New office technologies may not always advance at the same speed as other technologies, but when they do get adopted and are finally integrated into an office environment, they often become a workhorse technology. Ask somebody what the future of printing technology holds, and you will likely get the same answer from everyone – 3D printing. And while that’s true, traditional printing will not be left by the roadside. So what might the future hold for an enterprise printing environment?

Conductive Inks
Conductive inks have the potential to change the way we view printing in our communication, marketing, and advertising. By utilizing materials like silver nanoparticles and conductive polymers, conductive inks have the ability to conduct electricity when applied to the printed surface, allowing the paper – or other printed surface – to become digitally connected to the rest of our digitized world. As a result, something that looks like basic, printed poster might have the same kind of sensing capability that we expect in a touchscreen display.

Within our office environments, document accessibility will be the biggest benefactor of conductive inks. If these inks become utilized on a broad scale within most print environments, the ways we choose to use a document – scanning, reading, converting – will also face broad changes.

Photonics & Hidden Imagery
Photonics is the science of light and photon generation and detection, and when it comes to the office technologies we all rely on, they are nothing new. Photonic technology is all around us – from smartphones and laptops, to the Internet and medical instruments. It is currently being used to develop invisible photonic printing techniques.

Print technology companies are beginning to experiment with methods of injecting hidden elements into an inkjet-printed image, that when rotated change colors and even change the image altogether. The process is accomplished through a special printing algorithm and custom software. The algorithm superposes two images during printing. The precise positioning of the creates minute shadow lines, which affect the way that the two layers of ink are perceived. As the printed image is rotated, strong colors become weak, and weak ones become dominant.

Photonic printing technology is set to be used for a variety of applications. On a larger scale, we’ll see photonics being applied to more “over-the-counter” anti-counterfeiting and anti-forgery technologies. We’ll see it in steganography – the practice of hiding messages or information within readable text or visible images. For most of us, however, photonic printing techniques will be utilized for document identification and watermarking purposes.

Environmental Technologies
The printing industry has taken long strides towards the more efficient use of the ink and toner. Today, the particles that form ink and toner are getting smaller and smaller, offering the ability to create more defined images as well as reduce the power consumption of the printer. Because smaller particles melt quicker, less heat is required. Since less heat is needed, power consumption goes down as well.
Vegetable-oil based inks and ultraviolet-curable inks might well replace the traditional, solvent-based inks, whose manufacture releases environmental pollutants. Additionally, food-safe inks will also be developed for the needs of the food and beverage industry.

The recycling and reusing of empty ink cartridges continues to grow exponentially. Currently the aftermarket imaging supplies industry is responsible for reclaiming over 42,000 tons of empty toner cartridges each year that would have otherwise been sent to landfills.

Let’s Get Small(er)
The concept of portable printing is nothing new. We’ve learned to carry our phones, our computers, our music, and our libraries around with us. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to fit a printer in the mix, should it? It’s been tried, but without much success. Why? If you’re thinking ahead, you know it’s because up to this point, most portable printers, no matter how small, have been designed on the same principle as desktop printers – that the paper must be fed through the printer. Therefor a portable printer can only be shrunk so much.

Recently, though, the concept of a portable printer has been revisited and rethought. Small, palm-sized devices have been developed that may change the way we handle at least some of our printing in the future.
These new devices work by sitting on top of the paper and moving across it. By aligning the device with the top corner of your page, and utilizing Wi-Fi to coordinate with the app on your device, the printer will move back and forth across the page, printing a line at a time.

Keep Your Eyes Open
There’s no telling just how prevalent any of these print technologies will be in the future. They may be part of our work lives within a few years. Or, this may be the last time you ever hear about them.

Stay tuned. We will.

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