Laser "unprinting" unveiled by scientists

A process to remove toner ink from printed paper using lasers has been unveiled by engineers at the University of Cambridge.

BBC News reports that the cutting-edge technology could revolutionise the printing industry in terms of the way it uses recycled paper.

The technique, which involves firing short laser "pulses" to erase print, is more eco-friendly than recycling and could find applications in basic black and white print or photocopy jobs, like those observed in flatbed plotters, for example.

Project team lead author, David Leal-Ayala told the BBC that the process involves vaporising print by heating it up with the lasers.

"Toner is mostly composed of carbon and a plastic polymer. It's the polymer in the toner that is vaporised," he explained.

New Scientist adds that while the idea of unprinting isn't new - Toshiba has successfully done this on blue ink it says - the Cambridge engineers' method is more effective at preserving the original properties of the paper.

"We have repeated the printing/unprinting process three times on the same piece of paper with good results. The more you do it, though, the more likely it is for the laser to damage the paper, perhaps yellowing it," Leal-Ayala confirmed.

Although the team's work is not yet patented, or backed by big business, the engineers believe a prototype device suitable for the office could be built for around £19,000.

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