Printing without Ink, or: Burning Letters onto Paper

Former students of the University of Technology in Delft have founded the start-up Inkless that has developed a technology able to print without ink and on any kind of paper by burning letters and “prints” onto paper.


Imagine your printer ran out of toner or ink but you urgently need to print something. It would be better to have a printer which prints without any kind of ink, don’t you think? There are already some techniques which work without ink, like printing with water or light, but in any case a special paper is necessary. Former students of the University of Technology in Delft, in the Netherlands have now developed a technology able to print without ink and on any kind of paper by burning letters and “prints” onto paper. The name of their start-up sums it all up perfectly: Inkless.

Carbonization is the Magic Word

The researchers use an infrared laser that passes through a lens and burns the paper. This process is called “carbonization” and with this, they say, the burning-process is perfectly controllable. So Inkless can “print” less deep so that the paper will not be destroyed by the laser. The intensity of the printed color can be influenced by changing the pulse duration of the laser. This means the scientists are able to print the exact black color which is the same as the one printed with a conventional printer. The technique itself works similar to burning paper by using a magnifying glass and sunbeams. But burning in connection with paper basically is a bit challenging ;-). Of course, it might cause holes. Furthermore, the color of burned-in letters is more brown than black and additionally it is non-permanent, so that it can be rubbed off.

No Ink, No Problem – But Lots of Advantages

Inkless did a lot of research to ensure that the quality of their burned-in prints is as high as the quality of conventional prints. Also, this technique comes with many benefits, for example, there is no more need for toner cartridges, which reduces waste and energy on the one hand. On the other hand, it reduces costs for the whole printing chain because cartridges do not have to be produced any longer. Another advantage is that manufacturers do not need special coated paper, which again reduces costs.

The founders of Inkless created their printing method for industrial markets and large scale printing but also for private home or office use. It is possible to print texts, images and graphics on paper as well as on labels or packaging surfaces – but by now only in black.

How do you evaluate the potential of printing without ink or toners? Discuss with us in the comment section!

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