Printing the Future

21-10-2013 by

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Although 3D printing has been a reality for the last 25 years or so, it has only recently become the latest buzzword in tech circles and beyond. With MakerBot releasing a range of 3D printers designed to be used at home, the stories about 3D printing have been all the tech news world can talk about. From the amazing stories of doctors creating 3D printed organs to the controversy surrounding the 3D printed gun, the hype has been loud and large.

3D printers seem like they come straight out of an episode of Star Trek with their ability to print almost anything you can think of and have the plans for. But 3D printing is still largely limited by what you can do with plastic filament. 3D printing enthusiasts may dream of the day when they can print out the latest gadgets at home, but it seems that that future is still science fiction.

Or is it? Recent advances in printing technology have allowed researchers to create flexible printed screens and to print out working electronic circuit boards. It seems that the future may not be that far off.

Steve Hodges, of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, along with Yoshihiro Kawahara and his team at the University of Tokyo, have found a way to print the fine, silvery lines of electronic circuit boards onto paper. And they can do it using ordinary inkjet printers, loaded with ink cartridges containing silver nanoparticles.

What the creation of this technology means for hobbyists, tinkers and inventors is that making a functioning circuit board will be as easy as printing out a photo. One day, we may even have the capability to create paper-based computers that will still be able to work even when broken into smaller pieces.

As for printed screens, we’ve all noticed how the screens on our computers, televisions and cell phones have gotten thinner, wider and clearer. With the advances in screen technology, it seems we might even be able to roll up our e-reader and put it in our pockets. Seen in sci-fi movies like Minority Report and the recent Star Trek franchise, the flexible electronic display may be the next big thing.

And we’ll be able to print them in much the same way as we’re printing newspapers and magazines today. Using a new lithographic process developed by HP Labs and ink developed by E Ink, the team at the Flexible Display Centre at Arizona State University have managed to successfully print flexible displays onto long rolls of a special plastic film made by DuPont.

The US Army will most likely be the first user of this technology as it helped pay for the project. The US Army hopes its soldiers will be able to use the screens as replacements for some of the more bulky equipment that soldiers have to carry. If that works, the first trials of consumer versions could begin in a few years.

For now, the screens can only display in black and white, although colour versions are sure to not be too far behind. There are several companies trying different ways in which to generate colour and only time will tell which one will succeed first.

What do you think about the advances in printing technology being made today? Let us know in the comment section below.

Nic Venter

About the author

Nic Venter+

 is the founder and director of He started the business in 2009 with the idea to sell ink and toner cartridges online and to provide you with a quality product, value for money and convenience. He regularly blogs on about printing and technology. Part of his philosophy is having fun and making sure that he and his team think everything ink, so you don't have to.

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