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A Printer in Your Pocket?

A new company from Waltham, Massachusetts has just released an interesting new product, which is certainly revolutionary, if not necessarily useful. Zink, or “Zero Ink” has developed a printer that can fit in the palm of your hand, and, without ink cartridges, print out a 2×3″ photograph. Printer manufacturers have long been trying to make portable photo printers, trying to bridge the gap between the digital camera and actual photos that you can hold in your hand. All, however, have been held back by the fact that they have not managed to move beyond inkjet technology. Zinc, however, promises to take digital photography to the next level, for better or worse.

The technology behind the Zink printer, which is smaller than your average digital camera, is thermal imaging. Rather than applying ink to a page, a process that requires ink cartridges and a whole bunch of precision moving parts, the Zink prints by heating its special paper in a certain pattern. The heat causes crystals in the paper to melt, releasing their color. The paper, which the company plans to make available for $20 per 100 sheets, contains three different colors of crystal, corresponding to the three colors of ink, and entirely colorless to begin with. Based on the way the printer heats them, they turn into pixels of different colors.

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At this point you might be asking yourself, what good is it to be able to pull a printer out of your pocket and print a picture? While seemingly a useless technology, Zink plans actually incorporate its thermal printer into digital cameras, in essence creating a digital Polaroid camera. One of the first products the company plans to release is one such camera. It will also create printers compatible with already existing cameras and cell phone cameras, hoping to add mobility to a field that doesn’t necessarily need it.

Despite its product’s dubious utility, however, Zinc’s marketing concept, however, is quite sound. One thing holding many people back from digital photography is the lack of actual, physical pictures that you can hold in your hand. Although it is possible to print out pictures, and it is possible to get your digital photos developed, the process is simply more complicated than the process of taking pictures with a film camera. Zink hopes to cash in by changing all this. In the mean time, though, I plan to keep on happily taking pictures, storing them on my computer, and perhaps printing out a few choice shots.