HP IonTouch is a rewritable, inkless printing system

Ink is so permanent. In many cases, that is the ideal. But there are instances where permanence is not just uneconomical but also inefficient. While digital displays or even e-ink can address some of those, they are at times too volatile and always more expensive. Enter HP IonTouch, a new kind of printing technology that bridges the gap between permanent ink and modifiable displays. And it is so cheap and so small that it takes only a few cents to make a display no larger than a credit card.

Calling cards, gift cards, temporary IDs, gate passes, QR codes. These are just some of the types of printed material that are temporary or personal that printing them with printed ink adds up to a monumental waste of paper and ink. Of course, HP might want you to buy more ink from them but, in an increasingly digital age, print is ultimately losing out.

IonTouch is how HP plans to stay in the game. In a nutshell, it's like a cross between a printer and e-ink technology. It shares the semi-permanence of e-paper but without the electronics that add not just bulk but also cost. Although you can print it on something almost as thin as a credit card-sized piece of plastic, it technically still is a display, just one that doesn't use power to keep its content and can be easily "rewritten" with the appropriate equipment.

Of course, HP isn't spilling the details of this proprietary technology but shares just enough information to describe how it works. Taking the place of a printer is the IonTouch imager, which is the only piece of equipment that can write and rewrite on the display. The "display" comes in a 2.5-inch 300x300 area that can be used to either display black and white content or 16 levels of greyscale. Yes, the technology isn't that advanced yet to do color, but, in almost all of HP's envisioned use cases, that's all they'll ever need.

One such use case is a badge or security system, where a visitor's pass can be printed on the spot containing the visitor's information, including a photo, as well as the person being visited. One interesting scenario is that the badge can include a special mark or code that is specific only for that day, ensuring it can't be reused beyond the authorized period. The card itself, however, could possibly be reused for some other future visitors, erasing and rewriting the information displayed on the card.

While a bit more complicated than just printing on paper, IonTouch is making an appeal both to economy and ecology. Whereas actual digital displays that use electronics would cost somewhere along the lines of $50 per card, an IonTouch card would cost less than a couple of dollars to make. And since there is technically no paper or ink involved, the whole system can be reused and, at the same time, hardened against unauthorized use.