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How Ink-free Mobile Photo Printers Work

Ink-free Portable Photo Printer Specifics
Printing from a digital camera requires connecting a USB wire.
Printing from a digital camera requires connecting a USB wire.

In 2007, a Polaroid spin-off company called Zink unveiled its ink-free printing technology. Then the company teamed up with Polaroid to develop a pocket-sized printer that won't leak ink into your pants. Let's take a look at the PoGo instant mobile printer (the first device of its kind on the market) to get the idea of how the technology works.

The PoGo printer connects to a digital camera through a USB adapter wire, allowing the printer and the camera to directly connect without a computer. Connecting the printer to your cell phone, on the other hand, requires no wires. Instead the printer can use a Bluetooth connection to receive images from the phone. For those who haven't read How Bluetooth Works, this means that your phone (if it's compatible) and the printer can be programmed to talk wirelessly. And when prompted, the phone can send the data for the image via radio waves to the printer.

When it receives the data, the printer prints out a 2-inch by 3-inch color photo. The resulting picture has a peel-off back that exposes a sticky adhesive -- so this photo can be used as a label.

When the printer is functioning on its lithium-ion battery, it can print as many as 15 photos [source: Stone]. When it's plugged in, the AC adaptor (the power cord that adjusts the right current and voltage needed) can keep the printer going for endless prints. With the rechargeable battery attached (but without paper), the printer weighs about 8 ounces [source: Stone]. And, at 0.9 inches by 4.7 inches by 2.8 inches, it holds up to 10 sheets and is not much bigger than a pack of cards. Polaroid is banking on the device's convenient size and weight to attract consumers who'd like to carry it around with their cell phone or digital camera. The Polaroid printer will carry a price tag of about $150 [source: Bergstein].

Without ink, a printer needs far fewer components.
Without ink, a printer needs far fewer components.

Aside from Polaroid's efforts, Zink has also partnered with three other companies to develop other devices that will utilize the ink-free printing. Also, Zink is developing a device that is closer to the classic Polaroid camera -- a two-in-one device that doubles as a camera and instant printer.

Zink hopes that in the future, the printers will even be built into cell phones. As there's no need for ink (just paper), compatible printers won't add too much weight or size when attached to a phone or any other device for that matter. Not only that, but because the special printing process can go beyond just photos, Zink's plans also include incorporating a printer with similar technology into devices such as laptops.

So now that we know what it can do, it's time we find out how it does it. Next we'll take a look at the zero-ink process behind the instant printing of images.