Printers get a glimpse of OLED tech

The light source has been appearing primarily in displays. Now Epson sees it outshining the quality of laser printers.

Seiko Epson is bringing emerging OLED technology to one of the more staid pieces of office equipment, the printer.

The Japanese company has created a print head that uses organic light-emitting diodes as a light source. To date, OLED elements have appeared primarily in displays, and rather small ones at that.

Currently, printers and copiers use either lasers or standard LEDs as light sources. Epson worked with Sumitomo Chemical to develop a brighter OLED that can be used in printing, and the company said that prototypes have produced printouts with image quality comparable to or better than that produced by conventional laser printers.

An OLED print head would have two advantages. It can produce superior images by more precisely controlling a beam of light, and the print head can be very small and thin. Epson hopes to use the OLED technology to develop smaller color printers that have higher resolution and faster printing speeds.

In displays, an OLED element produces a brighter image than an LCD (liquid crystal display) does and one that is easier to read in bright sunlight. It doesn't use backlighting like LCDs, so its power consumption is lower and screens can be slimmer. Sony has fitted an OLED display in one of its Clie handhelds, and Samsung has produced a 21-inch display prototype intended for a TV monitor.

Epson is one of the two largest printer makers in Japan, competing head-to-head with Canon. In recent years, especially after going public in June 2003, it has been putting more emphasis on research and development, and the efforts have generated new products such as a DVD player-projector combo and projection TVs with a built-in color printer.

Hayashi Sakawa of CNET Japan reported from Tokyo.

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