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Singaporean researchers print first full color images at 100,000 dpi

17 Aug 2012

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Researchers from Singapore have demonstrated an innovative method for printing sharp, full-spectrum color images at 100,000 dpi that can be applicable in reflective color displays, anti-counterfeiting and high-density optical data recording.

Researchers from A*STAR's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) have developed an innovative method to achieve this using metal-laced nanometer-sized structures, without the need for inks or dyes. In comparison, current industrial printers such as inkjet and laserjet printers can only achieve up to 10,000 dpi while research grade methods are able to dispense dyes for only single color images.

This novel breakthrough allows coloring to be treated not as an inking matter but as a lithographic matter. It can potentially revolutionise the way images are printed and be further developed for use in high-resolution reflective color displays and high density optical data storage.

The inspiration for the research was derived from stained glass, which is traditionally made by mixing tiny fragments of metal into the glass. It was found that nanoparticles from these metal fragments scattered light passing through the glass to give stained glass its colors.

Using a similar concept with the help of modern nanotechnology tools, researchers precisely patterned metal nanostructures, and designed the surface to reflect the light to achieve the color images.

The resolution of printed color images depends to a large extent on the size and spacing between individual 'nanodots' of color. The closer the dots are together and because of their small size, the higher the resolution of the image. With the ability to accurately position these extremely small color dots, researchers were able to demonstrate the highest theoretical print color resolution of 100,000 dpi.

Instead of using different dyes for different colors, researchers encoded color information into the size and position of tiny metal disks. These disks then interacted with light through the phenomenon of plasmon resonances.

The team built a database of color that corresponded to a specific nanostructure pattern, size and spacing. These nanostructures were then positioned accordingly. But instead of sequentially coloring each area with a different ink, an ultrathin and uniform metal film was deposited across the entire image causing the 'encoded' colors to appear all at once, almost like magic!

The computer simulations were vital in understanding how the structures gave rise to such rich colors. This knowledge is currently being used to predict the behavior of more complicated nanostructure arrays.

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