Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Trends to Watch Out for in Printing

Like all human technologies, the process of printing still keeps moving forward. Sure, you might say that the whole concept of printing things in “paper” is obsolete, but in fact there are many ideas and technologies out there that help move printing forward. Let me feature for you some of the things that may already be around you in the near future. From 3D printing to QR codes, the future of printing has never been so interesting as it is now.

3D printing

3d printer
To tell you the truth, the 3D technology is actually been around for quite some time. However, it is only recently that smaller and easier to deploy commercial 3D printers have been deployed. In the past, only big industrial 3d modelers can do it. But now, they are inventing smaller and more portable commercial machines. The plan is for people to buy cartridges for the material in the 3D printer, and from there the printer can create 3D replicas of the 3D model that one needs.

What use will this technology be for people? Well, for example, in business, you can easily send product prototypes to different branches easily by just sending the 3D model file via the Internet. They can replicate the approximate size and shape of the product in their location, and test them in their environment. On a consumer perspective, people can “print” a product that they like and see if it will fit their equipment correctly without having to buy the real thing.

There are a lot of probable uses for 3D printing. While today it would be in the form of some plastic or clay, but who knows. In the future with more advancements in 3D printing technology combinations of materials can be used to almost fully duplicate different types of objects.

Printing without Ink

ZINK imaging pinter
Now, one of the big issues with printing is the use of ink. No doubt, you have encountered the annoying situation of trying to print something important, only to discover that your office printer *just ran out of ink. It would be fortunate of you guys had a stock of inks, but if that secretary forgot to resupply, then you are probably going to delay printing that important document.

Well, that is all about to change. Several firms have already started to develop printers that do not use ink. So no more trouble with nasty print cartridge refills or even print ribbons, all you have to buy is the paper.  One company named ZINK imaging ( see article here from technologyreview ) has already developed smaller and better full color printers with the inkless technology concept.

The basic premise is that the paper will be the one to be changed. Special thermal reactions in the paper is caused by the printer, which will make the different colors appear in it. So you could say that the ink is already in the paper so to speak. The interesting thing is that this is actually already deployed on less advanced scale with some cash registers that us thermal paper for printing. The only difference is that today, we can now print in color thermal paper (the past ones just had black).

More interestingly enough, scientists in Singapore have taken it further by using nano-materials to get high resolution color printing without the ink. The amazing thing here, is that you can get resolutions up to 100,000 dots per inch! (the traditional print industry limit is 10,000). So this technology seems really promising, giving printers an important new advancement for the future.

QR Codes

Now, we all know that the digital medium has already overtaken the print medium in many respects.  Some newspapers and magazines have started to focus on their digital portals more than the printed kind.

However, while we have some big newspapers leaning digital, some magazines, catalogs and even other advertising prints are “connecting” to the digital world through QR codes. QR stands for “Quick Response” code and they are the odd square symbols with black blocks that you see in many different types of print and packaging. They are the ones that you scan using your smartphone or tablet camera, which in turn causes your device to browse to a specific mobile web page.

The premise here is that by scanning something from print, you can quickly be sent to a more interactive medium online. This has been increasing in popularity of late, with some estimates here, saying that its use has risen 400% just last year alone. Many marketers are using those QR codes to connect readers to specific videos, landing pages, shopping cars and electronic coupons for their convenience.

It is a great additional add on that helps print become online portals. This becomes a great compliment for marketing campaigns, since you can lead “offline” markets online through the use of these specialized codes. Most printers like can easily attach these codes to your flyers, posters and custom magazines easily without the need to retool.

Green Printing

For those who think that printing has been one of the big contributors to solid waste the past 100 or so years, you are actually not wrong. Think about all the newspapers and other materials printed since the invention of machine enhanced printing. It would probably amount to millions, and perhaps billions of tons of solid waste. While one can argue that paper is biodegradable, you should also note the trees that have to be cut down to produce that amount of paper. Moreover, some paper materials these days are actually tougher and have a more difficulty time decomposing.

So to answer to the call of an endangered environment, a lot of print innovators are investing in green printing.  There's an online presentation from that can give you an interesting overview of environmentally friendly techniques. But as an overview though, this is about using recycled paper, paper from managed forests, easier to decompose paper and organic inks.  These innovations help printing become more environmentally responsible, lessening its impact for future generations.

So as you can see, there are many exciting and wonderful advancements in printing to date. In fact, these innovations are continually in development, pushing printing to the future in many interesting ways. Printing is not really obsolete. It advanced like any other human technology, and is always worth investing in.

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