Silverbrook Showing Ultra-Fast Inkjets

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At an international conference in Prague, Australia’s Silverbrook Research announced a new inkjet printing technology which promised to be five to ten times faster than inkjet printers on the market today, yet still offer cost-effective printing solutions.

Silverbrook’s Memjet technology packs an astonishing number of ink nozzles into its print heads: each driver chip is just 2 cm across yet contains 6,400 ink nozzles, and Silverbrook has aligned these in series to create a single print head the width of an entire page. Unlike conventional inkjet printers—which move a printhead back and forth across a page on a control bar—the Memjet print head doesn’t move: instead, it sprays ink as paper moves continuously under the printhead. The Memjet print heads offer five color channels, and the printing system calculates some 900 million drops per second while controlling the firing of all the ink nozzles.

Currently, the Memjet technology tops out at 1,600 × 1,600 dots per inch; photo-quality printing can be handled at 30 pages per minute, while everyday document printing can reach speeds of 60 pages per minute.

Silverbrook’s Memjet system is based on thermal inkjet technology, which has been around for a couple of decades, and Silverbrook has apparently been working on the Memjet technology in secret for 10 years. The Memjet technology appears to contain a number of innovations, not the least of which are how the company packed so many print nozzles into so small a space, and how it formulated an ink which can be used in the system without smudging or undue spreading. Silverbrook says the Memjet ink is water-based, but otherwise hasn’t given up any information about how it performs its magic. The company ought to be well-protected, though: the company is highly ranked among technology patent holders, with more than 1,400 patents granted and another 2,000 pending.

Silverbrook doesn’t plan to enter the printer manufacturing business; instead, the company wants to license the technology to other manufacturers. Silverbrook will make its money making print heads and control systems, selling ink, and licensing its designs. Silverbrook will offer reference designs for printers in a number of different formats, and says the technology can be easily scaled up to large-format printing. The company estimates printers based on Memjet technology may reach market later in 2007 at prices as low as $300.

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