How Electronic Ink Works

Electronic ink or link is a new material that has the potential to replace paper. Paper is relatively heavy and figures wrote or printed on it cannot be removed easily. Most paper is a strain on the environment, as trees from which it is made cannot be replaced quickly. Nevertheless, the paper has ruled for centuries because it is easy to read, does not need electric power, and because it is flexible and can be bent.

These advantages have enabled the paper to withstand the onslaught of computers with their power guzzling, inflexible display panels that have relatively narrow angles of vision. Electronic ink is about to change the equation between computers and paper.

Electronic ink is made of microscopic capsules. About 100 thousand of them can fit in one square inch. Each capsule carries a large number of electrically charged particles. Half of these particles are of one color, often white, and have a positive charge. The other half is a contrasting color, commonly black, and carries a negative charge. These particles are in a fluid medium inside each microcapsule. An electric charge can be passed inside each microcapsule and this causes the positively charged particle to rise to the top and appear as a white spot.

The same charge repels the negatively charged black particles to the bottom so that they are hidden from view. The electric charge can be reversed at another spot so that the black particles with negative charge rise to the top while the white ones with positive charge settle at the bottom. Alphabets, numbers, and parts of figures can be “seen”; this is as a matrix of white and black dots.

The display can be transferred to a thin plastic sheet, which has an embedded electronic circuit. This sheet can be juxtaposed on a wall, on fabric, metal, plastic, and virtually any other surface, using software that has been developed to control the display.

All the contents of a computer can be displayed on and read off any surface. The technology uses only a modicum of power, so that it can work on battery power for a relatively long time, and can be seen in low light as well. The surface on which the display is made does not suffer from any permanent mark, so the contents can be changed at will.

Two corporations are close to selling eink to manufacturers of cell phones, PDAs and hand-held computers. Such small devices will soon be able to replace large numbers of documents and books and will also do away with the need for separate and bulky projectors. Groups of people can share the display on a computer screen with ease.

The relatively tiny screen of a small electronic device will no longer limit the amount of text or the dimensions of a displayed image. The technology will also replace billboards, posters, signs, and related outdoor communication structures that are ubiquitous today. Electronic ink will also impact the world of fashion, as it will be used in time on fabric, skin, and fashion accessories.

Electronic ink will impact the world as paper, which it will replace, has done.

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