Paper un-printing: using lasers to remove toner-print in order to reuse office paper

D. Leal, J. M. Allwood, T. A. M. Counsell

In this article, lasers in the ultraviolet, visible and infrared light spectra working with pulse widths in the nanosecond range are applied to a range of toner-paper combinations to determine their ability to remove toner. If the laser energy fluence can be chosen to stay below the ablation threshold of paper at the same time that it surpasses that of toner, paper could be cleaned and re-used instead of being recycled or disposed into a landfill. This could significantly reduce the environmental impact of paper production and use. Although there are a variety of paper conservation studies which have investigated the effects of laser radiation on blank and soiled paper, none has previously explored toner-print removal from paper by laser ablation. Colour analysis under the L ∗ a∗ b ∗ colour space and SEM examination of the outcome indicate that it is possible to remove toner from paper without damaging and discolouring the substrate. Best results are obtained when employing visible radiation at a wavelength of 532 nm working with a pulse width of 4 ns and energy fluences under 1.6 J/cm2. This means that it is technically feasible to remove toner-print for paper re-use.