The Future of Printing

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Electronic paper will begin to steal market share from print as soon as 3 years from now, predicted Michael Kleper, the Paul and Louis Miller Distinguished Professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology‘s School of Print Media. Moreover, within three years, printers won’t be printing only paper but will also be lithographically printing electronic displays on various materials (paper, plastic, linoleum, metal, etc.) and within five years this will become a lucrative business for them.

During Monday’s session of Seybold-Romano Future of Print Conference at the Seybold San Francisco 2003 Conference, Kleper, author of the Handbook of Digital Publishing and the Kleper Report on Digital Publishing, gave a tour of the state-of-the-art in electronic paper technologies and how to print electronic displays.

These included the versions of electronic paper now being manufactured by the partnership between E-Ink and Philips Electronics, by the Xerox spin-off company Gyricon, and SiPix. Although these companies’ e-paper products are currently being manufactured for use in retail signs — a far more lucrative market than newspapers and magazines — these companies are working on e-paper prototypes of electronic periodicals.

Those technologies use electrophysical (i.e., apply current and a metalic ball or powder shows black or white images). However, Kleper was even more enthusiastic about newer e-paper technologies that use Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLED). Invented in 1987, OLED are manfactured from organic materials that not only glow when electrified, but continue to glow even when the electric current is turned off. Modulating that current changes their intensity. Although OLEDs currently cost about 50% more expensive than LED to manufacture, those costs are declining even more rapidly than LED costs and OLEDs.

Kleper showed an e-paper prototype from Universal Display Corporation, a startup company that hopes to commercialize OLED e-papers. The color prototype (illustrated above) e-paper rolls into a pen-shaped CPU/battery. A variety of consumer products are already using OLED displays for smaller purposes, such as the display on the Philips-Norelco 8894xl electric razor. Rolltronics is another manufacturer.

Another very promising display technology is Light Emitting Polymers (LEP). Being commercialized by Cambridge Display Technologies and Add-Vision, LEPs are electronic displays circuits that can be screen-printed onto any flat material, such as paper, marble, linoleum, metal, etc. The screen-printing doesn’t require a dust-free ‘clean room’ and can be done by any commercial printing who has the right equipment. Imagine a pub’s with bartops that display today’s games. Or magazines pages (paper) that display animation when opened. Etcetera. This displays can be permanent (i.e., laminated under a protective surface) or disposable (lasting about six months, according to Kleper’s description of the current printing technologies).

He and other experts here at the conference believe that LEPs will be a major new market for commercial printers. Printers will print electronic displays rather than ink on paper.

So promising is this new market for printers that Flink Ink, the major American producer of printing inks, earlier this year announced that it will move into manufacturing of conductive inks and European companies (including Philips, Siemens, and Thomson) are forming a consortium to prevent American dominance of this new electronic technology.

Electronic devices and electronic displays won’t kill the printing industry. It will be the printing industry, not the electronics industry, who will print those displays.

Kleper’s demonstrations and predictions that electronic paper technologies will begin to steal market share from print as soon as 3 years were in marked contrast to the subsequent presentation, The Medium is the Message: Information Distribution, by Howard Finberg of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Finberg noted the existence of the e-paper manufactured by E-Ink, saying he’s a big fan of that company. But Finberg predicted that consumers will be using e-paper to receive newspapers by 2025.

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