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UK Scientists Develop Solutions to a Working Laser 'Unprinter'

March 19, 2012

UK Scientists Develop Solutions to a Working Laser 'Unprinter'

By Daniel Brecht
Contributing Writer

How many times have PC users heard of ways to save paper or printer ink by printing less or by effectively changing the printer setup? Many times, right? Well, there are other options. Users can now use a software like Inkgard, an ink and toner saving program for inkjet or laser printers, or save money by taking the approach of scientists at the University of Cambridge in the UK: they discovered a clever environmentally friendly un-printing solution that can remove toner from printed paper using a laser-based technique (which uses laser light to vaporize the toner before being fused on to the paper).

UK scientists may appear to be the ones to have actually had developed the laser unprinter, but what they actually did was fine tune the technology made by Toshiba’s (News - Alert) “e-blue toner,” which works on both copiers and printers: Toshiba’s is an example of the laser “un-printer” concept: the system removes or vaporizes toner (which fades under the right type of light) as it prints in order to leave a clean sheet of paper that can be used over-and-over again, up to four or five print jobs.

However, Toshiba’s un-print technique leaves a residue as the heat tries to burn pages clean. That is where the scientists from the University of Cambridge stepped in. Their idea was to find a laser energy level high enough to ablate - or vaporize - the toner completely but gentle enough to leave no traces of toner or any significant paper damage.

Results from the Cambridge study shows that the scientists’ tested toner-print removal technique may have overcome the un-printer problems made from Toshiba’s magic e-blue toner. They noted that by taking Toshiba’s idea a step further and employing short pulses of laser lighting of 4 nanoseconds, there are no noticeable degradation and no significant paper damage; which means the same sheet of paper can be used multiples times before being discarded.

Not only are the UK scientists making advancements in computer un-printing technology, they are taking steps to help saving trees and making significant contribution towards the recycling process; all while reducing carbon emissions, says Julian Allwood, the project senior lecturer and head of the low-carbon materials processing group at the University of Cambridge.

If this laser erasure technology complies with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and printing industry standards, then the vaporized toner technique could be a next generation option for consumers. Look for toner-removing devices, like laser un-printers, to be among future items found in offices, as well as in homes.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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