Delft graduates invent an inkless printer

We all remember spending sunny summer days burning paper with a magnifying glass. Well that’s the technique behind the inkless printer invented by a group of students from Delft University of Technology. Printing ink is expensive, dries up quickly and runs out just when you need it most. What’s more it is hugely wasteful. At present only 30 percent of cartridges are recycled. The rest remain in the environment for around 450 years.

inkless printing

International student Venkatesh Chandrasekar from India came up with the idea and pitched it to the university as a graduation project together with Arnaud van der Veen. Together they set up the company Inkless employing 7 people with support from  support of STW (Take Off initiative), Climate KIC and MIT-RVO. The company is a spin off from the YES incubator. They then set about building a prototype. Now they have registered several patents on the technology.

Reducing waste

The technique carbonises paper, in other words changes its colour using just the right amount of heat. The deep black colour produced on paper is permanent. So far the technique cannot be used to produce colour, although the printer can be combined with regular colour cartridges.  With 80 percent of printing being done in black, the inkless printer could have a huge impact of reducing waste and saving money. The quality of the Inkless technique is now just as high as conventional printing and it is just as quick. Printing is also more flexible as the technique can be done on packages as well as paper.

Carbonisation process

‘With the Inkless method, developed in alliance with the TU Delft Optics Research Group, we carbonise the paper,’ explains the company's co-founder Arnaud van der Veen. ‘If you use a conventional method to do that, you quickly start burning through the paper because it is so thin. The resulting print is also not permanent and not black enough. Inkless has much better control over the carbonisation process, as a result of which we can print less deeply and therefore do not go through the paper. We have also developed a solution that ensures that the print is black enough and permanent.’

Looking for partners

The two graduates are looking for partners to take over the company. At present most printer manufacturers earn from the sale of cartridges. However, more and more companies are switching to the circular economy. This invention could be an interesting prospect for publishing houses and printing shops, or for printing barcodes and receipts.  

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