PrintDisplay: DIY displays and touchscreens anyone can print

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Custom printed displays can make plants smarter, too (Image credit: Saarland University)

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For years now, we've been promised miraculous new flexible touchscreen displays, but the deployment of such technology in big consumer products, like say the LG G Flex, hasn't started any revolutions just yet. That could soon change thanks to a team of computer scientists from Germany's Saarland University who have developed a technique that could allow anyone to literally print their own custom displays, including touchscreens.

Using a regular inkjet printer equipped with a special ink, a DIY thin-film electroluminescence (TFEL) display can simply be printed out from a digital template of the desired size and shape using a program like Microsoft Word or Powerpoint.

"So far, nothing like this has been possible," says researcher Simon Olberding. "Displays were produced for the masses, never for one individual user."

However, the process – dubbed PrintScreen – is a little more complicated than simply pressing print in Word. The team has developed two methods using either screen printing techniques or off-the-shelf inkjet printers that can take anywhere from several minutes to four hours for a layman to create a custom display. The team claims that the results are "relatively high resolution displays" only one tenth of a millimeter thick. They say covering a standard printer page with a display layer would cost about €20 (US$21.69), mostly due to the cost of the special ink involved.

Printing a regular near-HD display could be just the beginning, though. The method can also utilize other materials like plastic, metal or wood as a two or three-dimensional base for display surfaces.

"With this method, we can even print touch-sensitive displays," says Olberding.

The team envisions DIY screens embedded in all kinds of personal objects, from furniture to clothing, or new, function-specific objects with their own custom displays.

"And if we now combine our approach with 3D printing, we can print three-dimensional objects, which are able to display information and respond to touch as well," says lead researcher Jürgen Steimle.

The technical details of the processes are available in an academic paper, or you can learn more in the video below.

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