What is E Ink and How Does It Work?

Matthew_Anderson
edited August 2023 in PC Tech

What is E Ink and How Does It Work?  

E Ink, simply put, is a unique type of electronic display. It differs from other displays, such as LED, in its phenomenal battery life and visual similarity to physical paper. E Ink is actually a brand name, dating back to the development of the technology at MIT in the 1990s. Similar technology used by other companies can go by other names including electronic paper, ePaper, and electronic ink.

E Ink functions very differently from other displays. Whereas LED displays are made up of individual pixels that each display a color, E Ink is made up of microcapsules. A device with electronic ink may contain millions of these tiny microcapsules, each one filled with particles floating in a clear fluid.

The technical word often used to describe this technology is “electrophoretic.” In layman’s terms, electrophoretic means responsive to charge in an electromagnetic field.

For example, the microcapsules in a black-and-white E Ink display, like those used in many e-readers, respond to either positive or negative charges. A negative charge sends black to the thin film that makes up the display, displaying black on that particular dot on the screen. A positive charge, on the other hand, displays white.

Not all E Ink devices are black and white, however. E Ink’s E Ink Gallery Plus, the latest iteration of their Advanced Color ePaper (ACeP) technology, can display over 60,000 unique color hues. To produce these color tones, it uses four color pigments: cyan, magenta, yellow, and white.

In contrast to the black-and-white version that is currently seen in most e-readers, E Ink Gallery Plus is aimed towards commercial signage in retail establishments and restaurants as well as public information displays. Various public transportation systems worldwide have already taken advantage of the new color E Ink technology to update their wayfinding systems, including in Singapore and Taipei.

Pros and cons

Though E Ink has its flaws, its positives are numerous. One of the major positives about E Ink devices is their incredibly long battery life. Electrophoretic displays essentially only consume energy when the page is updating. This means that when you’re reading the same single page on your Kindle, the microcapsules are idle and require almost no additional energy. Energy savings like this explain why your e-reader’s battery life is measured in weeks, not hours.

However, this positive for battery life does mean a sacrifice in response time. Compared to LED screens, E Ink screens need more time to refresh. This may not be a huge deal with an e-reader, but for information displays that need to provide real-time data, like for a bus or metro station, the difference in speed matters. For color displays, the lag is even more noticeable. Perhaps as the technology matures, there will be ways to overcome this shortcoming.

Though E Ink devices suffer from a slower response time, they make up for it in other areas. For one, you can use the devices in direct sunlight without a glare, which is perfect for a day at the beach with a nice ebook. E Ink devices also do not contain the UV rays found in traditional LED displays, which makes them a lot less taxing for your eyes. Since most of us spend a large part of the day staring at screens, E Ink devices can go a long way in fighting digital eye fatigue.

E-readers with E Ink are also very popular with bookworms for several reasons. Those who prefer physical books often find the transition to an E Ink e-reader more smooth, since the display closely resembles real paper. Plus, readers love that they have convenient access to thousands of ebooks without the distractions of a tablet or the environmental impact of physical books.

Another factor that attracts people to e-readers is their price. Since companies plan on making most of their money off of ebook purchases, the devices themselves often come at a somewhat discounted rate.

Which electronic devices use E Ink?

A lot of people know about e-readers, but E Ink is rapidly expanding into other sorts of devices. Products like E Ink tablets and E Ink monitors take advantage of the reduced eye fatigue and paperlike display associated with E Ink to provide new technological experiences.

The Boox Mira E Ink Monitor is one of the newest devices taking advantage of ePaper advancements. The black-and-white monitor connects directly to your computer to offer a browsing experience with less eye strain. You can toggle between different modes with different refresh speeds, such as normal mode, video mode, slideshow mode, and text mode.

It’s important to note that the Mira monitor is most suited for reading text: streaming video or playing games can be quite clunky. Nevertheless, the reduction in eye fatigue is remarkable, and those who worry about their digital eye strain may find this E Ink monitor to be a great alternative.

E Ink tablets have also become popular in recent years. E Ink tablets, in addition to reading, allow you to take notes while saving paper. Tablets like the ReMarkable 2 or the Onyx Boox Note Air 2 offer a distraction-free note taking experience and allow you to keep all your notes in one place.

Who knows where the concept may go next? Rumors have it that Apple is tinkering with an E Ink outer design for a future foldable device. As with any rumor, this one should be taken with a grain of salt, but if nothing else, it shows that the public has an appetite for more E Ink. 

Conclusion

E Ink devices are all the rage, and for good reason. Besides being better for our eyes, they also reach a great balance between convenience and simplicity: with an E tablet or an e-reader, you can take notes or read books without worrying about a wave of notifications.

Though E Ink has typically been offered in only black and white, new color E Ink displays expand the possibilities. ACeP can be used to display route information on public transportation systems or the menu at a cafe with crisp, vivid color. Though a relatively slow response rate remains an obstacle for these devices, we can expect that the technology will improve over time.

Matthew is a freelance content writer whose work has previously appeared in well-known language-learning blog Fluent in 3 Months and The Happy Self-Publisher. His creative work has also appeared in Otoliths, CafeLit, and the Eunoia Review. He is currently based in Taipei, Taiwan, where he is studying for a master's degree in Chinese Literature.

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