Gyricon technical overview

A magnification of Gyricon ink spheres.

Gyricon was originally invented in 1975 at Xerox PARC by Nick Sheridon. It is, simply, ink that can change color.

Gyricon is an ink manufactured in such a way as each particulate of ink is bichromal, with one hemisphere being white, and the other one is black (or red or green, in the case of colored Gyricon). The hemispheres are charged so that an electronic substrate can change the color of the beads by application of a magnetic field. When the field is active, the beads rotate in relation to the polarity of the field, either showing their white sides to the viewer, or their colored sides. When the field is deactivated, the beads remain in the same position, becoming just as static as normal ink. Therefore power is only consumed by a Gyricon device only when changing the contents of the display.

Gyricon beads, freshly manufactured.

When Gyricon was first invented 26 years ago, Gyricon could only be used as an erasable piece of paper. The technology for creating the substrate needed to dynamically control the paper was far in the future. It was only within the past five years that it became possible to realistically imagine smart paper. The enabling technology is organic (or polymer) electronics. Materials scientists discovered that some plastics were capable of conducting electricity. Flexible circuts became a possibility.

A close up of an electromagnetic printer.

You're not going to be seeing Gyricon for the first time in as a book or a piece of paper, however. Both the recently (Dec. 2000) spun off Gyricon, Inc., and a company based on a sibling technology, E-Ink, are rushing into the supposedly $14 billion networked point-of-sale display market, or simply electronic banners for use in stores. The first of these was used to hawk shoes in a Marlborough, Massachusetts J.C. Penny store.

An experimental electromagnetic printer.
A sheet of Gyricon-covered paper.