Is print coming to an end?

When I speak with printers these days most feel confident that print will be here for the long run – who could live without the tactile feel of paper, the smell of ink, the satisfaction of turning a page to reveal a new one and the intimate relationship we have with these items that hold so much inspiration?

Within the last 10 years the big print presses that put ink to paper have progressed like the car – fundamentally they are the same machine – same concept as the very original machines, but now a lot of the human control has been taken over by computers, accuracy and efficiency have improved.

Creating printing plates have improved immensely from film photo offset to direct to plate using lasers (CTP). So there is little sign that this technology is going to drop off anytime soon.

Or will it?

We have already seen the advances in digital printing almost equaling that of offset printing with printing process like the HP Indigo, but what about the non-printing options that may kill printing altogether.

No need to mention the web and the onslaught of the PDA where we can visit any site any time for all information. But these devices rely on transmitted light in their visual displays to get the image to the viewer – this can be straining to the eye and be difficult to read over several hours and doesn’t provide the same readability as paper.

The future is likely to be in the area of electronic paper displays (or ePaper) – the only technology available at the moment that comes close to the reflective qualities of ink on paper. This technology has been around since the 1970s and was only available in black and white – like the Amazon’s ‘Kindle”, but now technology is advancing at a high rate and most major players in the computer display markets are getting involved and we’re are now seeing full colour screens.

How does it work?

Initially the technology used polyethylene spheres between 75 and 106 micrometres across. Each sphere is composed of negatively charged black plastic on one side and positively charged white plastic on the other (each bead is thus a dipole). The spheres are embedded in a transparent silicone sheet, with each sphere suspended in a bubble of oil so that they can rotate freely. The polarity of the voltage applied to each pair of electrodes then determines whether the white or black side is face-up, thus giving the pixel a white or black appearance.

Now it involves what is termed as e-ink through Electrophoretic display and Electro-wetting displays.

Cross-Section of Electronic-Ink Microcapsules

Cross-Section of Electronic-Ink Microcapsules

The E Ink microcapsules are only 100 microns wide, which means that roughly 100,000 microcapsules can fit into a square inch of paper. Each of those microcapsules contains hundreds of smaller pigmented chips. In earlier prototypes, E Ink worked with white chips and blue ink, but later it developed other color inks for multicolored displays. Wiring the pages to create an electric charge and still maintain a paper-thin page has been a challenges in developing a digital book out of electronic ink. E Ink partnered with Lucent Technologies to enable the use of organic transistors developed by Lucent in the e-paper displays. These tiny transistors can be printed onto a page to provide the adequate charge needed to switch the E Ink chips from one color to another. – source

A news report on ePaper:

Market Report – Makers Hope E-Paper Prints Money from NTDTV on Vimeo.

So could this mean the end of print? – I say – likely!

Follow the progress of this technology at epapercentral

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