Toner-print removal from paper by long and ultrashort pulsed lasers

D. R. Leal, J. M. Allwood, M. Schmidt, I. Alexeev

Toner-print removal from paper would allow paper to be re-used instead of being recycled, incinerated or disposed of in landfill. This could significantly reduce the environmental impact of paper production and use. Previous work on the subject has explored the applicability of ultraviolet, visible and infrared (IR) lasers under nanosecond pulses for toner removal. This article expands on this work by testing a wider range of ultrafast and long-pulsed lasers. Results from 10 distinct laser set-ups are used to propose an operating window for the toner-removal process. Colour analysis under the L*a*b* colour space, scanning electron microscope examination and attenuated total reflectance–Fourier transform IR spectroscopy measurements of the outcome show that, with the right laser, it is possible to remove toner from paper to enable its re-use. Theoretical models to predict the laser ablation of toner are discussed, and, while imperfect, provide sufficient evidence to support a physical explanation of toner ablation.