The Future Of Printing - What's Next For Print?
By Simon Williams - 30th Oct 2023

Modern printers have garnered themselves a bit of a reputation for being the most essential, inessential machines in your home or office space. The main reason for this is the popular rhetoric that paper printing is set to be a thing of the past as we delve further into the 21st century’s digital revolution. You may have noticed, however, that we are two decades in the new millennium now, and home and office printers are still very much a part of our day-to-day personal and professional lives.

Why is this the case? Well, even with digital printing technologies being as advanced as they are, a number of Australian industries still require the authority and editorial ease that accompanies paper documents like contracts. With this in mind, it’s growing increasingly unlikely that paper printing will be eliminated entirely.

One shift that we have observed, however, is a push for going paper-light over being paperless. A great majority of Australian industries are actively adopting sustainable printing practices wherever possible, both with regards to minimising your office’s carbon footprint as well as ensuring that your workplace’s printing budget stays as modest as possible. Printer manufacturers have taken the growing need for sustainability in the printing industry into consideration as they design and manufacture future printer models.

We’ll be exploring just how the future of printing is tied to boosting sustainability whilst simultaneously improving the quality of paper print jobs amongst all else, as well as touching upon the more futuristic innovations that the printing industry has in store for us, both at a commercial level as well as to benefit our homes, classrooms, and wider community spaces.

Printing with light (in more ways than one)

One ‘emerging’ printing technology that has been opening up new possibilities for printer manufacturers is photonics, this being a method of ‘printing with light’. If you’re thinking that this concept sounds familiar to you, then you’d be correct, because photonics is actually the driving force behind laser printing technologies, which printer enthusiasts like us know have been around for decades now.

What new capabilities will photonics provide to future printer users, however? How about the ability to place anti-forgery watermarks on your print jobs? Printer manufacturers are currently dabbling with photonic printing techniques with the end goal of developing ‘invisible printing’ capabilities on home and office printers. The ability to print documents by using ink alongside transferring branded watermarks onto the paper itself via laser printing technologies essentially ensures a business can protect itself against forgery and authenticate their own printed documents with ease.

Similarly to photonic printing technologies, printer manufacturers and architects alike have been experimenting with conductive inks to ascertain their own potential, both in paper print jobs as well as when printing on other media types. Using nanoparticles derived from materials like graphite that are naturally conductive (or able to conduct electricity), conductive inks essentially make it possible to print out your own electrical circuits. This is a printing technique with huge potential, as conductive inks may very well make it possible for printer users to produce interactive pamphlets or potentially even produce posters that have touchscreen capabilities!

Cleaner, greener, and more precise ink tank printers

Alongside taking on additional wireless printing functionalities, modern inkjet printers are also boasting more sophisticated printheads with increasingly precise ink nozzles. More precise ink control during print jobs effectively allows printer users to enjoy higher quality prints produced by a printer with more advanced colour correction capabilities. We can already see this melding of superior technology and engineering at play with the Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-300 Printer, which uses Canon’s microencapsulated LUCIA PRO ink system to increase the density of colour print jobs and effectively produce a more richly coloured, high-quality print that’s still highly detailed. 

On top of this, it’s likely that more inkjet printers will continue to utilise more eco-friendly ink tank designs that utilise replacement ink bottles over traditional printer ink cartridges. These ink tank printers have been performing superbly in the market already, with some of the most popular series of ink tanks including the Epson EcoTank printer series, Canon’s series of Pixma Endurance Printers, and HP’s Smart Tank printers.

Whilst ink tank printers are more expensive than traditional inkjet printers, their highly dense replacement ink bottles are able to provide printer users with a substantially higher page yield when compared to replacement cartridges for inkjet printers. There are literally thousands of pages between the page yields of inkjet and ink tank printers. What this means is that printer users or office spaces with higher frequency printing needs will be able to save potentially hundreds if not thousands of dollars on replacement ink in the long term if they opt for a eco-friendly ink tank printer over a traditional cartridge printer.

Alongside this, it’s highly likely that printer manufacturers will continue prioritising sustainability in the design and production of future printer models and printer supplies. HP have made it their mission to promote a circular economy amongst HP printer users, encouraging them to recycle printer cartridges once they’ve been depleted as well as using recycled materials in the production of their own printer models wherever possible.

Printers & the IoT

Although printers themselves have continued to be present in many professional spaces across the globe, the quantity of printing machines that can be found in each office space is well and truly on the decline. There are two particularly notable reasons for this, with the first of course being that many business owners have been making a conscious effort to cut back on their organisation’s consumption of paper and printer supplies. Less print jobs means less lengthy printing queues, and as such, investing in multiple printers as a means of providing additional printing queues begins to feel somewhat frivolous.

The second reason that more offices are opting for just one office printer over multiple printers is simply because with digital printing technologies, the physical queue for your office printer has ceased to exist. With wireless printing capabilities becoming a fixture of virtually all modern multifunction printers, it’s becoming commonplace for printer users to take advantage of cloud-based printing via their office Wi-Fi network or even via mobile apps. 

Wireless printing capabilities have been made possible by integrating home and office printers into the long list of technological goods and appliances that have now joined the IoT or the ‘internet of things’. The inclusion of wireless connectivity in modern printers has effectively allowed printer users to enjoy a handful of printer functionalities while working remotely, including printing and scanning, running printer diagnostics tests, and potentially even ordering replacement ink cartridges, a feat which was pioneered by HP’s own HP Instant Ink scheme.

Similarly, with advanced sensor technologies used in the development and design of printer ink tanks, modern printers can not only more accurately gauge the ink levels in your printer’s cartridges, but also display these levels on your printer’s companion app as well as send you notifications when your ink levels are on the lower side. And if you want to truly set and forget your printer, you may even be able to set up a direct debit system that automatically orders replacement ink cartridges for you once your printer’s ink levels fall under a certain percentage.

Of course, there is one very real danger that accompanies cloud-based printing and the shift from wired to wireless printing, and that is security risks. Wireless connectivity may make your IoT devices and by extension your personal mobile and PC devices, susceptible to hacking or malware. As a result, it’s likely that future wireless printers will be developed to have more complicated firmware, allowing printers to potentially detect and fix their own security issues.

Innovations to expect in the realm of 3D printing

And last but not least, a printing technology that many of you may be anticipating experimenting with yourselves is of course, 3D printers. This technology holds immense potential to revolutionise multiple industries, including production and manufacturing as well as construction! 

We’ve already seen highly ambitious projects across the globe where engineers have successfully created fully 3D printed homes that can actually withstand extreme elements as well as natural disasters like earthquakes. There are implications with 3D printing replacing labour in the construction industry, however, and as such, it’s likely that this transition will be more gradual than we think, as will the development and production of larger, commercial 3D printer models. 

It’s also highly likely that future 3D printer models will follow in the footsteps of sublimation printers, in the sense that 3D printers will be likely to become smaller and thus, more commercially available to a growing number of consumers for both personal and professional use. We have seen hobby 3D printer owners dabble with producing small items like keyrings, door stops, mask extenders, and other functional or even decorative items, like paperweights or models. In the present day, however, the resources used for 3D printing as well as the printers themselves, can be fairly costly, so 3D printer owners are likely to commercialise their personal 3D printing machine, or at the very least, offer their wares on digital marketplaces like Etsy. 

Alongside this, we also won’t be surprised to see future 3D printers with advanced machine learning capabilities. The primary benefit of integrating machine learning technologies with future 3D printer models is essentially that 3D printers will be able to photograph or scan any given item in order to recreate that item autonomously, removing the need for digitally designing your 3D printed object prior to printing. Present day 3D printers that have been developed with the incorporation of machine learning capabilities in mind have already experienced some success with just a minor margin of error, although this has predominantly been with small and simple subjects. We’re personally looking forward to 3D printing becoming a more complex and accessible futuristic art form and means of production combined!

Printing may never go paperless, but it may become paper-light

So at the end of all of this, it’s clear to see that the printing industry is by no means close to fizzling out. Instead, there are a myriad of developmental pathways that printing can take. The technologies that we’ve explored above are just some of the most exciting innovations to keep an eye out for.

On top of all of this, home and office printers of the future may take on additional functionalities too, including sublimation printing as well as printing on a wider range of media types. This is an industry that’s only just embracing its own versatility, and we highly anticipate seeing what the future holds for the age-old art of printing as a whole.

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