Chief amongst the concerns for most printer users are cost and waste, which is why the idea of re-using printed pages once they're no longer needed is an attractive one. Previous systems like the PrePeat printer have relied on specially-made plastic-coated paper which could be erased by the printer's thermal heads and re-used with no degradation in image quality. However, the PrePeat and similar systems have remained on the periphery and never made the crossover into the mainstream market, mainly due to the prohibitive cost of the paper.
Toshiba has taken a different approach by removing the need for expensive, specialist paper and making the toner itself erasable with its new FriXion Ball system. Even this approach is not new as Toshiba first announced its e-blue erasable toner system way back in 2003. The system has never been launched in Europe but has been used in Japan, where companies have reported savings of 40% to 60% on their paper usage. Toshiba's method is to use a heat sensitive toner which fades if it is heated above 130C and can be printed on to standard copier paper.
Toshiba says that the paper can be re-printed up to five times, although the technique is not perfect as previous prints can still be seen faintly. Another drawback is that the toner is currently only available in blue. Obviously, material printed in this way is of limited use but, as the majority of printed pages are e-mails, internal memos etc., there are still huge potential savings to be made.
Limitations in the hardware, as well as the output, prevented E-blue and its successor, B-SX8R, from being released to the European market; the heating element used to erase the toner consumed a massive 800W of power and the machines cost £5,000 – in 2006. In addition, the machine required a separate erasing machine to be attached to the main unit, taking up valuable space.
Details are sketchy regarding the new machine but it will give the option to scan a sheet for digital storage before it is erased and, presumably, the issues of cost, size and power consumption have been addressed. Toshiba is also working a full colour version so, in future, you won't be restricted to printing in just blue. With rising costs and ever-increasing awareness of C02 emissions, Toshiba's erasable toner could well catch on if they've managed to get the technology right this time.
by Anthony Morgan