From Laser to 3D - A Guide to Advancements in Printing Tech

If you work in the corporate world or even just have your own home office, you would likely have a good understanding of the capabilities of modern printing technology. All printers, from large-scale industrial printers to your trusty and reliable HP home office printers, are capable of transferring digital information into a hard-copy format. Printers allow businesses, households, and even educational institutions, to take total control over how they present and interact with information.

But with recent advancements in printing technology, we’ve suddenly found ourselves spoilt for choice when it comes to all the different printer models available to us, as well as the unique functionalities that all of these models possess. For instance, 3D printers allow their users to convert digital information into a three-dimensional object rather than just a two-dimensional illustration or diagram on a page. 

If you have ever doubted the printing industry's appetite for change, let’s round off all the advancements we have seen over the last decade as well as what we anticipate is just around the corner for this age-old industry.

Sustainable production materials

Let’s start with looking at the transformation of printer hardware. Although modern printers are designed to perform for years if not decades, printers still make up a significant portion of e-waste in landfills. Recognising this, the printing industry acknowledged a need for change with regards to its production processes.

In the present day, most of the leading printing manufacturers have begun producing printer models by using recycled plastics, metals and minerals. This preserves virgin resources and gives used materials a second chance in production, a practice also often referred to as the ‘circular economy’. Printer manufacturing monolith HP has said that by 2030, their whole range of printers will be crafted from recycled materials in order to support the development of a circular economy for the printing industry. 

But this isn’t the first instance where HP has been associated with the circular economy, as HP suggested years prior to using recycled production materials that recycled printing paper is the way forward for their technology. HP printer cartridges will also continue to be produced using recycled materials, to further support the company’s goal to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2030.

And they’re not alone either! Slowly but surely, more printer manufacturers across the globe have been reassessing the sustainability of their own production practices, with other big name manufacturers like Canon and Epson also looking to curate their own ‘closed production loop’. 

Wireless printing

Just as the office environment is changing, so too is the way we print in communal spaces or as part of a team. With business models now incorporating contractors and remote workers, printing technology allows individuals to print remotely from any corner of the globe. Imagine sitting on a conference call with your team who are in the office, and then sending through a print-out to the printer on their end that speaks to the very discussion you’re participating in. 

In this regard, WiFi or wireless printing has almost become a revamp of the ‘fax machine’, as printers can almost be used in lieu of emails. This provides a frictionless workflow that benefits the entire team, without the inevitable bottlenecks or miscommunications that can occur with a team that operates remotely.

3D printing

If ten years ago, somebody told you that you could print your own action figures at home, you’d think that they had lost the plot. Nowadays, however, that is precisely one of the myriad applications of 3D printing. 3D printing really is a mind-bending concept and one that has continued to fine-tune its capabilities since the technology was first developed, surprisingly way back in the 1980s. Originally, 3D printing was developed as an alternative to traditional production processes. The layer-by-layer construction of 3D printed products offered a level of speed and agility that simply couldn’t be matched by the larger scale fabrication processes found in that era.

The potential for 3D printing to revolutionise fabrication practices is still being tested today, with many industries implementing 3D printers into their production processes. And it’s not just manufacturing and fabrication that are taking full advantage of 3D printing technologies either. Even industries like the healthcare sector, education, and aerospace and defence organisations are utilising 3D printing technologies today. 

If you have an office job, you may not need this sort of technology too frequently. But 3D printing will likely become increasingly popular amongst independent artists and even companies operating within the construction and fabrication industries (as well as the other industries listed above) in the years to come.

A 3D Printer at work

Secure release printing

There has always been a security consideration for many companies when it comes to printing and the production of hard-copy business documents. The last thing that many business owners want is for sensitive information falling into the wrong hands, and issues like backed up printer queues can result in just this situation. 

Thankfully, modern printer manufacturers have come up with a solution here too. Instead of furnishing each HR manager, payroll officer or GM with their own printer, printing technology has allowed printer users to print their document, and then ‘release’ the print once they have arrived at the machine and can securely remove it from the tray themselves. This functionality is called ‘secure pull’ or secure release printing, and it has been very effective for a number of industries, including finance, law, and other sectors that are often handling sensitive information in digital and hard-copy formats.

Keep in mind that this list we’ve provided is by no means an exhaustive overview of all the innovations within the printing industry today. In fact, it’s highly likely that in no time at all, this very article could be eclipsed by some of the other many imminent advancements in printing technology, including AI assisted printing, and sublimation printing, just to name a few. So if you have been looking to replace your old printer for some time now, explore some of these capabilities, and ensure that you discard your printer responsibility by dropping it off at an e-waste returning it to the original manufacturer.