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 user 2008-06-04 at 12:34:32 pm Views: 52
  • #20043
    Xerox: Gel ink will be the future
    There may come a day when we’re buying a tube of ink gel for our printers.
    on Thursday said it is previewing what it calls a “cured gel ink
    technology” that prints on plastic and foil. Xerox’s plan is to take
    digital printers to the packaging market initially.For now, this ink
    gel is restricted to commercial printing–brochures, catalogs, cardboard
    packaging and plastic films–but once the research is turned into a
    product it could get into the consumer market.

    Xerox is showcasing the new ink at drupa, a print industry confab. Xerox said in a statement:
    new cured gel ink holds its shape on nearly any surface because it is
    not water-based like traditional inkjet technologies. The gel ink has
    the consistency of peanut butter after it is jetted through the print
    heads and turns rock hard when exposed to a pulse of ultraviolet light.
    The result is a crisp, vivid, and long lasting image. Unlike current
    water or solvent-based inkjet systems, the gel ink won’t bleed-through
    or require dryers and vapor recovery systems, thereby increase print
    speeds and making the system more environmentally friendly. Developed
    by scientists at the Xerox Research Centre Canada, the cured gel inks
    are based on Xerox’s proprietary solid ink technology.Xerox emphasized
    that the new ink technology is still in the research phase, but “it is
    clearly an innovation that will take inkjet beyond the products and
    applications available today.”Xerox’s presentation at drupa will be
    Webcast in a few minutes. During that Webcast Steve Hoover, vice
    president and center manager of the Xerox Research Center Webster, gave
    an overview. Here are some of his relevant prepared remarks:

    key challenges of current inkjet technologies is the fundamental
    incompatibility of the requirement of first squirting the ink thru a
    small nozzle – the nozzle opening is about 10 microns or 1/10th the
    thickness of a human hair – with the second requirment that the ink
    bond to the surface of the paper or other substrate WITHOUT soaking
    thru the paper or spreading in the paper which causes poor image
    quality.  These two requirements – ink thin enough to jet thru an nozzle

    thick enough to not soak thru the paper cannot both be met by current
    inkjet technologies.This is because to squeeze a drop out of an inkjet
    nozzle the liquid must be about the consistency of water.

    that to the consistency of lithographic or flexographic inks which are
    more like toothpaste.  So, current inkjet inks are very watery and
    eject fine from nozzles but when they hit the paper they are still very
    thin and so they soak thru the paper or spread along the paper fibers
    causing poor image quality – unless you use very expensive special
    papers.  Again compare this to lithography or flexography – which allow
    you to use any paper, film or foil you want.  This is because those
    inks are very thick when printed and give outstanding image quality on
    a broad range of surfaces.  Xerography which uses a toner that is
    mostly plastic which melts in a fusing step has similar performance to
    lithographic inks and is compatible with a broad range of media for the
    same reason – it doesn’t soak thru or move around a lot on the paper. 
    In addition to the image quality and media compatability issues caused
    by current inkjet inks being over 90% liquid –often water–that liquid
    also must be removed from the paper after printing.  This leads to
    large complex and high energy drying sytems and if solvent inks are
    used, expensive vapor recovery systems.  The environmental impact of
    all of that energy consumption to remove the water or other liquid must
    be considered and should be avoided if possible.

    All of this
    created the innovation imperative for the Xerox Research labs:  could
    we develop an inkjet technology that had the benefits we all want from
    inkjet of simplicity, productivity, low cost and reliability but
    combine those with the broad media latitude of xerography, lithography
    and flexography?  Could we create an ink that has the consistency of
    water when ejected from an inkjet nozzle but the consistency of
    toothpaste when it hits the paper and sticks permanently to any
    substrate – papers, metal foils and plastic films?  If we can create
    this we have created a truly disruptive innovation – one that will make
    a real difference to our customers business.  The answer we believe is
    YES.  In our labs we have created such an ink, a compatible long life
    and robust scalable print head and the print process necessary to put
    it all together.  Now again, this is truly a look inside our research
    labs and we are still at the technology development stage but we are so
    excited that we wanted to share this breakthrough with you.This is a
    microscopic image of our solid ink on paper. Notice the well formed
    dots – no bleed through – no dot spreading.  Notice the bright vibrant
    colors.  This has given our solid inks great performance in the
    office.  On standard office papers we have no showthrough, vibrant
    colors and no dot spread and noise.But, our current solid ink
    technology has clear limitations for production.  For applications that
    demand low run cost on thin, plain or recycled papers such as
    transactional/promotional documents solid ink will be advantaged due to
    the low cost and superior image quality over standard water based
    inkjet.  However, on the broader paper range that production customers
    desire – a wide variety of coated papers and even metal foils and
    plastic films  – a new breakthrough is required.  Our solid inks can
    print on coated papers but only on specially designed papers with a
    unique coating.  For all of the reasons I have discussed none of water,
    solvent based or our solid inks will meet the total requirements of
    production to print on a wide range of papers, foils and films.  A real
    breakthrough is needed to take the industry where it wants to go with
    inkjet technology.That breakthrough is our cured gel ink.  This ink is
    a liquid with a consistency near water at an elevated temperature -
    near 100 degrees centrigrade – but that has the consistency of
    toothpaste when it comes in contact with paper or nearly any other
    substrate – including not only coated papers, but also metal foils and
    plastic films.  So when it contacts the paper it does not soak through
    to the back or spread out unevenly creating poor image quality.  No,
    instead it sticks right where it lands giving precise and consistent
    dot formation and bright and vibrant colors and noise free images.

    you see these drops of ink hitting the substrate and turning into a gel
    when they hit the paper.  They hit and stick, forming precise dots
    reliably and repeatedly.  But that still isn’t enough.  Not only must
    the drops stick there when they lands but the final image must be
    robust.  It must be able to undergo the rough handling and abuse and
    elevated temperatures that finished documents such as automobile
    manuals subject to over 70 degrees centrigrade in a automobile glove
    box, or packaging materials shipped long distances or mail transported
    across a desert in the back of a truck.  So, we add one final step.  We
    expose the ink on the paper to UV light which initiates a chemical
    curing process that hardens the ink into a thin robust film able to
    undergo significant abuse and not peel, scratch or rub off even at
    elevated temperatures.Together these steps of heating the ink to be
    thin enough to jet, having the ink turn into a gel the consistency of
    toothpaste on contact with the surface and then curing the ink to get a
    robust and permanent image mean we can print on nearly any surface. 
    Here you see images from our test fixture showing printing not only on
    paper, but on clear plastic film and metal foil.  Our cured gel ink
    technology set breaks previous tension between getting an ink thin
    enough to squeeze through an inkjet nozzle and an ink thick enough to
    act like lithographic and flexographic inks on paper so that you get
    the image quality you need.  And the curing process gives you that
    image quality permanently providing a very robust image able to survive
    standard handling practices in your finishing equipment as well as in
    shipping and use.  And it does this without the complex and energy
    intensive drying or solvent recovery steps other inkjet technologies