Tim Aldiss writes for Spectrum Photographic – professional photographic & giclée printing.
Since the launch of the initial inkjet printer in 1984 by Hewlett Packard, the home printing quality has steadily increased, with resolutions now many times higher compared to the original model. But try and visualise the high resolution required for generating a full-colour print capable of fitting inside a human hair. Researchers in Switzerland have achieved exactly that in the process scooping a new world record.
In a venture by the ETH Zurich University jointly with Scrona, their startup company, a new and exciting technology was put to work in generating a photograph that has an amazingly small area measuring 0.0092 square mm. That would ideally work out to be approximately the size of a single pixel that has been placed on a retina display. The outcome picture makes an appropriate vibrant choice for the life-like and vivid 24bit colour depth.
There is one problem however: so tiny is the print that it’s not visible with the naked human eye! Witnesses at Guinness World Records had to employ a microscope in checking and verifying the claim to the world record.
Using Quantum Dots
In creating this world record shattering print, the technique used is called 3D NanoDrip, and is similar to how an inkjet printer runs. Rather than fire ink dots of ink onto the paper, 3D NanoDrip employs quantum dots. These are minute particles emitting a bright light, whose colour is dependent on their size. It becomes possible for the researchers to adjust the dots size very precisely so as to manage in which colour each one will appear. These subsequently get applied in layers of blue, green and red to the printing material towards building up the image colours, at an incredible 25, 000 dots-per-inch resolution. The implication is that the quantum dots get printed only 500 nanometres apart.
Until then, it was not possible to deal accurately with quantum dots so as to place them with the kind of precision required in printing them clearly. Many new research possibilities are being opened up by this new advancement for further research into other potential uses for them.
The Broader Picture
It’s possible to assume that printing a picture with such small dimensions might really have little practical use other than demonstrating that it can be done. However, quantum dots actually have another important usage—in TV sets. Electronic companies like LG, Samsung and Sony already have demonstrated TVs using quantum dots, as they allow intense, bright colours to get displayed on screens.
We are likely to see in the coming days increased usage of ‘nanostructured’ materials in multiple applications. Particularly, it would appear that when it comes to technologies that are digital related, quantum dots are lending themselves quite well.
Scrona are in fact aiming to get funding through a Kickstarter campaign, in which they are offering potential buyers the opportunity of having their very own images micro-printed. Just to ensure that potential takers don’t feel like they are getting ripped off, the Kickstarter campaign is providing the prints along with a miniature microscope so that one can actually see them.