Virtually every industry has benefited from the rapid growth of technology. In the world of printing we are witnessing some of the advancements that may well go down in history, in the same manner as the Gutenberg press, offset printing and moveable type.
These innovations have already brought about a number of benefits to consumers. Prices for materials such as ink have dropped. Printing processes are becoming faster and more efficient. New artistic media is being explored. As an added bonus, many of the new innovations are offering long-lasting environmental benefits with less pollutants being released in landfills and lower energy consumption. The new processes also pose less risk of negative health effects to the users.
Not only are the new innovations providing direct consumer benefits they are also impacting, and in some cases transforming, almost every aspect of the printing industry including the chemistry, economics, and technical potential of the industry.
Here are some of the brightest develops of the past few years as well as some of the more promising:
Printer Cartridge Innovations
One of the common complaints of consumers is the high cost of printer ink. Printer ink is more expensive than Dom Perignon, petrol, and some precious metals. Through reverse-engineering companies have discovered ways to remanufacture, basically refill and reassemble used cartridges or to manufacture compatible ink cartridges which work with specific printers and which are available at significantly lower prices.
These innovations have provided significant savings for consumers and have led to the development of more economical printing methods by some of the largest printer manufacturers.
Biodegradable Printer Inks
Most consumers are unaware that printer ink poses environmental and health risks. Printer ink has been traditionally made with mineral oil and other volatile organic compounds. These compounds have been proven to have long-term cumulative effects on the user’s health, although the exposure to these compounds by most users is minimal.
The impact on the environment is significantly higher. Traditional inks decompose very slowly and are harder to remove during the recycling process and typically show up in waste. Biodegradable inks break down quickly and have minimal environmental impact. Biodegradable inks also provide a cost benefits as their manufacture is less expensive than traditional petroleum based inks.
Ultraviolet Radiation-Curable Inks
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation-curable inks and printing have been around since the 1960s, but are just becoming more widespread in the industry. The time for printed products is faster due to a photochemical reaction. The process is also more ecology friendly as the process uses less solvents and less energy and the ink itself contains less pollutants that tradition inks. UV radiation-curable inks are especially suited for modern print finishing machines and print finishing supplies equipment as well as for new print method technology.
Water-based printing is seen as the next step in the research process that resulted in UV printing. Water-based inks are even more environmentally friendly than the UV method and offer additional advantages. This process allows for the printing on rigid material, such as wood or plastic, while maintaining superb colour. The process also offers some pleasing aesthetics. Prints on wood allow the grain to remain visible; printing on plastic or other material allows any texture or pattern to show through.
Printing with conductive inks is in its early stages, but holds the potential to revolutionise how we interact with printed material making it the definition of “digital printing.” Basically, the inks contain conductive materials with allow them to conduct electrical currents. This gives printed material, such as posters, signs, or adverts some of the same capabilities as our tablets and smartphones. One of the obvious implications is the ability to enhance advertising messages. However educational and social applications exist; such as the ability to hear sounds by touching the material or to transfer printed information to a smartphone at a touch.
3D printing has come a long way in just a few years and shows a great deal of potential for the future. 3D printers use polymer materials to apply layer after layer of plastic, a process called “additive manufacturing”, to create a finished product. The process allows users to print replacement parts or even print original pieces of art. The process is not without a downside. A Texas based company recently announced plans to provide users with the template to print a handgun. The gun would be virtually undetectable by many security measures and would not require permits or registration. Some envision 3D printing as the first step in developing the teleport devices long popularised by science fiction writers.
Fabric printing is reaching new heights in the current digital age. New fabric printing innovations open a multitude of interesting and practical uses. Designers and architects can provide clients with truly custom furnishing, clothing and creative gifts. Companies can provide clients with fully custom promotional products. Shippers and distributors can provide custom labels and packaging for customers. Stretch wrap film manufacturers who have used the process to create advertising for wrapping vehicles such as busses can expand the types of vehicles that can be used to create custom messages and react quickly to market trends or new product developments.
For a fairly long period of time the printing industry relied on a number of tried and true methods and procedures, with now common inkjet and laser printers being among the most impactful innovations of the past several decades. Thanks to technology, creative entrepreneurs and application designers, those traditional methods are being replaced by methods that are faster, more economical and far-reaching. Additionally, some of the innovations being explored have the potential to revolutionise how we interact with the print medium on a scale perhaps not seen since Guttenberg’s time.