What Is E Ink and How Does It Work?

An eReader with E Ink display. Photo by Jason Hidalgo

Electronic Ink is a paperlike display used primarily in eBook readers such as Amazon's Kindle.

Initial research for E Ink was started at MIT's Media Lab. The rights to the proprietary technology is owned by the E Ink Corporation, which was acquired by Taiwanese company Prime View International.

E Ink technology works by using tiny microcapsules that are suspended in liquid placed within a film-like layer.

The microcapsules, which are about the same width as human hair, contain both positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles.

Applying a negative electrical field causes the white particles to come to the surface. Conversely, applying a positive electrical field causes the black particles to come to the surface. By applying different fields at various parts of a screen, E Ink can produce a text display.

E Ink displays are especially popular due to their resemblance to printed paper. Besides being considered by many as easier on the eyes, E Ink also boasts lower power consumption, particularly when compared to traditional backlit liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. These advantages, along with adoption by major eReader manufacturers such as Amazon and Sony, have caused E Ink to dominate the eBook reader display market.

Despite its popularity, E Ink technology currently being used in most devices also has its limitations.

One is its inability to display color and video. Also, unlike traditional LCD displays, typical E Ink displays don't have backlighting, which makes it a challenge to read them in dim places.

To counter competition from rival displays such as reflective LCD and new screens developed by potential competitors, E Ink is working to improve its technology.

New features in the works include the ability to display color. Prime View has also partnered with HYDIS Technologies Co. Ltd. and LG Display to work on new display technologies.