September 4, 2023

Why are digital coffee printers becoming more popular?


It’s fair to say that most customers expect baristas to pour latte art for their milk-based coffee drinks – and rightly so. Not only do crisp, high-contrast latte art designs add to a beverage’s aesthetic appeal, they also showcase the barista’s skills and passion for specialty coffee.

In line with this, latte art will always serve an important role in coffee shops. However, in recent years, the industry’s growing reliance on automation and push for innovation have led to the development of more unique beverage technology. This includes digital printers – also known as latte art printers.

These machines are able to print a wide range of high-resolution images and designs directly onto beverages, such as milk-based coffee drinks, cocktails, and beer. 

Considering the need to stand out more than ever before, more and more coffee shops around the world are investing in digital printers to differentiate themselves.

So how do these systems work and what are the benefits of using them? To find out, I spoke to Yossi Meshulam, co-founder and CEO of Ripples. Read on for more of his insight.

You may also like our article on the history of latte art.

A customer carries a digitally printed coffee beverage.

What is digital beverage printing?

Before exploring digital beverage printing, we need to acknowledge the importance of latte art.

Latte art is prevalent in many coffee shops around the world. Baristas skillfully pour latte art by hand to create a variety of patterns, including: 

  • Hearts
  • Tulips
  • Rosettas (or florettes)
  • Swans

However, there are some design limitations when free pouring latte art. Although baristas can use etching tools, toothpicks, or other similar utensils to draw more complicated latte art (as made popular by competitions like the World Latte Art Championship), this often takes years of practice to get right.

Digital beverage printing, meanwhile, is one of the most effective and scalable solutions to diversify drinks designs. The process involves printing personalised images, designs, and text onto foam-topped drinks. These can include milk-based coffee beverages, beer, cocktails, and mocktails.

“‘Bev-Top Media’, as Ripples refers to it, can transform drinks into a marketing tool for food service businesses like coffee shops,” Yossi says. “By printing on the surface of a drink, you’re not just serving a beverage. It’s an immersive experience that people feel more compelled to share on social media.”

Ultimately, it’s also important to recognise that latte art and digital beverage printing both serve crucial roles in the coffee industry. While latte art can demonstrate baristas’ skills and talents, digital printing systems use designs created in advance by graphic designers and illustrators, which can result in more unique experiences for customers. This means one can never fully replace the other.

Latte art created using a coffee printer.

Why is digital beverage printing becoming more popular?

Although latte art certainly enhances the customer experience, digital beverage printing can be more personalised. And this is becoming increasingly important to customers. Recent research from McKinsey found that up to 80% of surveyed customers are looking for personalised, meaningful experiences from companies.

“Today’s consumers, especially younger generations, are looking for more than just a product – they want an experience, too,” Yossi says. “When they receive a drink with a unique design or message on it, it elevates the overall experience.”

Ultimately, this can leave more of a lasting impression on customers by providing a customised, tailor-made experience that they may not be able to receive at other coffee shops.

“These printing solutions allow coffee shops and other foodservice businesses to differentiate themselves in an ever-growing competitive market, both in terms of aesthetics and the quality of their products,” Yossi explains.

Social media has been a key driver in developing more visually-appealing drinks, as people are much more willing to post these photos on their platforms. In fact, since 2015, the number of “photogenic coffee” posts has risen by 4500% on Instagram alone.

Given the broad reach of social media, digital beverage printing is used by coffee shops and other hospitality businesses around the world – including companies like Nespresso and Guinness.

Ripples works with businesses in large cities like New York, London, Tokyo, Tel Aviv, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles,” Yossi tells me. “We’re also seeing growing interest from foodservice companies in smaller cities and towns.”

Various inks used for digital coffee printing.

How does it work?

Digital beverage printing solutions use a combination of technologies and specialist ingredients to print designs on foam-topped drinks.

Yossi explains that the Ripples Bev-Top Media printers use dedicated Pods, which function similarly to ink cartridges. However, they are tasteless, odourless, and include natural plant-based ingredients that are safe for consumption. 

“Our Pods are filled with extracts and stored in specialised food-safe containers that fit into the Ripple Maker machine,” he says.

He adds that there are several types of Ripples Pods available depending on the desired colour. For instance, Yossi explains that the Coffee and Malt Pods produce a brown colour. This makes them ideal for milk-based coffee drinks and beer.

The Black Carrot Pod, meanwhile, produces a red colour, while the Chameleon Pod includes cabbage extracts – creating purple colours. With the Chameleon Plus Pod, Yossi explains that you can print in a range of colours for a single design.

No matter which Ripples Pod is used, printing with odourless and flavourless extracts is essential to preserve the quality and integrity of the drink. At the same time, all extracts used need to meet food safety regulations.

Choosing & printing designs

Most digital beverage printers come with designated software. This allows the user to select and customise different designs, text, and images. 

“The Ripple Maker is connected to a cloud-based platform so users can choose or upload designs in real-time,” Yossi explains. “Additionally, we use AI and machine learning to optimise designs so they look high-quality every time – no matter which beverage is printed on.”

Baristas, bartenders, and other hospitality staff are able to create and save designs, images, and texts – including logos, branded content, promotions, and greetings – to digital printers through apps or dedicated platforms. Customers can then choose from these designs, or even submit their own through a mobile app – although this needs to be approved by staff.

Additionally, solutions like the Ripple Maker include a dynamic content feed for each individual customer. This regularly updates available designs – including any trending or seasonal options – designed by Ripples’ artistic department. 

When it comes to printing designs, Yossi explains that the ideal beverage “canvas” is a light-coloured, smooth foam which completely fills the circumference of the cup. Moreover, there should be no large bubbles on the surface, as this could lower the quality of the design.

A person holds a coffee with a digitally printed design.

The benefits of digital beverage printing

For hospitality businesses looking to offer a more personalised experience to their customers, there are several advantages to investing in digital beverage printers.

“When a customer receives their coffee with a personalised or unique design printed on top, it adds an element of surprise to their visit,” Yossi explains.

Moreover, digital beverage printing can be a useful branding and marketing tool for foodservice businesses, including coffee shops, and thereby help them to stand out.

Printing promotions or event ads on beverages is a direct and memorable way to communicate and engage with your customers,” Yossi says.

This can be a scalable and efficient way to drive organic social media engagement and brand awareness. With more customers open to posting photos of their personalised drinks on social media platforms, Yossi tells me this helps to amplify a brand and attract new customers.

Sustainability & efficiency

Before investing in a digital beverage printer, coffee shops need to make sure it aligns with their branding and values. For example, Ripples’ Pods are made from natural ingredients without using artificial colours. They’re also free from common allergens such as dairy, gluten, soy, and nuts. 

Efficiency and speed are also key. Most digital beverage printing solutions require minimal effort and time to operate. For instance, the Ripple Maker takes ten seconds to fully print one design. This means baristas should be able to focus on other tasks, while still creating a unique and memorable experience for customers.

For coffee shops and hospitality businesses interested in digital beverage printing, choosing the right solution is key. On top of this, baristas and bartenders need to be creative when choosing designs, images, and text to be printed.

Printed macarons next to the Ripple Maker Bev-Top Media printing solution.

As customers demand more immersive and unique beverage experiences, coffee shops need to continue finding new ways to cater to these needs. Digital beverage printing is certainly one of many solutions, and comes with a number of benefits for foodservice businesses.

However, at the same time, it’s clear that hand-poured latte art will always have its purpose in coffee culture.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on which milk is best for latte art.

Photo credits: Ripples

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Ripples is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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