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A Printer Hack Reveals Your Inkjet’s Hidden Handwriting

A few decades ago, personal printers were wondrous machines, even as they screeched in laborious pain to produce nothing more than monochromatic type. By comparison, every free-with-computer-purchase inkjet today is a professional printing studio. And yet it’s easy to take for granted the precision engineering required to place picoliter dots of ink on paper in millions of unique colors.


Penjet, a project by Rietveld Academie students Jaan Evart, Julian Hagen and Daniël Maarleveld, swaps the inkjet print cartrdige for a felt tip pen to reveal a printer’s fascinating inner workings. With no way to control ink flow (the pen never leaves the paper), Penjet’s images are less pictures than they are maps of how a printer produces pictures. They trace the unique, algorithmic language that the ho-hum inkjet printer has been dutifully scribing for years, dynamically waypointing its way through the photos and text we print.

“The Penjet shows the handwriting of the machine,” the team writes. “The final result has both the imperfections of handwriting and the preciseness of a machine. However, no matter how much control there is, the printed result remains unpredictable.”


Crafting the Penjet was a design problem in itself. Tweaking the precise pressure the pen had on paper was key–too much would rip a hole in the pulp, and too little wouldn’t draw much of anything. There’s also an obvious single-color limitation, so to create more complex prints, Penjet is reloaded with new pens and pages are reprinted in layers.

Ultimately, it’s a fascinating exploration of the unintentionally creative processes coded into every print job, with no two pieces alike. How paradoxical, for a device invented to reproduce images with exacting precision.

[Hat tip: dezeen]

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