Unveiled back in 2012, the Toshiba e-STUDIO 306LP/RD30 was the world’s first MFP with erasable toner. It wasn’t truly “erasable” per se, but the toner used could be reheated and turned transparent on the page. The ink is still technically there, its just that you can’t see it. You can print on a page up to 5 times before the paper is too coated with spent ink to be reusable. When the e-STUDIO 306LP was first announced and demonstrated, it printed in blue toner only (with the understanding that it would eventually ship with working black toner). Simultaneously, Toshiba unveiled the accompanying e-STUDIO RD30, the device that heats up the paper, neutralizing the toner into transparency and automatically sorting the paper into reusable and non-reusable. It also simultaneously scans each page as it is erased, preserving the content for later use and archival.
But while Toshiba may have unveiled the world’s first eco-friendly MFP system to reuse paper by erasing images and text on the page, what is the state of the technology now—a full 2-1/2 years later? The Toshiba e-STUDIO 306LP/RD30 combo was available in Japan around February 2013 and was rolled out across the world shortly after. During initial demonstrations, the Toshiba e-STUDIO RD30 not only erased the special blue toner of the e-STUDIO 306LP, it also erased anything written with a Pilot Frixion Ball Erasable Ink pen. Pilot Corporation actually jointly developed the toner with Toshiba.
Additional Applications for Erasable Toner
This last part brought up an interesting concept. Since the Toshiba e-STUDIO 306LP clearly isn’t about cost-savings (I don’t believe there is much presumption that the power, cost, and work effort associated with recouping pages from an MFP would cost less than new toner and paper) there might be some other possibilities. Certainly if you want to make a statement about the environment, one of these machines (or a fleet of them) will do that—at least in part. Like an energy efficient washing machine, it will probably just transfer the cost from one area to another.
If, however, you consider that they will clear both document and signature, it does serve an interesting function for any industry that requires in-house signatures that must be recorded digitally. The Toshiba e-STUDIO 306LP can print the document, allowing it to then be signed with a Pilot erasable pen. After that the Toshiba e-STUDIO RD30 can clear out both the document and signature for reuse, storing the record of the event via the integrated scanner—and it can operate at up to 15 sheets per minute using the scanner function (30 ppm without).
Xerox Self-erasing Paper
Back in 2009, scientists at Xerox Corporation invented a special paper and light-based print mechanism to generate prints whose images last only a day (16-24 hours). The paper can be used over again several times. The technology remains in a state of beta testing, and really blurs that line that exists between a kindle or digital ink technology and traditional media. In doing its preliminary research, Xerox estimated that as many as 2 out of 5 pages printed in a typical office are disposed of regularly within a 24 hour period.
Xerox filed several patents and calls the technology “erasable paper.” The prototype printers don’t actually use toner or traditional methods of printing at all. Rather, a light bar uses a specific wavelength of light as a writing source. The image will fades gradually over time, or you can erase it immediately by exposing it to heat.
What’s really interesting about this product is that it does away with ink, toner…the whole shebang. Instead, an infrared light source is used to provide the “ink” for the page.
So what’s the state of erasable toner technology today? Dead in the water and still in development. Neither company has moved into mass production with its ideas. It’s hard to move a product forward and have it be profitable, and that might be the issue with these. For now, however, the technology is supremely interesting and has lots of potential for that huge market of short-term paper use. I for one, would love to have the option…depending upon the operating costs of course!