[From January Issue 2011]
Printing is the process of reproducing text or images, usually on flat surfaces such as sheets of paper. However, new printing technologies challenging that concept are now available.
Shu Hou Co., Ltd. in Fukui Prefecture has developed a technology for printing on three-dimensional objects. They can print complex patterns on eye glass frames, cell phones, steering wheels, and more. For instance, even though cell phones bodies have many detailed parts, the applied patterns stay in position even around the edges. They also have the technology to thicken ink to resemble a leathery finish.
“I was formerly a bank clerk and knew nothing about printing. That’s the reason I could come up with ideas that people in the printing business could not,” says company President MURAOKA Kouji. “The traditional method of three-dimensional printing is to print the pattern on a film, have it float in water and transfer it to the target item using water pressure. At Shu-Hou, we put ink on an original plate and print it on the three-dimensional object using our own special method. By this method, we can accurately print at any desired position. We also developed various original inks of our own.”
Shu Hou has also developed a printing technology using electrical conductivity (the measure of a material’s ability to draw electricity). Using this technology they have succeeded in printing on the surface of an external cell phone antenna measuring 0.001 mm. “New technology should put importance on space-saving (being smaller, thinner and lighter). Therefore, from now on, I think printing will become more useful in making such things as semiconductors,” says Muraoka.
Another company, Kyoto’s Newly Corporation, has succeeded in printing with a three-dimensional feel by developing the scanner, or “Scamera.” Company President IDA Atsuo says, “There are many companies that have tried to improve printing technologies but no one has tried to improve the scanner. It was fortunate for us that we are scanner manufacturers.”
When printing an image captured by Scamera, the result will seem three-dimensional even though it is reproduced on 2-D paper. The image’s texture will also resemble the original material’s feel. “Usually when we scan an uneven surface, we scan from above, being careful not to touch the object. But, (with the Scamera) we don’t scan from just above, but from a bit of an angled position, according to the nature of each object,” explains Ida. “When we scan flat objects like pictures and metal, we scan from various directions to catch the “feel” of the object, giving it a more-than-three-dimensional touch.”
“Scamera is not a technology that tries to make a good image out of something bad. It is a technology that catches the good part of a good thing,” says Ida. “I don’t consider printed pictures made by Scamera as fake. To me, they are rather new works of art made from the original.” So, Japan’s concept of printing will keep evolving as people develop new and interesting technologies like these.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo