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Xerox digital-printer ink works on almost anything

Company offers a sneak peek at its still-in-research-phase ink, which it says could change the world of digital printing.

Xerox gave a sneak peek Thursday at its cured gel ink for digital printers that works on a large variety of materials from foil to super-slick plastic to cardboard.

Xerox's cured gel ink Xerox

Xerox's ink, previewed at the print industry trade show Drupa in Germany, is aimed at taking a bite out of the estimated $400 billion offset printing market.

The cured gel ink, with its peanut butter-like consistency, is heated up and becomes a thick liquid, similar to motor oil. The liquid squeezes through the print heads and onto a printing surface, such as a piece of paper, foil or plastic. As the liquid cools, it reverts back to a peanut butter-like consistency and is then shot with a pulse of ultraviolet light to harden the ink.

"Today digital systems shine in many applications, while offset presses are selected for others. The ability to print on nearly any surface will bring a world of new applications within the reach of digital printers," Steve Hoover, director of the Xerox Research Center, said in a statement.

The ink is currently in the research mode and no timetable is available for when it may hit the market, said Bill McKee, a Xerox spokesman. But he noted: "When we introduce something at a commercial trade show, we're committed to offering it to the market."

Currently, the challenges in getting the cured gel ink to market comes down to having the ink react accordingly, no matter what type of surface it's printed on, whether it's a cardboard box or a glossy magazine, said Jim Larson, Xerox Inkjet program manager.