A new inkjet technology called Memjet could allow printer manufacturers to launch $200 letter-size-document printers capable of outputting 60 pages per minute with office quality-color.
Memjet, which could be in place as early as next year, also could facilitate speeds of 30 ppm for photo-quality prints and 90 ppm for draft-mode output. The technology's maximum resolution is 1600 by 1600.
How Memjet Works
Memjet was announced by Australian-based Silverbrook Research, which says that the technology has been in development for the last decade. Where traditional printers use printheads that move back and forth across a page, Memjet's printheads (an array of inkjet nozzles) are as wide as the paper being printed on. This "page-width printhead" concept is where the speed benefits kick in.
While Silverbrook Research owns the patent portfolio associated with the technology and the Memjet trademark, three Memjet companies (all U.S.-based) have been established to commercialize the technology: Memjet Home and Office, Memjet Labels, and Memjet Photo Retail. Further information on all three privately held companies can be found at memjet.com.
Of course, the challenge for Silverbrook Research and its companies now is to make good on such claims. To that end, it has been showcasing working prototypes and demo products. You can watch the technology in action for yourself at the Memjet site's video page.
Just Demos So Far
The only products that have been shown by Silverbrook Research are demo devices and reference designs; it will not be launching its own models. Instead, the Memjet companies are working with existing printer manufacturers, digital camera companies, and photo-kiosk operators. For instance, Photo-Me International has already announced that it plans soon to begin trials of Memjet-based photo kiosks in France.
The Memjet people remain secretive on which home- or office-product companies are customers, but they will say Memjet should have three to five customers introducing such products by the end of 2007 or early 2008.
Though a Memjet-based product's price, specifications, and design will be set by its customers, Memjet expects that we'll see 4-by-6 photo printer units for around $150. Mid-to-late 2008 should see the introduction of consumer-oriented letter/A4 printers for as low as $200, and it's almost a given that more-expensive Memjet-based large-format photo printers will launch at some point, too.
Memjet says that inks will be customized to ensure print quality with a Memjet printhead and printing system. Though the ink formulation is unique and specific, the inks won't be fundamentally different from the aqueous inks on the market today. The initial Memjet ink for the 4-by-6 printhead will be dye-based. Pigmented Memjet ink is still in development and is expected to launch in conjunction with the letter/A4 printhead components.
More to Come
Personally, I'm optimistic about this technology, but I'm equally interested to see what technological responses, if any, existing printer companies might have up their sleeve.
One way or another, it looks like 2008 is going to be a very interesting year for inkjet printing. I'm currently in talks with Memjet to personally test a demo device with final components later this year, so stay tuned for a more hands-on look at this technology in the near future.