The chemistry of printing: Class is in session with HP’s Thom Brown

October 31, 20163 Minute Read

Imagine a desktop printer so advanced it creates discreet micro explosions to project almost a billion drops of ink each second. This isn’t just speculation—it’s a real example of some of the latest innovations in printing and ink. If you thought printing had reached its “peak” as a technology, you’re in for a wild ride.

We recently sat down to talk to Thom Brown (@printwiththom), resident Inkologist at HP. From his office in sunny San Diego, Brown shared some insight into the latest innovations in the chemistry of printing and how they can impact your organization.

What’s new in printing?

Thom Brown geeked out with us out over some recent innovations in thermal inkjet printing. Thermal is a “fancier word for heat,” Brown says, the process of creating micro explosions at the printhead. He compared the basic science to boiling a pot of water. Right before your water reaches a rolling boil, you can see latent energy in the pot. Thermal inkjet printing leverages this energy to create high-quality images and printing with awesome speed and precision.

Thermal inkjet printing uses silicon computer chips to heat up tiny micro-cavities of ink in the printhead. For size reference, the nozzle is about one-third the width of a human hair. The silicon chip exposes the ink to a 300-degrees-Celsius heat blast for a micro-second (that’s over ten times the heat of a summer in Toronto). These heaters can be turned on and off up to 36,000 times per minute.

When ink meets heat

When water-based ink is exposed to this heat blast, it’s pushed out and forced to escape to the page, traveling up to 50 kilometers per hour— that’s just six kilometers per hour (and a flashing grin) faster than Olympian sprinter Andre De Grasse. This happens over and over again while your page is being printed. The new PageWide print technology from HP contains over 42,000 nozzles that deliver almost one billion drops of ink each second.

Brown clarified that the water-based ink used in thermal inkjet printing isn’t just environmentally friendly—it’s the perfect material for this process. It’s a complex formula of getting the print and speed just right—HP’s team of scientists typically spends from three to five years on each new ink system. They’ll design and reject thousands of prototypes before anything close to perfection is achieved.

Secured chemistry of printing

Let’s be real: Using silicon chips to bring ink to 300 degrees Celsius in a micro-second is incredibly cool, but today’s IT managers are busy people. When it comes to the end-user experience of printers, Brown admits that he hears from real IT pros that they want technology that’s easy to use and implement—that they can count on, monitor conveniently, and not have to think about or attend to most of the time.

Today’s printers offer more than just advanced inkology. Brown points to the security and workflow benefits that are specifically designed for the way real people work. HP R&D, he says, spend years considering “everything from the paper path to the print speed to even the cartridges for the supplies,” which contain far more ink than their cartridge cousins of yesterday.

Today’s printers are also highly sophisticated, networked computers. Their built-in security features can self-detect hacking or other security breaches by scanning critical system files each time they come online. If negative changes are detected, they stop short, preventing cybercriminals from gaining access to your company’s network.

Printers may not have the same futuristic intrigue as your new mobile-connected watch, but when you look beyond the surface to the science behind its security and workflow benefits, it’s kind of hard not to get excited. When 42,000 nozzles are creating a billion micro explosions each second, it’s a great time to nerd out and appreciate the art and science of inkology.

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