Wednesday 11 March 2015

Thermal Printing - Immediate, but ephemeral

Choosatron. Image credit:
Recently on Silvio Lorusso’s excellent Post-digital Publishing Archive I came across Jerry Belich’s fun crowd-funded project ‘Choosatron’ – a wi-fi connected thermal printer that generates a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story before your eyes through choices you make at cross-roads in the text. There’s something very appealing about the thought that the story will only physically exist (in printed form) through the active reading process; the more of it you read, the more of it you will actually own. Looking at my own shelves, a lot of the volumes would be much slimmer if they contained only the pages I had actually read!

I wonder whether owners of the Choosatron will keep the stories they have read, so they can re-read them in future? One interesting tension raised here is the permanence of this ‘instant-book’, as thermal printing tends to last a couple of years before either the print fades or the paper darkens. If the reader wanted to keep the text, one recourse might be to take the advice of the National Archives of Australia and make a high-quality copy of the original on archival paper, after which the “thermal paper copies may be destroyed as a normal administrative practice.” An novel, but fairly short-lived project which was more social and immediate was Little Printer - a cloud connected printer that printed instant messages, news articles, weather reports and other bits and bobs.

Hello Little Printer, available 2012 from Berg on Vimeo.

Several artists have used the properties of thermal printers to interesting effect. Time Axis by Miu Ling Lam was an installation in which a camera continuously printed photos from the environment it was installed in - the prints however would begin to darken and disappear almost immediately after printing - almost like a reverse Polaroid.

Another artist using thermal printing is Annie Abdalla, whose book A Love Story in 51 Transactions is a story told through sales receipts.

A Love Story in 51 Transactions. Image credit:
It’s easy to see how such a cheap, immediate and seemingly permanent thing could be the basis for so many playful and creative ideas.


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