GCN LAB IMPRESSIONS

Will money be printed at 100,000 dpi?

A little while ago, lab partner Greg Crowe and I were having an argument over digital versus analog and which was better. The crux of the debate came down to identifying the point where a digital image or audio file was detailed enough that it could completely pass for analog, but still retain all the advantages of digital.

Images from the early digital cameras were pretty terrible, offering only low dpi, or dots per inch, so there was no comparison to images taken with a standard film camera. In the magazine business, 300 dpi is considered print quality. So if you read this column in the print version of GCN, you are seeing it at a higher resolution than our Web-based readers, who get to see these words at 72 dpi or perhaps 96 dpi, which is fast becoming the new online standard.

So what is the point of all this? Researchers in the Philippines have answered the question of when digital printing reaches reality. Apparently, when you get up to 100,000 dpi, you have reached the diffraction limit of visible light. In other words, even using a computer, you can’t really tell the difference between the details in a 100,000 dpi image and the real thing.

Additionally, scientists at Exploit Technologies have found a way to print at that same resolution, using nanotechnology and various metals. Apparently, they were inspired by stained glass windows when putting it all together.

So what does this all mean for government? Well, with the 100,000 dpi threshold found and successfully breached, advantages and problems may become apparent. In terms of advantages, documents can now be printed in such a way as to practically be counterfeit-proof. If a passport were printed using this method, there would be almost no way for an unauthorized person to duplicate it.

It’s possible that this might be a cheaper and more efficient way to print money, too. Digital images of money could be stored on computers and then printed onto paper at will without the need of a huge printing press.

And that brings up the disadvantages. Digital images of money could be stored on computers and then printed without the need of a huge printing press -- perhaps by people other than that Treasury Department. Right now this type of printing isn’t restricted or regulated in any way, although this is balanced at the moment by the fact that there is probably only one printer in the world that can do it.

Or maybe we could make exact copies of famous works of art, capturing every nuance and every brush stroke, and then distribute those copies to museums so more people could enjoy them. And I’m sure the military would love to print some really detailed maps that show every rock, tree and empty soda can lying on certain streets.

Finally, there is also the possibility that the ability to print at such a high resolution, and in color, could lead to a new revolution in data storage. With so much detail, prints will hold lot of data. We could soon see barcodes on steroids, or a dot with the data of a complete encyclopedia.

The possibilities are endless now that we have reached the upper limit of digital image technology. Unless someone figures out how to go even further. Kind of makes your little 300 or 72 dpi experience here seem a little small.

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