ZINK PROMISES INK-LESS PRINTING !
ZINK PROMISES INK-LESS PRINTING !
2008-01-08 at 1:11:00 pm #19324
ZINK Promises Ink-Less Printing
LAS VEGAS—It’s not too often that an entirely new printing technology comes to market, but that’s precisely what ZINK Imaging is offering with its ZINK Zero Ink. Until now, if you wanted to print digital photos at true photo quality, you’ve had two technologies to choose from: ink jet and thermal dye. ZINK Imaging offers a third choice, and an interesting one at that: printing without having to load ink cartridges or dye rolls separately from the paper.
ZINK first unveiled its technology in January 2007, at DEMO 07. (You can link to a video of the ZINK demonstration from ZINK’s site. Now a year later, ZINK is announcing partnerships with four companies to build actual products, with one of those companies—Polaroid—also announcing a ZINK Zero Ink printer at CES.The three other companies ZINK is announcing partnerships with are Alps Electric Co, Ltd., Foxconn Technology Group, and TOMY Company, Ltd. TOMY, like Polaroid, will develop and sell ZINK-enabled printers under its own brand name. Alps and Foxconn will develop print engines that other companies can build printers around, much as Alps today develops the print engines for various companies’ thermal dye printers.Whether the Zero Ink designation for ZINK technology is literally true depends on how you define ink. The ZINK paper, which ZINK Imaging invented and will manufacture, actually incorporates heat sensitive cyan, yellow, and magenta dye crystals in the paper, so you only have to load paper to effectively load ink (in the most generic sense) as well. The printer then uses heat to, in essence, activate the color in the clear crystals.ZINK’s strategy is to start by targeting a new mobile printing market. Unlike printers that need room for ink cartridges or dye rolls, ZINK-enabled printers don’t need to be much larger than the paper they print on. Polaroid’s version, for example, prints on 2- by 3-inch paper, and measures only 4.7- by 2.8- by 0.9-inches (HWD). That’s small enough to carry in a pocket for on the spot printing from cameras or phones. It’s also a small step from there to building ZINK-enabled printers into cameras, phones, and even notebooks.There’s also a problem with small size, of course. A 2- by 3-inch photo is smaller than a business card, which makes it a wallet size photo at best, although you also get the flexibility of being able to remove the paper backing to turn the photo into a self-sticking label. No matter how you look at it, though, you’re still left with a small size photo.
For ZINK to succeed in more than the mobile niche it plans to create for itself, it will clearly have to move to larger photo sizes. Not surprisingly, future plans call for just that, which also means larger printers. It’s not hard to imagine a printer for 4 by 6, or larger, photos that’s far smaller and lighter than a typical notebook, or even built into a notebook, without adding much size or weight to the PC.The ultimate issues for any photo printer are photo quality, durability, and longevity of the photos. To give me a sense of the durability and output quality, Polaroid provided some sample photos, stressing that these were printed on a pre-production model that was still being tweaked to improve quality. In addition ZINK is working on improving the coating layer of the paper, so the durability should improve from the version I saw as well.In my tests, the photos proved reasonably scratch resistant and hard to tear (which could be frustrating if you’ve just broken up with someone and want the emotional release of ripping up his or her picture).
The photos are also water resistant, although thermal dye printers and many ink jets do better on this score. Drops of water left to dry changed the color under the drop as they dried, and even loosened the top layer of the ZINK paper, so the part of the image under the drop came off to the touch, leaving a white spot. On the other hand, the photos showed no visible damage when I wiped off the drops immediately. Note too that the water resistance should be improved with the final version of the photo paper, thanks to the new coating layer.The color from the heat-sensitive crystals also seems reasonably stable under normal conditions. I managed to change the color on a photo only by holding it against the bulb in a desk lamp. ZINK says it’s still running longevity tests, but that for photos exposed to air the photo lifetime is “comparable to other printing technologies if not better.”Given the warning about pre-production quality, I wasn’t surprised to see some obvious flaws in the samples, including, for example, posterization (shading changing suddenly where it should change gradually). Even at this pre-production level, however, I’d call the quality good enough for a wallet photo or stickers, if not quite up to what I’d expect from my local drug store. Keep in mind too that by the time you can buy a real product, the output quality should be better. I look forward to getting my hands on a production level printer to confirm that.