Zink, with help from Polaroid, has created a way to print photographs or documents without ink or an ink cartridge.Without the ink cartridge a printer can be reduced to the size of an iPod or smaller.
The Zink system can be embedded in any device. It is also more environmental friendly, the company says. Ninety-five percent of ink cartridges never get recycled. The first two products based on the new system will likely be a standalone printer and a camera with a built-in printer.
The trick is the paper. In conventional printers, print heads squirt ink in a meticulous pattern onto a sheet of paper, and the ink gets affixed through heat or other means.
In Zink’s system, images are created when a heated printer head comes into contact with a sheet of specialized paper. The paper–which is actually a polymer but feels like ordinary photo paper–contains three crystalline layers. The layers are clear until heated. When heated, the material de-crystallizes and changes colors: One of the crystalline layers turns yellow, the middle one goes magenta and the final one turns blue. Images are created through a mosaic of magenta, yellow and blue pixels activated in the various layers.
The layers are activated at varying temperatures and require different cooking times. To create a yellow pixel, for instance, the printer head has to be at the highest temperature, but only has to touch the paper for a brief period, explained CTO Steve Herchen. Blue requires low temperature but a long contact time. Thus, when the printer head comes in contact with the paper, only one color is created for a particular pixel.
When the paper cools, the material doesn’t revert to its crystalline state, but remains amorphous. Thus, the color pixels remain. The paper is also recyclable. The first printers using Zink’s technology will only produce 2 x 3 inch photographs, but other sizes may be produced in the future.