Seiko Epson works towards printable big-screen OLEDs

Using ink-jet technology will allow it to make large OLED screens that can compete with LCDs and PDPs

Seiko Epson has made an advance in ink-jet technology that could be used to mass-produce large OLED (organic LED) screens by the middle of the next decade, making them more competitive with rival technologies for big-screen TVs.

OLED screens handle fast-moving images better and offer richer color reproduction than LCDs and PDPs (plasma display panels), and are at the center of many electronics companies research into future display technologies.

LCDs and PDPs still have the edge over OLEDs when it comes to making large displays, but Seiko Epson hopes to change that by using ink jets to print the components.

In an OLED screen, a thin layer of organic material produces its own light when an electric current is applied, removing the need for an additional backlight panel. With no need for a backlight, OLED displays are smaller, lighter and consume less power.

That organic layer, though, must be of constant thickness to provide an even light and picture across the display, something not previously possible using ink jets.

Now Seiko Epson has found a way to evenly deposit the organic material for an OLED screen using an ink jet, and will detail the technique at next week's Society for Information Display conference in San Antonio.

At the conference, it will show a 14-inch screen with a resolution density equivalent to that found in a 37-inch full high-definition screen. The sample is intended to demonstrate that the technology can be used to produce a 37-inch full HD OLED.

For Seiko Epson the project is one of several the company has been pursuing towards uses for its ink jet know-how outside of the printing arena.

It demonstrated an OLED display back in 2004 and at the time said it could be commercial within three years but that year came and went without any significant development from Seiko Epson although it was the year Sony put on sale the world's first OLED television. It's XEL-1 is based on a traditional display manufacturing technology, which can make larger screens but is still not mature enough for mass production at large sizes.

The company is currently eyeing small scale sample production of OLED screens using the new technology in around 2012 and mass production about three years after that. With next week's presentation at the SID conference it hopes to begin working with other companies in the industry to push the technology forward.

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Martyn Williams

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