Half a croissant, on a plate, with a sign in front of it saying '50c'
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Reactant Vapor Printer

Multiple "slow burns", in color
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This Idea exists to address various perceived shortcomings of all the other printers out there. For example, ink jet printers feature liquid inks that can be messy to handle, and can clog the print-heads (I have one that I used ONCE, and had to replace the combination ink-cartridge/print-head before I could use it again, simply because a bunch of time had passed). Melted-pigment printers (see "phaser" link) produce nice images that can't be laminated in plastic (the heat would re-melt the pigment and mess up the image). Dye sublimation printers waste lots and lots of dye (and their printouts also can't be laminated). Impact printers are monochrome (and still noisy). Color laser printers are very complex, requiring a separate pass of the paper for each different-color-toner cartridge (can be miscalibrated if the paper handling mechanism isn't perfect).

So, what to do? Maybe this....
Let's consider paper as a collection of cellulose fibers. It has known chemical properties, including known abilities to chemically react with other substances (oxygen can gradually turn it brown, an actual combustion reaction, only sloooooww). Suppose we conduct some scientific research specifically aimed at finding some chemical reactants (preferably simple and inexpensive and stable at decent temperatures!), such that when they react with the cellulose in paper, the results are a range of colorful chemical compounds. Obviously we will prefer to start with the basics: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black compounds.

Assuming we find such reactants, we now build our printer to use them. We want the reactants to be solid or liquid at room temperature, and to be able to vaporize without adding a huge amount of heat --and of course these reactant substances need to be chemically stable when vaporized.

The printer will have 4 (or more, depending on just how many colors we have available and want to play with) sealed bins to be filled with the different reactants. For solid reactants there are heaters to liquify (or sublimate) it. The liquid or gaseous reactants are carried by appropriate heated tubes to the print head, which is fairly normal by modern standards; it contains lots of microscopic valved holes, through which measured amounts of the reactants will flow. The print head will also be heated to the extent necessary to ensure vapor is emitted at the paper, and to ensure it never clogs.

In contact with the paper, the reactants react, of course, with the cellulose they encounter in the paper, creating relatively ordinary-looking colored spots. Lots of holes in the print head means lots of spots can be created simultaneously, under the usual control of the computer/printer/driver software. The printhead moves across the paper (for high-output printing, the print head is as wide as the paper and the paper moves under it), and covers the page with colored spots in the ordinary way.

Since the colored spots are the product of chemical reactions, they are much more permanent than other types of printings. Getting the paper wet will not cause the ink to run. Heating it will not cause the pigment to melt or evaporate. All around, assuming appropriate reactants can be found, this should be a quite superior technology.

Vernon, May 26 2009

Dye Sublimation Printer http://en.wikipedia...sublimation_printer
As mentioned in the main text [Vernon, May 26 2009]

"Phaser" printer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xerox_Phaser
As mentioned in the main text; this is a "brand" name. [Vernon, May 26 2009]

Color laser printer http://en.wikipedia...olor_laser_printers
Mentioned in the main text [Vernon, May 27 2009]


       Using substances known to react avidly with biologic material might raise some health issues.   

       To discard inkjets because of clogging, and then propose an entirely new way of printing while presupposing the non-clogginess of the substance used feels like cheating.   

       The 'burned' cellulose fibers would have to retain their mechanical stability   

       the reactants would need to react to compounds of the same color with every cellulose variant and the varying amounts of other stuff that is present.   

       while ink-based printers cover the paper, this method would have to infuse the chaotic tangle of fibres to a specific degree, without the fibres acting as wicks.
loonquawl, May 27 2009

       [loonquawl], some of your statements jump-to-conclusions, without considering all the relevant data. For example, regarding health issues, lots of unhealthy substances already exist in typical homes, most of which are properly labeled and stored so that they can be used safely. Why would that not be done here?   

       Next, I specified that the reactant substances chosen for THIS printer must be vaporizable. That means if the print head is heated, in order to emit vapor at the paper, clogging will be by-definition impossible.   

       Next, regarding the burned cellulose fibers, you seem to be ignoring the fact that inks, dyes, toners, etc, currently applied to paper very seldom affect the whole thickness of the paper. In fact, to minimize wastage, it is desired to only affect the surface, not the body, of the paper. Even the special paper used in thermal printers is only "burned" at its surface. Obviously we want the same here (but with ordinary paper). Therefore the body of the paper will still exist, its fibers intact, regardless of what happens to the celulose fibers at its surface.   

       Next, you are ignoring the wide variety of reactant possibilities, when you think that the color should derive ONLY as a result of the chemical reaction. While I know what I implied in the main text, I do not limit the idea to that notion only. What if the reactant itself was colored, and its job was merely to chemically attach itself to certain bonds found in all varieties of cellulose fibers? The net effect would be the same, a colorant that does not "run" when wet and cannot be revaporized (at least not below the flammability point of the paper).   

       Finally, the "wicking" effect is much more a phenomenon of liquids than gases. Sure, I would expect some diffusion into the paper, simply because I am talking about using vaporized colorant --but dye sublimation printers (which already do use vaporized colorants) don't seem to have a problem here, in terms of "coverage" of the paper, and diffusion into it, so I think it is safe to assume this scenario is manageable.
Vernon, May 27 2009

       health-issues: yes. properly stored you could have a printer using plutonium. i said there could be issues, not that is was absolutely impossible to use such substances.   

       you have a nozzle. nozzles can clog. by definition. i have an inkjet stored in a box for a few years and used it ~half a year ago, the results were just fine. The technology to ensure non-clogging is out there, it sometimes fails, like the vessels containing hazardous substances do, sometimes...   

       fiber mechanics: i agree to the non-need of soaking the paper all the way to the other side. having parts of a flexible matrix turn crunchy might lead to flaking, anyways. Thermal printers use colors switching dye that is predeposited in the paper, and no not burn the cellulose (at least not intentionally)   

       modern inkjet ink already clings to the paper using bonds. by the frequent usage of the words 'reactants' is assumed you meant [no idea what those are called in english: 'real', chemical bonds, as opposed to H-bridges, ion bonds etc].   

       wicking: you are right, i forgot you were talking about gaseous colorants, sorry.
loonquawl, May 27 2009

       // assuming appropriate reactants // , //Assuming we find such reactants//. These are big assumptions.   

       But let's just assume them. Then of course this would work. However, we do need some more info on how this could possibly be done. My guess would be better (more reactive) "paper".
4whom, May 27 2009

       [4whom], since this is the HalfBakery, there should be no generic objection to making assumptions that are not blatantly unreasonable.   

       [loonquawl], I would like for there to be real chemical bonds between the colorants and the paper. Ordinary hydrogen bonds are inadequate to prevent the ink from running if the paper gets wet.   

       Regarding nozzle clogs, this is not going to happen from the colorant. Sure, it might happen from dust and other stuff, but I'm specifically talking about clogs from dried liquid-based ink --there will be none of that here!
Vernon, May 27 2009

       [Vernon] I am in no way making a //generic objection to making assumptions that are not blatantly unreasonable//.   

       I am merely suggesting that this manifestation should require, at least (if not more), work on the "paper" as much as the *assumed* reactive agents that would be applied to current cellulose fibres.   

       I recently made a suggestion that instead of investigating power hungry broadcast methods for landmines we could, rather, look at methods providing the same functionality that rely less on the proposed idea's constraints, and more with a proven technology, and with a similar end result. It was equally badly received.   

       To the point, I like this idea. If we are to investigate new methods of storing colour data on paper I would like to see R and D on the inks, and R and D on the paper, in equal proportions.
4whom, May 27 2009

       I'd like to point out that there were (are?) indeed color impact printers.   

       And if ink jet manufacturers haven't come up with a way to keep nozzles from clogging, well I think that tells you something right there.   

       (And if you think 4-pass lasers are slow, how fast is this going to be?)
phoenix, May 27 2009

       [phoenix], I didn't say the problem with color laser printers is that they are slow; I said that if their paper handling is less than perfect, the 4 images they put on top of each other will be miscalibrated (I probably should have said "misaligned").   

       The speed of this printer should be equivalent to the typical inkjet.
Vernon, May 27 2009


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