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New ‘invisible ink’ paper puts office waste in the crossfire

Thursday, 30 November 2006
By Print21
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Fuji Xerox describes the technology as in a “preliminary state”, but when completed will allow paper to be used again and again and lead to a significant reduction in office paper usage. The media is intended to replace printed pages that are used for a brief time before being discarded, with estimates showing that as many as two out of five pages printed in the office are for ‘daily’ use, reference materials printed for a single viewing only.

Paul Smith, manager of Fuji Xerox’s research centre in Canada, claims that in spite of our reliance on computers to share and process information, there is still a strong dependence on the printed page for absorbing information.

“Of course, we’d all like to use less paper, but we know from talking with customers that many people still prefer to work with information on paper,” he says. “Self-erasing documents for short-term use offers the best of both worlds.”

Xerox has filed for patents on the technology that it has labelled ‘erasable paper’, with the research currently part of a laboratory project that focuses on the concept of future dynamic documents. In developing the paper the research team was searching for ways to create temporary images, and discovered certain compounds that change colour when they absorb a certain wavelength of light but then will gradually disappear. In its present version, the paper self-erases in about 16-24 hours and can be used multiple times.

While the team will continue to work on the chemistry of the technology, Fuji Xerox will also investigate ways to build a device that could write the image onto the special paper. Researchers have developed a prototype ‘printer’ that creates the image on the paper using a light bar that provides a specific wavelength of light as a writing source. The written image fades naturally over time or can be immediately erased by exposing it to heat.

While interest has already been shown in the ‘transient’ documents, Fuji Xerox insists there is much work to be done before the technology reaches the market. “This will remain a research project for some time,’ says Eric Shrader, researcher at Fuji Xerox. “Our experiments prove that it can be done, and that is the first step, but not the only one, to developing a system that is commercially viable.”

Xerox points to its research into temporary documents as part of its ongoing investment in sustainable innovation that deliver measurable benefits to the environment.

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