Memjet Makes A Giant Leap in Printer Technology

It must have been sometime in January of this year when I first ran across a small article in one of our trade magazines on a newly developed technology while eating my lunch. This new printer technology was being developed by HP, and they to called it “Edgeline”.

The Edgeline prototype had a fixed printhead (part of the printer that administers ink to paper). This innovative printhead was as wide as the paper itself so it did not need to move laterally from side to side to deliver ink to paper as in all other traditional inkjet printers. Because of this it has much faster printing speeds, so the developing technology was being directed toward photo kiosks and high-speed industrial users.

The printer was rumored to retail for somewhere between $15,000 – $20,000 for multifunction CM8050 Edgeline printer. Despite the cost, I realized that we were on the cusp of a big change in the industry.

Sometime in March of this year, I was reading a different article that really got my attention. It was a new company named “Memjet”, which was a subsidiary of an Australian based company by the name of Silverbrook. Silverbrook had produced a revolutionary printing technology that would change the world of printing, as we know it.

Similar to the HP “Edgeline”, the “Memjet” inkjet printing technology utilizes a large printhead design that spans the entire width of the paper. But that’s where the similarity to HP’s Edgeline stop. The entire method the Memjet ink delivery system has been engineered is unique.

The digital electronic circuitry that controls the nozzles and ink delivery is integrated together on a silicone wafer. The “Microelectromechanical Systems”, (also known as MEMS) are extremely small and compact, 17 times more compact than most inkjet printhead units. Each nozzle is densely fabricated into the silicone wafer. The nozzles are arranged in lines, with 1600 nozzles per inch which allows this printer to calculate up 900 million individual ink drops per second!

The innovative design enables each nozzle to instantaneously boil and explode out a single droplet of ink 1 to 2 picoliters in size. The extremely small ink droplet size is important because it allows the ink to dry in less than 1 second after hitting the paper, which in turn reduces the risk of smudging. A single picoliter droplet is so small (one millionth of a millionth of a liter) that it cannot be seen by the human eye.

The Memjet A4 desktop printer’s fixed printhead is 8 inches wide and contains an amazing 70,400 nozzles in all. Most models of desktop inkjet printers on the market today utilize anywhere from 200 – 600 nozzles in their printheads. This is a huge advantage for the Memjet technology in terms of speed because there are many more nozzles and no carriage movement. It’s the carriage movement that wastes so much time with traditional inkjet printers.

This printhead size and technology allows an 8 x 10 color photo to be printed in roughly one second.

Yes, one second!

This makes the Memjet technology 10 times faster printing than my printer at home or any other Inkjet printer currently on the market! It is as fast or faster than most color laser printers but with photo quality and low cost!

I have watched this video a dozen times and it is still hard to believe, take a look.

Video (c) 2007, Memjet Services Inc.

Ok, so how much is this crazy “sci-fi” printer going to cost?

The new Memjet A4 Desktop printers will retail for roughly $200 when they are released in early 2009. You heard me right, only $200!

The desktop printer’s individual color ink cartridges will hold 50ml of ink each, which is gigantic in comparison to many new HP printers at 5ml of ink. The printers are designed to use 3 or 4 color cartridges. The cartridges are also going to be modestly priced based on the volume of ink, which will surely add to their popularity.

Memjet has been considering licensing this new technology to printer companies like HP and Canon but it is not clear if this will come to fruition. The licensing may also encourage new companies to enter the printer market. This is a monumental leap in technology, which should ultimately mean faster and less expensive printing.

Speed and cost aside, the real buzz about this technology is the wide range of applications where it could be used in the future. Because the ink delivery system is so uniquely compact, the printhead is easily scalable from very large to extremely small.

For large scale printing operations, the printhead format can be increased to nearly any size. It is just a factor of adding more nozzle units to match the size of the printed material. Printers could possibly print wallpaper; textiles even replace traditional newspaper presses!

This also means that a color printhead unit can be made small enough to fit into a cell phone or digital camera. Can you imagine printing movie tickets from your cell phone while on your way to the theater!

These new Memjet printers will surely change how we print and may even alter the printer market itself. The coming two years will be the litmus test for this technology, I can only hope it is as good as it looks.

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