Magic prints

Late last year Xerox scientists unveiled a type of paper that could self-erase content after 16-24 hours. We sat down with Xerox's Paul Smith in an exclusive interview to find out more...

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By  Administrator Published  June 30, 2007

Late last year Xerox scientists unveiled a type of paper that could self-erase content after 16-24 hours. We sat down with Xerox's Paul Smith in an exclusive interview to find out more...

Please describe what's meant exactly by ‘erasable paper'.

Erasable paper is a medium that's imaged using UV light alone (no ink or toner) and the paper-like medium has the property that helps it maintain a readable image for about four hours. Then totally self-erases in 24 hours at room temperature.

How does the technology behind this work?

The paper contains a very small amount of a material called a photochrome, which is colorless under ambient conditions but becomes strongly colored when exposed to UV light. At room temperature this switch slowly returns to the colourless state.

How do you expect people will use this type of paper?

We know from our studies that about 43% of the documents that are printed in the office are for one time use only. That is to say, if someone printed out an e-mail to read and were interrupted by a meeting, we have found that generally people reprint the e-mail for second reading rather than search for the previously printed document. These types of short term applications are over served by paper.

A second major application would be for mobile workers who currently organise their whole work process around not printing since, being on the road, they cannot afford to run out of toner or ink. These workers could print using erasable paper since an erasable paper printer would function as long as there is power.

What are the potential benefits of using this type of paper for businesses and individual users?

Many users are concerned about the energy it takes to make and recycle paper. Erasable paper would enable paper reuse, which from an energy standpoint would require less energy than recycling.

What are the potential pitfalls? Could a user lose their work?

Erasable paper will not displace regular paper. For example, it's not for colour apps. Where the archival properties of paper are desired, then regular printing is much preferred. But there are many applications where there is a security risk with maintaining printed copies (e.g. legal drafts and medical records) where safe disposal of printed pages is an issue. Erasable paper would provide an added degree of safety for these kinds of prints.

What are the possible security issues that may arise from using erasable paper?

Since it self-erases and there's no way to recover the text, the security issues are much less than for regular paper.

Are there plans to develop a pen that emits the same light wave as the printer you're currently using? If yes, how would it work?

Annotation is possible. Of course this medium is so paper-like that you could write on it with a regular pen, but then you would need to recycle it as you would a regular sheet of paper.

When do you think this paper might hit the market?

This is still a research project within the Xerox Innovation Group.

How do you imagine this paper would cost?

Our expectation is that it would not be that much more than regular paper.

What about the printer itself?

The laboratory demonstration printers that we have had working for a year and a half are modified colour printers that were designed to handle erasable paper primarily for cover or banner sheet applications.

If successful, what effect do you think this tech-combo might have on the printing market in the future?

In one sense the printing market has been under enormous pressure form environmental perspectives and cost perspectives to reduce printing in general for many years, and these pressures continue. Yet despite these pressures, businesses create documents at such a prodigious rate that printing continues to go up while the fraction of documents printed declines slowly.

I believe the effect of erasable paper will be felt more in the freedom that people feel to print erasable pages to aid their editing and reading and the overall paper market will be governed more by the document creation rated by businesses, which continues to accelerate.

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