ColorQube: is wax the future of color printing?

Bill Bulkeley at the Wall Street Journal writes on Xerox's new color printing system, which reduces the cost-per-page by 62 percent.
The machine, called ColorQube, is expected to be unveiled Thursday. It's a multi-function device that prints, copies, scans and faxes, and is designed to be shared over a computer network by several dozen people in an office. ColorQube uses a new formulation of Xerox's solid ink, a waxy crayon-like substance that is melted and sprayed onto a spinning drum that deposits the ink on a sheet of paper. Color laser printers use powdered toner.
The only problem is that the printer costs $20,000. Xerox Launches Revolutionary Color Printer [WSJ]

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22 Responses to ColorQube: is wax the future of color printing?

  1. Paul Coleman says:

    We have a solid ink Xerox printer here at work and the thing is great. Everything sheet does get a waxy sheen of sorts. Plus when you clean out the excess wax from the catch tray, you get these cool little wax sculptures.

  2. airship says:

    The Okimate 10 color printer I had plugged into my Commodore 64 twenty-five years ago used wax-based color ink. There’s nothing new under the sun.

  3. dculberson says:

    Anon14, things have progressed just a bit from the 1870’s or whenever that behemoth you’re describing was current. The modern ones draw about 50watts at sleep, but unfortunately that’s a constant draw which is still higher than comparable laser printers.

    You do still have to cool it down and lock it prior to moving, but that typically takes less than half an hour.

    I do hope you don’t make all your tech assumptions based on experiences with 20+ year old hardware. I can just imagine you complaining about how PCs all only come with ISA slots and how they make poor use of extended memory and how ridiculous it is to include a cassette port in this day and age.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I used one of the last-gen Xerox wax printers at work for a few years. Aside from the waste of ink if the power went off (the sales rep told me that each power down cost about $50 worth of wax), the output was very nice, glossy photos even on crappy paper. Overall it was rather pricey though, figured about 25 cents per page, so we replaced it with a faster laser at 10 cents/page. If this is cheaper yet, I’ll take a serious look.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the old tek phaser printer technology. The output is completely awesome, and despite what some people here are saying the wax is far less susceptible to heat damage than normal laser toner.

    I have phaser printouts from Bruno Bellamy’s website that are about a decade old, pinned to the wall in my (un-heated, un-airconditioned) barn, that still look fresh today.

    Too bad Gillette didn’t buy Tek’s printer technology, they’d sell the printers at a loss and make money on the wax blocks. But Xerox… OK, Xerox, we’re talking about the people who threw away a monopoly on the computer GUI, peer-to-peer networking, the mouse, etc. etc. etc…..

  6. dculberson says:

    They certainly make a nice print, but will indefinitely remain a niche product. The smell, long warm up time, and printer cost result in something you don’t want to use in the average office.

    Also, under no circumstances should you use the output of one of these in a laser printer! You end up with gunk all over the inside of your printer. The wax melts off the page and comes off on everything. Not that I would know from experience or anything… no sir.

    I love the look and feel of the wax printed documents, though. They have a kind of waxy, oily feel and are always very shiny and bright.

  7. freetardzero says:

    $20K is no big deal- most businesses will be leasing anyhow. We have a crapload of those big Canon MFDs in our school district, and they go for well over $20K if you were to buy them.

  8. Anonymous says:

    We had a Phaser for some time in our print shop at the university. Given that this behemoth came for free with a stash of surplus wax jelly babies from an institute that switched to 4c laser we were quite happy to extend our service to quick and cheap 4c prints for students.

    One year later we had learned some things:

    1. Standby isn’t.
    2. You don’t need heating in the same room any more.
    3. The room smells like burnt plastics. For years to come.
    4. Shut it down, and it will take forever to cool down, and forever to warm up again and it will use ludicrous amounts of wax to clean itself before printing.
    5. Keep the thing running and you’ll get problems since the wax isn’t meant to be heated for prolonged periods of time. It took about three days of stand-by to get really bad effects.
    6. No-one will buy this thing used.
    7. No-one will take it for free if you don’t lie to them.
    8. To dispose of this thing at your friendly electronic/hazmat-rubbish unit on campus will cost you a ton of money.
    9. Get rid of it by storing it at your unused-old-stuff-for-nerds-take-away.

    I suppose there was a reason this things didn’t survive hardware evolution.

  9. MsLau says:

    It’ll pay for itself after a couple of years with the cheaper ink cartridges, right?

  10. drtwist says:

    #1 is right, thermal wax printers have been around since the 90’s. it’s hardly “new”

  11. ShellFromXerox says:

    drtwist – You’re right, solid ink is not a new technology. Xerox purchased solid ink from Tektronix in 2000 and desktop printers have been available, but Xerox’s R&D team has re-engineered it for the hallway. ColorQube is a breakthrough in how fast we can put solid ink on the page, thanks to a new print head design that jets 150M drops per second. You can see under the hood here:

    dculberson – Solid ink desktop printers used to use more energy than laser, but we’ve closed that gap by reducing the melting temperature. A study reviewed by RIT found that ColorQube’s product lifecycle requires 9 % less energy and produces 10 % fewer greenhouse gases than comparable laser equipment.

    Shell Haffner, Xerox Solid Ink Product Manager

  12. Andreas says:

    As far as I know, many of the newer printer/copiers that run on fuser oil free systems use wax based powder toners, and I haven’t seen much trouble with those.

    And looking beyond printing, there must be at least a few logistical and environmental benefits from using solid blocks instead of all those clunky 15″-ish plastic cartridges that seem to be quite a bit of a waste even if they are recycled.

  13. retchdog says:

    My family had an okidata printer when I was a kid. They required special paper which (my family told me) cost a lot of money, so I couldn’t use it. I’m assuming this is true.

    The new ColorQube supposedly uses standard paper, and even paper which is unsuitable for a laser.

  14. error404 says:

    Actually it would just be good if they produced large refill bottles of ink and carts that could be refilled that fitted domestic printers.

    An ecological approach rather than everyone having to change printer.

    The cynicism of printer manufacturers is sickening.

  15. midknyte says:

    “…which reduces the cost-per-page by 62 percent…”

    62% of what??? The real cost of ink and printing, or the manufacturer inflated, psuedo cost of printing?

  16. Anonymous says:

    Ever fold a piece of paper printed with thermal wax? Or scratch or scrape it? Beautiful, yes. Fragile, yes.

  17. bbonyx says:

    I’m happy with my color laser. When I was looking to buy it I researched the solid wax printers (consumer/small business level) and it seemed that the biggest complaint was that you had to keep the printer on all the time, otherwise the wax dries. It is liquified again for printing when the machine is turned on, but this involves quite a bit of waste so you burn through the wax pretty quickly. Since I don’t want my printer on 24/7 (I only print 1-2 times a week) I opted not to go this route, fearing I’d end up wasting a significant amount of wax. But users with actual mileage might be able to confirm/deny.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It’s not new, it’s not dye sub. It’s hot wax printing and I had one of these. They’re horrible. Yes the wax ink is cheap and mess-free but the box had to draw nearly 1kW at idle to keep the wax melted and ready to print. It weighed nearly 100 lbs. since it had cast iron (or something similar) bowls & channels to hold the wax. It smelled of old candles all the time.

    I beat it to death with a hammer before I carried the bits out of my apartment. Its only up side was the wax ink was clear, glossy, and smudge-proof.

    Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: You couldn’t move it for 24 hours after powering down, lest all the molten wax spill over the guts of the machine.

  19. Anonymous says:

    The WSJ may be gushing about it, but I fail to see how it’s a ‘revolutionary’ printer when in the same article they say it uses a ‘new formulation of Xerox’s solid ink’.

    It’s dye sublimation printing.

    DyeSub has always produced the best looking color prints at a reasonable cost per page, but the initial cost has usually been high. This looks like more of the same.

  20. phisrow says:

    That looks like an evolutionary modification of the “Solid ink” stuff that Xerox has been selling for some years now, ever since they bought it from Tektronix, who sold it for some years before that.

  21. strider_mt2k says:

    Yeah but with the 64-ink pack you get this cool little sharpener right in the BOX!

    I was never one for printing inside the lines either, btw.

  22. Anonymous says:

    This is not new. QMS made a really expensive thermal printer that used wax ink pucks. You can’t put the prints near any heat source, so heat lamination is a no-no and so is photocopying. The “ink” melts together into a brown/black mess and ruins the print. Unless they’ve updated the technology making the “wax” ink becomes heat resistant after its first use, this is a really bad medium.

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