January 24, 2008 Zink zero-ink printing technology is a significant and far-reaching advance in printing technology that seems set to take the world by storm. Using advanced heat-reactive crystals impregnated into the paper, Zink allows you to produce durable, full-color, high-resolution prints from printers so small they can literally fit in your pocket or be integrated into mobile imaging devices. The digital Polaroid camera is about to hit the shelves featuring this fantastic new technology, and you'll be relieved to hear that the mobile printing revolution is refreshingly inexpensive.
Camera-phones and mini digital cameras have given the average person a very quick and easy way to capture the world around them and share it with friends – but printing these images is a different matter. Inkjet and color laser printing requires bulky, expensive equipment – not to mention annoyingly pricey toner and ink cartridges. The vast majority of digital images never make it to print – not because people don't want prints, but because it's too much of a hassle and an expense to get them done. This is where Zink's inkless, excellent-quality, ultra-compact and high-speed printing technology looks certain to cause a big upheaval in the market.
The concept is fairly simple – instead of storing ink or toner in the printer, the Zink paper itself is impregnated with dye crystals that are colorless until treated with heat. The Zink printer is nothing but a thermal transfer engine that stimulates the crystals into the correct colors to produce a full color print.
The Zink paper has four layers – a base (which can currently be white or clear, paper, card or adhesive), three color layers (cyan, magenta and yellow) and a protective polymer overcoat on top. The color crystals, which Zink has trademarked under the name Amorphocromic crystals, respond to precisely targeted heat pulses of specific duration and temperature to become visible. Through this technique, it's possible to produce millions of colors with excellent accuracy, delivering exceptionally vibrant and clean prints that are durable, waterproof and heat-resistant.
The Zink printers themselves will be somewhat of a revolution. All they need to do is pass Zink paper under a thermal transfer head, meaning that very few moving parts are required and it's possible to make exceptionally compact printers. One of the first Zink printing products to be released is a Bluetooth pocket printer the size of an iPod and priced at around US$100. The Polarooid Digital Instant Mobile Photo Printer will run off 2x3 inch full-color pictures and stickers from a mobile phone or camera in seconds. There's also a digital compact camera in development with a built-in Zink printer – just like your old Polaroid camera, but with the ability to run off unlimited prints of your favorite images.
Due to the nature of the print technology, size isn't an issue, and commercial Zink printers will be easily able to reel off banners and posters of any length. As for cost, Zink paper is expected to cost around 20 cents per small print upon its initial release – already a very attractive price point but one that will surely come down with volume. We look forward to seeing the doors this fantastic technology is about to open.