What is Xerox Solid Ink? Dec 31, 2009 12:33 by Matt Bird
When I first heard of the concept of Solid Ink, its oxymoronic nature confused me. Ink, that is hard? I thought back to a dried out pot of paint you had failed to close properly, leaving a nice solid mass of wasted material (though colourful, I admit). Ink should be wet. Runny. Messy. Anything but a solid. This is just one of many incorrect first impressions you can have from the term, and I’m sure if any individual who had a spare few years hanging around was to gather everyone’s first thought when they heard the term Solid Ink it would be a diverse and fascinating variation of themes.
Solid Ink is actually a technology, thought up and developed by Tektronix from 1986, later purchased by Xerox in 2000 who have continued its fine development. To quickly summarise, solid ink is a no-mess, non-toxic, resin-based ink “block”, not that different to your old ink crayons you so knew and loved as a child. They get melted down to produce the required ink, and then transferred onto the paper by a print drum in quite a technical manner, but that can be explained later in more detail. So let us start simple. What does Solid Ink look like?
So, Solid Ink is actually Lego bricks for printing. Now that’s a reason to switch to solid ink if ever there was one, and I can’t quite place why Xerox don’t market its diversity potential. I can see it now – “Want to do more than just print with your ink, like use it to build your dream house or a spaceship? Use our solid ink NOW”. I should patent that idea. Xerox could add it to Tektronix’ initial marketing, where the president of the company ate part of a solid ink stick to demonstrate its safety for handling.
But how does the solid wax transfer to a good print for you? The printer starts by melting the blocks down to ink, which is stored in receptacles within the printer. When the print request is sent, a microscopic layer of silicone oil is applied to the heated drum to ensure a reliable ink release. The ink is then jetted onto the drum, all colours at once, by a full-width printhead. Xerox like to boast that their new range of printers have 3,000 print heads per printer, each print head having 900 ink nozzles a mere 37.5 microns wide (a human hair is said to be 100 microns). This leads them to the hard to believe, but still brilliant claim, of
“allows it to put more ink drops on a page in a minute than there are people on earth”
With the ink placed on the drum, the printer uses sensors and image processing algorithms to calibrate the print request, with a sheet of paper then rapidly going through the printer between the drum and transfix roller. This is where the ink is transferred to the paper with the relevant image, and enables a very fast print speed. Our offices Xerox maintains a typical 32 ppm speed, and due to the way the image is created and transferred to the page, this print speed is maintained no matter the coverage on the page. Gone are the days a printer can say separate statistics such as 20 ppm for black and 8ppm colour, Solid Ink printers are consistent for both. Furthermore, this printing method can be referred to as “Single Pass”, where the printing mechanism only passes over the print medium once, a total change from typical printers with the print head moving back and forth across the paper. This guards against any risk of misalignment between colours, which can often occur in traditional inkjet printing methods.
With all this fancy information and promises about speed and reliability of prints, you still do not have enough significant information to consider switching to solid ink printing. However, the advantages stretch much further.
Firstly, Solid Ink is essentially just small blocks of wax which you drop into the printers pre-determined colour slots. A simple, yet brilliant, evolution of these blocks are the differences in mould shape. To ensure that no individual risks “contaminating” the print reserves by putting an incorrect colour into a slot, they each have a different shape. Much like children’s shape puzzles, you literally cannot mix your colours incorrectly. Coupled with its solid state, and no form of cartridge or ink to leak, it is a mess free – leak free – waste free activity to replenish your printer supplies.
The most important benefit you will hear of is higher print quality, and I vehemently support this claim. Our solid ink printer outputs a tremendously sharp image, with vibrant colours, and a glossy finish to every print which just gives it an air of quality. When the ink is transferred to the paper it penetrates the pages fibres, where it cools and solidifies nigh-on instantly. There is no spreading of ink, or scattering of toner, with a strong permanent bond to the paper. Furthermore it means the pages are safe-to-touch immediately after printing, so no risk of smudging or any other image mishaps.
You really have to see the print for yourself to understand the crisp finish, and when coupled with the aforementioned speed, is a very tempting proposition. Unfortunately, the term ‘crisp’ can not only be applied to its appearance. The printed output shares a weakness of that lovely snackable item, its vulnerability to cracking. On a printing test we did of Solid Ink, we tried a brochure format. At first appearance, the output was the expected fantastic quality and professional finish. However when we went to fold the page into the brochure layout, any ink near the fold would crack slightly. Whilst this is a small weakness, it is a niggling issue not to be forgotten for a printer likely found in a business. A small extension to this is susceptibility to damage of the image. Granted, not many documents get physically abused to the extent I scratched at the image for this test evidence, but you can see that extensive damage to the area an image is present can lead to an effect not experienced by typical printing methods.
A final gripe to the surface of the print is if you come to write on it. Due to the drum passing over the whole of the page, irrelevant of image content, the glossy finish is present page-wide. This means it can be at times difficult to write on, with a slight scratching effect seen or the ink not ‘sitting’ well on the page.
Do not let this deter you though, in an office environment the pages will rarely come under this much stress, it has not been of issue to us and we happily continue to use our Xerox printer. You can also consider yourself to be green… to a point. There is much argument about this topic, with many insistent that the fact the printer needs to stay turned on, to remain warmed up to melt the wax blocks down, means it uses far more energy than normal printers. However with the implementation of power-down states when not in use, and the printer’s analysis of your printing time usage so it can essentially program its day around your predicted printing patterns, these are being nullified. Coupled with no production of ozone, and no waste produce from cartridges as all you have is the ink block out of the packaging, you are doing your little bit towards helping those poor polar bears sweating away.
Finally, with the expansion of the technology and the obvious benefits being seen by 3rd party companies, fantastic ranges of compatibles are being released for the Xerox’s. With these compatibles further reducing your printing costs at a similarly high quality output, and the evolution in technology aiding efficiency and environmental benefits, this new technology really is one for the future.
Interested in which printers Solid Ink is made for? Find them here: