because the sugar in the surface of the icing sheet can absorb the color and make the edges look softer.
Wafer paper and icing sheets never really "melt into the icing," as some people say. They'll both sit on the surface of the cake and soften so that you can cut through them, but they're going to be noticeable as you eat the cake.
If party guests don't want to eat them they can usually be peeled off of the cake and set aside.
If you're choosing between the two, there are some differences to note. Icing sheets are thicker and come on a plastic backing sheet that you peel off before applying the sheet to the cake.
(For an article that goes into more depth on the differences between wafer paper and icing sheets, click here.)
They also have a sweeter flavor because they have sugar in them. Wafer paper is fairly tasteless, and doesn't have a backing sheet. It also holds its shape better if you're standing it up vertically, but it can curl when it absorbs moisture from the air.
Each type of edible paper has its advantages, so which one you use will probably just depend on your personal preference, or what you need to use it for.
Both can be used to wrap cakes, cover cookies, and place flat on the surface of sheet cakes. Wafer paper is the one to use if you want decorations that will stand up off of the surface of the cake or cupcakes.