How it Works Photography

What is Zink Zero-Ink Photo Printing and How Does it Work?

What is Zink Zero Ink Photo Printing and How Does it Work Banner
Written by Izak Van Heerden

Zink technology is the latest in a long line of printing technologies focused on user-friendliness, portability and most of all, instant gratification.

ZINK stands for Zero Ink, and as the name implies, there are

  • no ribbons
  • no cartridges
  • no extraneous or other printing devices needed


This means that unlike standard digital cameras, the Zink technology allows the user to obtain a hard copy instantly. This concept is similar to the Polaroid system of years past, and not surprisingly, the company that makes this paper, Zink LLC was formed by people who previously worked for the Polaroid Corporation, making paper for today’s Polaroids and other instant brands.

While functionally similar, the current Zink technology and the Polaroid technology of 40 years ago are worlds apart.

How Did Old Polaroid Prints Work?

The old Polaroid process utilized a chemically impregnated paper that included color dyes plus a developer layer. When the film was exposed, the chemical coating on the paper captured the image, and when the film was pulled from the camera, it was squeezed between rollers that activated the “developer”. The result was an “Instant” print. Actually, the process took several minutes for the picture to develop.
The new Zink technology uses a different process but is similar in that it uses paper with the color dyes impregnated, therefore no external ink source is necessary.

How the New Zink Paper Prints Work

Color printing is accomplished with the use of basic colors, usually four. These are Cyan ( Blue) Magenta ( Red) Yellow and Black.

Zink printing uses only three colors, magenta, cyan and yellow, but achieves the same results.

What is Zink Photo Printing and How Does it Work

In fact, most of the color images you see, whether on the printed age or on a color printer sheet are made from a combination of three or four basic colors in combination. The separate color spots are so minuscule that our eyes blend the colors together to create a variety of hues transitioning seamlessly from one shade to another to create lifelike images.

The key to Zink printing starts with the paper which contains everything needed to produce a color print so there is no need for a separate ink cartridge.

What is Zink Zero Ink Photo Printing and How Does it Work Zink Paper

There is a base layer, then three additional dye impregnated layers and a top protective layer.

The first color layer from the top is yellow,  then magenta in the middle and the last being cyan. Each layer is activated by the thermal head contained in the camera or printer. Dye is a bit of a misnomer, as the coating on the paper consists of colorless crystals which only become colored when exposed to the heat source in the printer head. The heat melts the crystals, and the combination of colors results in the colors needed to create a color photo.

As the printer head passes over the paper, varying intensities of heat are applied resulting in the variety of colors. This is possible because the various layers respond only to their own specific narrow temperature range. Yellow, the top layer, is activated by high temperature and a short time, Magenta responds to medium temperature and medium time and Cyan responds to lower temperatures and longer times. To put this all in perspective, the times are measured in milliseconds so it takes less than a minute to get your color print.

What is Zink Photo Printing and How Does it Work

Who Invented Zink Technology?

The ZINK process was developed within the Polaroid corporation around 2005. Zink Holdings LLC was created in 2007 as a spin-off company that now produces the paper used by Polaroid, Fuji and other manufacturers of cameras and inkless printers. Polaroid pioneered the concept of ” Instant” print photography in 1947 when Edwin Land created the process and the company that bears his name to this day. The original Polaroid picture has an approximate 3.1 x 3.1 in. image area and takes 10 to 15 minutes to develop. This type of camera and film is still available.

The major difference between this and the new Zink cameras and films is that the waiting time is only a few seconds with the new Zink camera, so they are truly ” Instant” pictures. The size is also a  bit smaller measuring about 2 in x 3.25 in. and the camera itself  is a smaller pocket -sized device which makes it more convenient to travel with. There is now also a larger 3 x 6 in format available from Polaroid.

Cameras and Portable Printers that Use Zink Paper

There are currently a number of printers and camera-printer combinations available that use this technology.

Printers

  • HP Sprocket
  • Polaroid PoGo
  • LifePrint
  • Polaroid Zip instant photoprinter
  • LG Pocket Photo
  • Dell Wasabi
  • Prynt Case (Classic)
  • Prynt Pocket

Printer-Camera Combinations

  • HP Sprocket 2-in-1 Printer & Camera
  • Kodak Printomatic
  • Polaroid PIC-300
  • Polaroid Z2300
  • Polaroid Z340
  • Polaroid SocialMatic
  • Polaroid Snap
  • Polaroid Pop

Additionally, portable printers are also available that can Blue Tooth sync to your smartphone or any devices that have blue tooth connectivity. These are available in 4 x 6 inch formats from Pan Digital and other manufacturers. See the link below for an example.

How Much Does the Paper Cost?

Cost is an important consideration, and there is good news. The cost is relatively competitive with traditional printing processes.

A pack of 50- 2 x 3 in. sheets is $22 which is .44 per print.  This is the size the least expensive camera models use and is roughly the size of a credit card. 3 x 4 in. sheets, used in some of the newer cameras by Polaroid cost  $20 for a pack of 30, which translates to .66 per print. For comparison, the typical pharmacy or big box store cost for a 4 x 6 digital print is between .06 and .10 depending on whether you want instant service or can wait a day.

If you print at home, 4 x 6 photo paper costs about $12 for 100 sheets, or .13 each.  Keep in mind that you have the additional cost of ink. Paper cost is the same whether you use a Zinc camera or a Zing printer.

By contrast, the original Polaroid prints, which are still available, cost about $19 for 8 sheets. That is $2.30 each.

What is the Quality of a Zink Print?

Most of the lower priced cameras produce images in the 2 x 3 in. size, so wallet size is about all you can expect. The actual quality is not quite up to the quality of a high end digital camera. The print quality is not yet the same as a home printer or a drugstore chain, but keep in mind that the technology is new and the size of the device is amazing considering that it combines camera and printer all in one. The prints are somewhat water resistant and longevity is good but they are sensitive to heat. If you left a print on a radiator or hood of a car in summer there may be some damage. Remember, it is heat that creates the images in the first place.

These devices are basically Digital Cameras and are available from 10 to 20 -megapixel resolutions and certainly higher resolutions to come. This means you can take the SD card from the camera and have prints made at a drugstore or photoshop. You can also download the photos to your home PC and make as many prints as you want, and in any size you want. This means that if you have a special moment and want something other than the 2 x 3 wallet size, you can do it.

Are There Different Brands of Zink Paper?

Yes

  • HP Zink Sticky-Backed Photo Paper
  • LG Pocket Photo Paper
  • Prynt – 2×3 inch Zink Sticky Paper
  • LifePrint 30 Pack of film

Are the Different Brands of Zink Paper Compatible With One Another?

No, but… (Read on)

Will Polaroid Zink Paper Work on Sprocket?

Yes, just use the blue Zink Smartsheet of the Sprocket with the Polaroid paper.

What is Zink Zero Ink Photo Printing and How Does it Work HP Sprocket

Photo Courtesy of hp.com

Does Zink Photo Paper Expire?

Although by EU law an expiry date needs to printed on the package since this product is classified as a consumable, we suspect it will age well as the crystals will not deteriorate fast. These crystals are activated by applying heat so storing it in a cool place might extend the film’s life.

  • The LG Pocket Photo recommends 2 years from manufacturing date. The date printed on the pack is the manufacturing date.

Do Zink Photos Fade With Age?

Scott Wicker, chief marketing officer at Zink LLC stated that Zink prints should last as long as normal prints. By employing “accelerated testing” (exposing the prints to intense light sources to simulate years worth of light exposure) as well as testing the prints in hot, humid conditions, it was determined that these prints would last for years and years.

Now Read: [Top 5 Portable Printers for Smartphones]

About the author

Izak Van Heerden

Izak has witnessed a couple of decades worth of changing tech. He hopes to make it a couple more until his conscience can be copied to a cyborg body.

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