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The Death of the Ink Cartridge… Now Imminent?

We’ve talked a lot about 3-D printing technology here.

Everything from Organovo pumping out useable, transplant-ready organs, to Washington State University printing the scaffolding to regrow human bones.

But while 3-D printing technology has accelerated at a breakneck pace, not much has been done to advance the traditional inkjet printer itself. That is, until now.

Introducing ZINK. A company with a completely new way to print documents and pictures… no ink necessary.

Paper That Supplies its Own Ink

Unlike inkjet or laser printers, which use ink or toner cartridges, the secret to ZINK’s printing technology can be found in the paper itself.

You see, ZINK paper is made up of multiple layers, including a base layer and three sheets embedded with proprietary color-forming crystals. Put together, each sheet is around the same thickness as standard printer paper.

But here’s where it differs from standard paper: Once it’s exposed to a ZINK-compatible printer’s “micro-heaters,” the crystals in the color layers are activated to produce the desired image or text.

And although right now the technology’s mainly used in photo printing devices from Polaroid, ZINK’s technology is capable of producing more than just pictures.

According to the company, depending on the application, “several attributes of the ZINK paper, such as base thickness, level of gloss and adhesive-backing, can be added or adjusted.”

That means the paper could be customized to meet the heavy printing needs of the corporate world, too.

And since the company just raised $35 million in Series B funding – and plans to touch new markets and expand the capabilities of its technology – that’s likely ZINK’s next target.

A $24 Billion Market is At Stake

Are the benefits of switching to ZINK strong enough to make a splash in the enterprise space?

Well, the fact that companies wouldn’t need to buy ink or toner cartridges anymore is a pretty big deal. Especially considering that ink cartridges end up costing as much as – or sometimes more than – the machine itself.

This feature alone is sure to have companies like Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) and Canon (NYSE: CAJ) nervous about their business model going up in flames. After all, the United States spends $24 billion each year on ink and toner, according to ink supplier, 123 Refills.

Besides requiring zero ink, Zink’s paper also comes with a special polymer coating that’s resistant to moisture and UV light. So spilling coffee on a report or signed contract won’t be the end of the world anymore. 

However, with that said, a couple roadblocks could keep ZINK from revolutionizing the printing industry in the short term.

First of all, ZINK’s new paper isn’t compatible with standard machines. So using this system requires buying a new printer.

Plus, a business would need to replace its entire current paper supply with ZINK’s product. And although the company claims that its paper is “affordable for everyday use,” it’s still not on par with what’s currently available.

For instance, 30 sheets of 3 x 4-inch ZINK photo paper would set you back about $20. Compare that to a ream of 100 sheets of 8.5 x 11-inch Kodak (NYSE: EK) photo paper, which you can buy for $11.24 on Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN).

If the same holds true for office paper, it will be tough getting businesses on board.

However, offering an affordable alternative to existing paper would certainly generate enough interest to push ZINK’s proprietary printing process into mainstream use. And with 180 approved and pending patents under its belt, ZINK has certainly secured its future in the world of inkless printing. Whenever that may be.

We’ll keep an eye out for any updates as this nascent industry takes shape. So stay tuned.

Good investing,

Justin Fritz

Justin Fritz

, Executive Editor

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