Laser printer toner is not exactly an area that people expect to see a ton of technological advancement in, but the people at Xerox have been setting the printing world abuzz this year with the development of a new Xerox 6360 toner that is reputed to be significantly more environmentally friendly and produces better image quality at the same time. In the world of toner research and development that is akin to introducing the lightbulb into an industry still cluttered with gas lamps.
Xerox already has a well deserved reputation for developing some of the most innovative ink and toner products on the marketplace. After acquiring the Phaser brand from Tektronix in 2000 Xerox became the sole producer of solid ink based printers. These printers have earned a reputation for producing high quality graphic images due to the the wax-like ink that they use while still saving consumers money on the cost of the ink. Solid ink printers are also well known as being the most environmentally friendly printing option on regular consumer market, since these printers emit no ozone during printing and use no plastic cartridges that get discarded after they run out of ink or toner. Now, with the development of the new Emulsion Aggregation Toner Xerox is able to lay claim to manufacturing two of the most innovative and environmentally friendly inks in the world today.
Emulsion Aggregation Toner is a chemical toner that is prepared using the emulsion aggregation process from which the name is derived. This process is used to grow very small uniformly shaped and sized particles from smaller toner components in a laboratory. Or, to say it in English, the scientists behind Emulsion Aggregation Toner (EA toner) build the powder through using nanoparticles and a chemical process to increase their size. The researchers behind the new Xerox toner created a liquid material that resembles regular house paint and then added additional ingredients, such as pigments and wax, before setting it all out to dry. The liquid bonded all the ingredients together as it dried up, creating a very fine powder that can be used in a toner cartridge.
By comparison, traditional toner is created by melting a plastic polymer with a colored pigment in it, letting it solidify into a slab, and then grinding into the dust that is used in laser printers. This process creates very small but irregular shaped particles that we know as toner. This process also uses up a fair amount of energy in grinding the polymer slab down into the dust particles your printer needs, and since those particles are irregularly shaped the printer also uses excess amounts of ink to make a shape closely approximating the original image to be printed.
EA toner solves those issues. First, since all of the particles are both smaller than regular toner and uniformly spherical, they are able to create a much sharper image than the larger irregular shaped toner particles created by grinding down a polymer chunk, sharper on the scale of what is capable with Xerox 8560 ink. And since the smaller particles create a sharper image, less toner is ultimately used in the printing process. Secondly, since the particles are created simply by letting the original mixture dry out up to 30% less electricity is used in the manufacturing process, providing environmental and cost cutting benefits to the process.
However the original researchers discovered a problem with the new miracle toner: in order for this to be viable as a product it needed to be mass produced, yet the scaling process for mass production actually resulted in changing the chemical properties of one of the necessary precursor materials, halting the mass production of EA toner. A new pair of researchers were able to address this problem and alter the scaling process in order to account for the chemical change and thereby allow the EA toner to be manufactured en masse. As a result all of the researchers on the team were awarded with the American Chemical Society Award for Team Innovation.
The white paper detailing this new Xerox toner breaks all this down into three advantages for the consumer: 1) sharper image quality and text, 2) higher printer reliability resulting in lower service costs, and 3) faster warm up time for the printer. The faster warm up time is due to having a toner that is always ready to print and no longer needs to use an oiled fuser like traditional toners. As a result all industrial Xerox toner printers are now being designed to work with EA toner, and it can soon be expected to have a significant impact on the personal consumption market as well. Similar advancements are also being made in the feild of xerox ink (such as Xerox 8400 ink). In one fell swoop Xerox has changed the game with toner technology, both reducing the severe environmental impact that toner cartridges have on the planet and creating a cheaper and better product at the same time.