top of page
  • Writer's picture


The Journey That Could Save The Book Industry

Harvey R. Levenson, Ph. D.

Professor Emeritus, Cal Poly

San Luis Obispo, California


I am honored to present at the upcoming IMI Inkjet Conference 2020 (FMI see on February 12-13, 2020 in Tempe, Arizona on technologies on the forefront of revitalizing the book printing and publishing industry in an unprecedented manner.

This is a tremendously broad and deep topic, one that I will overview at the conference in the limited time allowed. To provide a history and context, I’ve prepared the following blog. In my presentation, I’ll be covering transforming publications, Augmented Reality, print-to-web, Clickable Paper, enhancing learning and training for printers, and using print (ink on paper) for multimedia. I will present case studies, and conduct live demonstrations.


The Case for Printing on Paper

I was recently doing some research and needed to access an article in the 2003 Technical Association of the Graphic Arts (TAGA) journal.

When I pulled out a copy from my personal library, I came to realize that the 2003 publication was the first TAGA journal, going back to the 1920s, that provided only printed abstracts along with a CD of the full research papers, but not the full research papers. So, I took the CD, popped into my up-to-date desktop computer, and a “not readable” message appeared on the screen. In a second attempt, the CD icon would not even appear on my screen, and I had to “force eject” the disk.

My only recourse was to contact TAGA (now part of PIA), provide the name and date of the research paper I wanted, and buy it! However, I needed the information provided by the article immediately!

An Important Revelation

It occurred to me that when teaching about graphic communication technology at Cal Poly, I used to teach about the virtues and benefits of printing. I’d hold up a CD, a DVD, a thumb drive, and several other external devices for storing and accessing information. I’d then ask the class: “Who can tell me how long my data would be accessible on these devices?” As expected, there would be silence; no one knew, nor did they have any basis for guessing. I’d then ask: “How long is data available on printed media?” This would elicit guesses because they’ve seen old books, but none of the guesses came even close. I’d then hold up a book gifted to me that is over 100 years old, pointing out that all of the data was present and clearly readable, but we had no way of knowing if this would be the case with the electric portable devices I displayed.

Saving URLs could be particularly devastating if relying on them for use in the future, because you are at the mercy of whoever posted the URLs. One never knows when they will be removed from Internet access. I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions.

If I had a copy of a Gutenberg Bible printed in 1456, when I would open it up, it would “speak” to me in clear Latin in its original color ink, and display its graphic embellishments in their original colors and beautiful designs…564 years later. However, the simple black and white research paper I attempted to access from a 2003 CD didn’t even last for 20 years.

A paper I wrote a few years ago explains the evolution of paper. It follows. While entitled, Paper—Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, it could also be entitled, “The Evolution of Paper to Paper.”

In the words of another Harvey, “Now you know the rest of the story!” (Said by radio news commentator, Paul Harvey)

The Evolution of Paper to Paper

Consider that paper for printing has transitioned from the substrate of choice for displaying data, information, and design to non-paper electronic “substrates,” and is not transitioning back to traditional paper. The main pressure for reducing the use of or eliminating traditional paper is cost.

Paper is the most costly consumable commodity used in traditional printing, representing between 30-percent to 50-percent of the cost of printing. It is considered a “necessary evil” for traditional printing. However, a main reason for retaining paper as the substrate of choice for printing is that print media is the most durable, informative, pervasive, detailed, influential, and meaningful form of media that has existed for over 500 years, and continues to be so. So, the myth is that we are moving toward a paperless society. The reality is that we are moving toward longer lasting and more durable paper.

Technological Transitions

The technological transition regarding paper is from ink on paper to Augmented Reality (AR), and likely to culminate with E-paper, the ultimate Augmented Reality in the graphic communication industry. Augmented Reality is an interactive experience where real-world phenomenon is enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information across senses: sight, hearing, smell, and touch (haptic).

The evolution of “substrates” on which images have appeared is from paper to desktop computer monitors (CRTs and LCDs) to laptop computer screens to cell phones to smart phones to tablets to “clickable paper.” The next transition is likely to be to E-paper, with substrates becoming thinner and thinner within which microscopic pigment particles are built into the substrate and manipulated via an electrostatic grid, also built into the substrate.

If paper is the most desirable substrate for detail, pervasiveness, information, and influence—but the most expensive—how are the benefits of paper achieved without using traditional paper, but still remains a contemporary and profitable substrate for printing companies? “Clickable paper” is today’s answer where images can be changed without reprinting. The next transition is likely to be E-paper. Developed almost simultaneously (circa 1997) by MIT’s Media Lab and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the timeline for E-paper becoming a practical and cost-efficient alternative to traditional paper is presently unknown. In the latter case, the PARC project was turned over to a Xerox spinoff, Gyricon, and is now available for further development via licensing.

The concept and promise of E-paper was presented at the TAGA 2004 annual conference as the future “new frontier” in printing on paper. One attendee asked the speaker when the technology would become a reality. The answer was, perhaps in 50 years. The development of this technology was updated at the 2005 TAGA annual conference, where the speaker said that the practical application of the E-paper technology was about five-years out. It has stalled since, leaving Ricoh’s Clickable Paper the only Augmented Reality technology of its kind that is realistic, practical, and economical in today’s printing market.


Gershenfeld, Neil, When Things Start to Think, MIT Media Lab, (1999).

Levenson, Harvey R., “An Examination of Ricoh’s Communication Products,” The Seybold Report, November 11, 2019.

Levenson, Harvey R., “One OEM is Providing Products That Will Keep Print Vital and Valued,” WhatTheyThink, October 17, 2019, Printing Impressions, American Printer, October 21, 2019,

Communication Business,” Converting Guide, January 21, 2019, Printing News, January 22, 2019, Printing Impressions, January 25, 2019.

Levenson, Harvey R., “How a Graphic Communication OEM Is Also in the

Edition (a printed interactive book), IntuIdeas, Bainbridge Island, Washington, June 2018.

Levenson, Harvey R. and John Parsons, Introduction to Graphic Communication, 2nd Edition (a printed interactive book), IntuIdeas, Bainbridge Island, Washington, June 2018.




Harvey R. Levenson, Ph. D.

Professor Emeritus

Cal Poly State University

San Luis Obispo, California 93407 USA

Dr. Harvey R. Levenson is Professor Emeritus and former Department Head of Graphic Communication at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, California. His research and teaching specialties are communication, intellectual property, media, printing, and technology. He is often called upon as an Expert Witness in these areas.


Paper, the magical carrier of knowledge and information, has been the most pervasive vehicle to advance civilization for nearly two millennia.

The Myth Is!

We are moving toward a paperless society.

The Reality Is!

We are moving toward longer lasting and more durable paper.



Since its invention in 105 AD by Ts’ai Lun in China, paper has become the indisputable requirement for delivering the thoughts and ideas that have built the great institutions of the world, including but not limited to art, science, law, religion, education, medicine, and architecture. Combined with printing, paper was the foundation for print media, the most meaningful, detailed, pervasive, and influential media in the history of the world.

Today, information media encompasses much more, including radio, television, movies, the computer and, indeed, the Internet. However, combined, these relatively new media have not had the impact or influence that “ink on paper” has had in informing and educating people of all civilizations—east and west. From pre-Renaissance scribes to pre-Industrial Revolution craft to today’s automated printing processes, paper has been the one steady requirement for the production of print media.

Traditional Paper

How significant was Ts’ai Lun’s invention? Interestingly, the process of making traditional paper is fundamentally the same today as it was in 105 AD; the emulsification of plant or tree fibers in water, spread thin, and then dried. The difference is that today paper is made on multi-million dollar high-speed machines spanning hundreds of feet or meters long. Certainly, there have been refinements in the ingredients and science of papermaking. However, the basic premise of emulsifying fibers into pulp remains the same for traditional paper.

Over the years, and most recently, there has been the development of different types of paper such as synthetic paper, paper compatible with water-based inkjet printing, paper for toner printing, and even electronic paper. Special coating has been developed for paper to enhance compatibility with certain processes such as Sapphire treatment for the HP Indigo process using Electroink. However, the main purpose of paper remains what it has always been; a substrate or surface for preserving and delivering information.

What of Synthetic Paper?

Synthetic paper is a substrate that can have the look and feel of traditional paper, but has physical characteristics that support different requirements. For example, non-absorptive paper such as that manufactured by Yupo provides longevity that traditional paper does not. Yupo paper involves a coating blade process providing smooth surfaces and superior ink holdout. Dupont’s Tyvek, a plasticized paper, involves an extrusion process that creates pores similar to traditional paper for ink bonding and absorptivity. This too can be coated.

Another synthetic option is ViaStone paper composed of ground stone as opposed to tree fiber. This provides environmental and recyclable benefits that traditional paper lacks. Some synthetic paper is composed of degradable Polylactic Acid (PLA). When broken down, it can be used for compostable mulch.

One reason for the development of synthetic paper is a shortage of traditional paper. This was caused by the reduction in the number of papermaking machines since the early 1970s, and, thus, reduced production capacity. This reduction in the United States resulted from the institution of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), and rules governing industrial health and safety. Many paper mills were in violation and, consequently, many papermaking machines were shut down. The cost of new machines, often in excess of $50 million at the time, was prohibitive. Additionally, the expected longevity of synthetic paper made such substrates attractive; librarians like it. Resistance to moisture and tearing made synthetic paper attractive for childrens’ books, and the ease of recycling synthetic paper was also appealing.

And What of Electronic Paper (E-paper)?

Electronic paper, also known as E-paper, was developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory and by the Xerox Corporation Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Such paper has microscopic colorant capsules, or E-ink, built into it, and is manipulated by electrostatic charges. Hence, the pigmented capsules can be moved so the colors show through the paper surface or they do not. When they do, an image can be made to appear, and the image is immediately variable.

In sum, a capsule or sphere full of liquid colorant is influenced by an electric field. The electric field generates two different states: “color” or “no color.” The paper contains a fine matrix of electrodes that creates the image. The image will remain after the device is turned off. Hence, the paper performs as a computer monitor and is reusable without being recycled. So if one wants to change the image, this is simply done through software and a recharge of the paper. For example, suppose one reads a classic novel, such as “Gone With the Wind” on E-paper and then wants to read another classic such as “From Here to Eternity.” All one has to do is “plug in” the book, do some basic software manipulations, and the words will change from one novel to the other. The same possibility exists for daily newspapers, weekly or monthly magazines, and for other publications.

While initially developed over two decades ago as an experiment, electronic paper is the promise of the future and will allow paper to function in the way that a computer monitor or electronic pad does today. One of the first applications of this technology was for billboards. It is also being used for transportation media on buses and trains.

Another version of E-paper is “Clickable Paper” developed by the Ricoh Corporation. “Clickable Paper” allows the reader to navigate websites by connecting printed materials to online resources using image recognition software on a mobile device through an app developed for this purpose.

While traditional paper provides the benefit of durability, high resolution, portability, and a familiar look and feel, electronic paper provides the benefit of Internet access, review of masses of information, speed of access, rapid distribution of information, and immediate variable data information. Further, focused advertisements and information of particular interest to the individual reader can be provided.

Smart Packaging

Another area where paper has taken on a new role is in the area of “Smart Packaging.” This is where images on paper communicate with the consumer, and the consumer with the imaged paper through the use of mobile devices. Here is where through Near-field Communication (NFC), Quick Response Codes (QR), Universal Product Codes (UPC), and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), the relevance of a package’s information such as nutrition, heath, and wellness information will change depending on the consumer who looks at or purchases the product. Advantages of the product to the consumer, as well as warning and cautions, would appear that are relevant to the specific consumer.


In spite of paper being the most expensive disposable commodity used in printing, paper not only survived, but also grew in its purpose as print communication grew and diversified into its many forms using multiple technologies that seemed like science fiction not too long ago.

Print imaging technology, including Cloud Computing, digital printing and imaging, short-run color, variable data printing, augmented reality, high-speed wide format printing, printed electronics, E-ink, E-paper, vision technology, QR Codes, Clickable Paper, RFID, apps development, Smart Packaging, and Near-field Communication have all inspired new ways of using paper and well as new ways of producing paper.



T’sai Lun

Yupo paper

Dupont Tyvek

ViaStone paper

Degradable Polylactic Acid (PLA) Paper;2-E/full

E-paper and E-ink

Ricoh Corporation “Clickable paper”

Smart Packaging


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page