Ian PearsonThere’s an interesting new report just hit our desk. Called the Future of Print, it is by digital print specialist Altodigital and the futurist Ian Pearson (pictured) that looks at both current trends in print and document technologies, as well as some more longer term trends we’ll be seeing over the next 40 years.

The report questioned the views of decision makers at law firms across the UK, asking what emerging print and document technologies had the biggest potential to drive organisational efficiencies in the future, with mobile printing (73%) emerging top, followed by 3D printing (36%) and biometrics (36%) – for example finger print or retina scanning. Interestingly, despite the endless talk of the paperless office, it appears the legal sector is more of a less-paper world, with just 1% of firms claiming to have achieved a paperless office, while 18% have reached 75% reduction in paper. The majority had arrived at a 25% reduction in paper.

Among the report’s more futuristic far-reaching “trends of 2055” include…

1.      Legal Document Signing – Special digital ink containing tiny electronic particles that are programmed by a digital printer as they leave the print head. Huge amounts of data could be stored in the digital ink and will allow important legal documents to be digitally signed in a real ink signature, an essential part of authentication in a world where signatures can so easily be scanned and replicated. (This sounds very interesting and could finally crack the latent esignature market ..Ed)

2.      Smart Dust Technology – Particles smaller than the eye can see will form smart dust that could become a security nightmare for the legal sector. A few particles of invisible smart dust introduced via an air conditioning vent and landing on keyboards, or sprinkled by a cleaner acting as a spy directly into office equipment such as printers or scanners, could intercept every piece of data going through an office.

3.      Figurine Market – Today, people often give business cards to new acquaintances, but by 2050, it will be commonplace to give small figurines instead to stand out from the pack. 3D cameras will take a few high resolution photos from various angles, which would add to form a full body 3D picture. Those full-body pictures could then be used with 3D office printers to make small figurines. (Is this a little bit weird? …Ed)

4.      Video tattoos and smart makeup – “In 2050, we won’t be limited to printing on flat sheets or using 3D printers. It will be very common to print onto any 3D objects, even the body surface. That will make it easy to print high precision tattoos or elaborate makeup and we should expect beauty parlours to offer high precision makeup.” (And face-painting at children’s parties will move up to a whole new level of professionalism ..Ed)

5.      Pick-and-place 3D printer hybrids – 3D printers won’t just print in plastic, metal or ceramic, but will combine with a pick-and-place robotic assembly approach to take factory-made components from a container and add them to the artefact being 3D printed. That will greatly extend the range of things that could be printed to include fully working complex equipment and spare parts.

Tony Burnett, group sales director at Altodigital, said: “Dr Pearson’s trend predictions are fascinating. While it’s difficult to say which ones, if any, will become a reality, it’s clear the print and document technologies, as they have already, are becoming increasingly sophisticated and an ever-more important part of an organisation’s ICT mix. However, I believe that the printed page – however it may evolve – will remain of paramount strategic importance to businesses.   Take mobile print as an example; while industry commentators predicted that this would serve to reduce print volumes across a company, in fact it’s done quite the opposite making printing more accessible for business travellers. We’d be really interesting in hearing our peers and customers thoughts on the future of the print industry and on these forward-thinking predictions.”