How lasers could print ads on food

From: by way of Yakov Horenstein (
Date: Sat Mar 06 1999 - 16:37:52 EET

You'll eat those words How lasers could print ads on food (Daily Mail;

MANUFACTURERS could soon be putting words in your mouth - with edible
advertisements printed on food.

A newly-discovered way of using low-powered lasers to delicately etch tiny
symbols means everything from fruit and vegetables to cakes may end up
carrying its own message.

Within a couple of years, breakfast snacks could even be sold with the
previous night's football scores, the latest stock exchange prices or the
morning news headlines.

The invention also means greengrocers could sell advertising space on the
side of fresh vegetables.

At the same time, fruit could be made more fun for children if it was
imprinted with the latest cartoon characters and comic strips.
Manufacturers could also create educational snacks, containing information
linked up to the National Curriculum.

The edible adverts are the brainchild of David Small, an American computer
expert at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology in Boston. Using his
department's laser - normally used for cutting sheets of plastic to
precision size - he discovered he could write on the side of food.

Words or pictures are created on a normal computer and fed into the laser,
which blasts the surface of the food with a tiny beam, New Scientist
magazine reports today.

The laser is small enough to write newspaper-sized print and can adapt
itself to write on uneven surfaces.

And because it etches only the top layer of skin, it does not damage the
fruit or vegetable underneath.

Golan Levin, a colleague at the MIT media lab, said: 'On low power, our
laser can be programmed not to cut, but to scar or singe the surface of

'It only burns into the tiniest amount of surface.

'It was originally done for a lark but the more people thought about it,
the more they began to think about how it could be used for the mass
customisation of information.' The U.S. food company Kraft is interested in
using the idea to make personalised cakes and buns.

Other firms are exploring the possibility of using it to print the latest
sports results, news headlines or share prices on food sold in the street,
in snack bars or in takeaway outlets.

A laser able to write on food would cost just a few hundred pounds, said Mr
Levin, and take just a few seconds to etch a vegetable or piece of fruit.

The extra cost involved could be covered by adverts.

Manufacturers currently use ink jets to spray text and pictures on to food,
and many supermarkets now spray 'best before' dates on eggs.

But the laser is far more flexible and faster and can be used on more types
of food.

(Copyright 1999)

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