What is e-paper? Also known as electronic paper, it is a new-ish technology that mimics how ink appears on paper. Rather than emitting light like an LCD display, it reflects light just like paper. Here’s how it works.
E-paper displays are filled with microscopic black and white ink capsules with opposite electric charges. When a negative field is applied the ink is rearranged to reflect or absorb light, thereby displaying images and text. E-paper is bistable, which means it requires no power to retain the image and very little power to rearrange ink. Already in use on products like e-readers, the flash you see between turning pages is the ink being rearranged to display a different page.
The benefits are obvious: lower power consumption, less eyestrain from glare, less costly repair and maintenance, and easy to read in all settings, including outdoors in bright sunlight. Other benefits include the ability to be powered by solar, unlimited size, ultra-high definition, a preferred paper-like appearance, and sustainability.
Planned uses include traffic signs, instore retail signage, building directories, elevators and parking facilities, and maps on public transport – pretty much anywhere you need signage. And while e-paper can’t do everything that LCD or OLED does, the trade-off between stability and needing to constantly refresh has found its niche the gadget market.
Expect to see e-paper ID badges, gift cards, and loyalty cards by the end of 2020. These will be more personal and durable, and tamper-resistant, but also renewable since the issuer will be able to rewrite them as needed.
Expect color e-paper products to finally be released at the end of 2020 as well, with digital e-note and notetaking devices to appear on the market first. Where this will lead is uncertain, but the dawn of durable, low impact electronic displays might be upon us in a very meaningful way very soon.