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 user 2008-01-08 at 1:12:00 pm Views: 35
  • #18938

    ZINK Promises Ink-Less Printing
    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.