Electrophoretic display technology is one of the prime examples of electronic paper technologies applied in the development of a particular type of electronic display that mimics the appearance of ordinary ink on paper. E Ink Corporation has popularized the application of this display technology with the introduction of electronic ink or e-ink. The company has partnered with several consumer electronics manufacturers such as Sony and Motorola to develop devices equipped with electronic ink displays.
The Motorola F3 was the first mobile phone to use an electronic ink display from E Ink Corporation. Other products that featured the display technology include the e-readers such as Amazon Kindle and Kobo eReader Touch and smartwatches from Pebble Technology. Commercial and industrial applications of electrophoretic displays include electronic displays for retailers, electronic signage for outdoor advertising, and other devices used in the fields of medicine and engineering.
What is Electrophoresis? How Does Electrophoretic Display Works?
Note that the word “electrophoretic” came from the Greek words “elektron,” which pertains to charge or attractive properties, and “phoresis,” which means migration or movement. In a more technical definition, electrophoresis is the motion of dispersed particles relative to a fluid under the influence of a spatially uniform electric field.
Electrophoresis is actually a technique used in laboratories. Researchers from the fields of genetics and molecular biology use electrophoresis for DNA and RNA analysis. The technique involves separating macromolecules based on size by applying a negative charge, so molecules move toward a positive charge. This same process applies to electrophoretic display technology.
For a more simplistic description, electrophoretic display works by moving negatively and positively charged pigment particles by applying a positive or negative electric field. Switching between the positive and negative electric field results in varied movement and placement of the negatively and positively charged pigment particles.
E Ink Corporation further describes their electronic ink technology as a type of display made of millions of tiny and transparent microcapsules—measuring about the diameter of a human hair. Each microcapsule represents a pixel, and each contains a positively charged white pigment particle and a negatively charged black pigment particle.
Upon applying a positive or negative electric charge, corresponding particles move to the top of the microcapsule, where they become visible to the user. This makes the surface appear white or black at that spot. Note that E Ink Corporation has also developed a three-pigment ink system for colored electronic ink display.
In other words, an electrophoretic display or electronic ink display forms images by rearranging charged pigment particles with an applied electric field. Despite its novelty, this display technology has several advantages and disadvantages.
Advantages of Electrophoretic Display and Electronic Ink Display
1. Low Power Consumption and Same LCD Resolution
One of the advantages of electrophoretic display and electronic ink display is that it consumes less power. Note that this display technology is a bi-stable display. This means that the image on an electrophoretic display screen is retained even when all power sources are removed. The screen only consumes power whenever the displayed image changes.
This low power consumption makes electrophoretic display and electronic ink display suitable for electronic readers and second displays in smartphones or other consumer electronic devices.
Current electrophoretic displays can support a pixel density of 170 pixels per inch. This is similar to most LCD monitors. However, compared to LCD, electrophoretic display and electronic paper display have better readability in direct sunlight. It also has wider viewing angles than standard LCD monitors—especially TN displays.
This display can become the future of computer display monitors nonetheless. It can also become a standard display technology for other electronic devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
2. Reflective Display with Same Readability as Print
An electrophoretic display or electronic ink display is a type of reflective display. Take note that liquid crystal display technologies such as in-plane switching or IPS technology and most twisted nematic or TN display screens are emissive displays. They require a backlight or internal light source to make the displayed image brighter and visible.
There is no need for backlighting in an electrophoretic display or electronic ink display. Ambient light from the environment is reflected from the surface of the display back to the eyes of the users. The more ambient the light, the brighter the display looks.
An advantage of a reflective display is that it does not strain the eyes compared to LCD technologies. Another advantage is that the absence of backlighting means that the device using an electrophoretic display or electronic ink display consumes less power.
Electrophoretic display and electronic ink display also produce images similar to printed materials such as newspapers. These displays use the same pigment or ink used in print media. This print-like readability makes this display technology popular in e-readers. It provides a more natural reading or viewing experience that is less straining to the eyes.
3. Allows the Production of Thin and Flexible Displays
The components of electrophoretic or electronic ink display can be made thin and flexible due to advancements in the technology behind polymer transistors. This advantage is similar to the strengths of OLED display tech and the more specific plastic OLED tech.
Furthermore, in factoring in low power consumption and print-like readability, electrophoretic display technology can be used to develop bendable displays and other novel consumer electronic applications such as smartphones with curved screens or rollable and foldable tablet computers.
Disadvantages of Electrophoretic Display and Electronic Ink Display
1. Very Low Refresh Rate and Ghosting Effect
A notable disadvantage of electrophoretic display and electronic ink display is that it has a very low refresh rate compared to LCD IPS technology and OLED display technology. This is also true for other electronic paper display technologies.
Having a low refresh rate on a screen is disadvantageous because it prevents manufacturers from using this display technology in electronic devices with a high degree of user interactivity. Note that user interactivity is high in devices such as smartphones and tablet computers.
These displays are also prone to ghosting effects. This comes from the low refresh rate and the fact that the display technology works by moving charged pigment particles. Some particles end up stuck in the visible surface of a microcapsule.
2. High Market Competition
Another disadvantage of electrophoretic display and electronic ink display is that it competes with existing display technologies that have become industry standards. Note that IPS displays and AMOLED displays have become very popular in smartphones and tablet computers, as well as in large screens such as televisions and computer monitors.
Further developments in IPS and OLED display technologies have addressed issues concerning power consumption or energy efficiency, display longevity and durability, color reproduction accuracy, and pixel density capacity, among others. Newer display technologies such as Mini-LED and microLED provide novel applications and additional use case benefits.
3. Still Needs Backlighting
One of the advantages of reflective displays is their reliance on ambient light. This means less power consumption from backlighting. This advantage can also be considered a disadvantage for electrophoretic display and electronic ink display.
Devices that use this display technology still need some light sources, such as backlighting, in order to be usable when in the dark. Take note that some electronic readers are unreadable when in the dark. This is similar with reading printed materials.