Low cost, high speed, mini-printers coming

With the price of colour laser models dropping below US$200, ink-jets being given away free as come-ons for computer stores and even cheap units able to deliver decent photo-quality prints, it’s hard to find anything worth printing about printers anymore. But a recent demonstration by Brother Industries and separate news from MIT and Hewlett-Packard recently made printers exciting again.

This June at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan, Brother engineers demonstrated a prototype ink-jet printer that can reportedly spit out paper in a 170-page-per-minute blur. The key is a static head that prints across an entire sheet at once instead of the more typical moving head, which slides across a page for each thin line of print. By linking multiple heads, the technology could in theory provide super high-speed, high-quality color printing all the way up to poster size and beyond.

Brother, however, won’t comment on when the technology might make it into commercial printers nor on how much the printers using the technology might cost.

Hewlett-Packard also recently announced its own head game: a new line of printers with integrated print heads (the heads previously lived on ink cartridges). The new printers will reportedly produce prints more cheaply and quickly than previous models.

While Brother and HP concentrate on speed and cost, MIT is thinking small—tiny, in fact. The school’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering recently announced a nano-printing technique that someday might let scientists create and reproduce nano-size devices quickly and at a much lower cost than current techniques can.

The MIT technology, called supramolecular nano-stamping, uses single strands of DNA that self-assemble to duplicate nano-scale patterns. Duplicates can then be used as patterns themselves, exponentially increasing the speed of the printing-like process. Once perfected and commercialized, the technique may prove useful for the creation of DNA microarrays, which can test for susceptibility to genetic diseases.

The technology might also one day be able to duplicate nano-scale transistors and wires for other applications, the researchers claim.

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