Color Photo Printed at 100,000 DPI, the Highest Resolution Ever Achieved

Stuff a few thousand dots per inch into a color print, and you have yourself a pretty high resolution image that most people would approve of. What if you could stuff 100,000 dots into that same inch?

That’s what researchers were able to do recently in creating the highest-resolution photograph ever printed — and one of the smallest, to boot.

Scientific American reports that the project was done by researchers at Singapore government’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). They succeeded in printing the photo seen above (enlarged for your viewing pleasure) at a scale of 50×50 micrometers.

To put that into perspective, commenter SteveO over at SA notes that 78 micrometers is the size of one pixel on Apple’s new retina displays — displays that are designed so that the human eye can’t discern any pixelation at normal viewing distances.

The scientists managed to stuff an entire photo into a space that’s smaller than one of those pixels.

Here’s how the method works: each of the pixels in the image is printed using four “nanoscale posts” capped with “silver and gold nanodisks”. By changing the size and layout of these tiny objects, the researchers were able to choose what color light they reflected. The technique is called “structural color”.

Unlike traditional dyes and colors used to print photos, the metals and materials used in this process allow for prints with extremely long lifespans, as they don’t fade over time.

The image above was a proof of concept test to show that the process works. It’s a crop of a photo titled “Lenna” that’s widely used in research and industry to test digital image processing:

Now here’s what’s absolutely fascinating about this 100K DPI resolution: it’s pushing the boundaries of what’s physically possible! Scientific American writes,

If Yang’s images were made over areas large enough to see with the naked eye, “they would look higher than high definition”, says Teri Odom, a chemist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. But, she notes, people with perfect vision can’t discern objects smaller than 20–30 micrometers.

Even under the best microscope, optical images have an ultimate resolution limit, and this method hits it. When two objects are too close together, light reflecting off them will diffract, and the two objects blur together.

That’s right: choose a resolution any higher, and your image starts getting smudged by the laws of physics!

Take that, professional photo printers!

Thanks for sending in the tip, Bruce.

  • Chris Popely

    Wow, that’s pretty awesome. =)

  • print

    This is exiting, but one thing is- a regular paper with fibers would not help with such fine dots.. and second, going behind dpi is like going behind mega pixels in camera. real cool research happening is towards modeling view dependent reflectivity in print process, for example printing peacock feather that would actually mimic a real feather.

  • mayankgupta

    That’s amazing! The world of photography is going to be even more exciting!

  • Fab

    My opinion. All this effort to improve resolution… photos from the turn of the century or older were beautiful already. All this sharpness and resolution makes photography more scientific and less artistic, basically boring.

  • Zak Henry

    There is a place in the world for scientific photographs too. No one is stopping you using instagram.

  • stillsandglyphs

    This is the second coolest thing I’ve read today. So exciting and so inspiring.

  • werdan

    So to get a higher resolution they’d have to go back to an analogue process with 8×10″ glass negatives and contact printing, like they used 100 years ago. ‘Wow! We’ve come so far!’

  • wickerprints

    This technique does have long-term potential, in that someday we could see large-scale, macroscopic “prints” on rigid substrates using structural color, with very high resolution and fidelity. Resolution so high (but still much lower than that achieved in this instance) that the image is completely smooth, and color so pure and true that the output is limited only by the image data used to create it. And longevity that is effectively permanent, because the color comes from optical interference effects, not from chromophores in dyes and pigments which degrade over time.

  • Chris faust

    I wonder how much it costs to ink that thing up.

  • Chris Popely

    Very little if the image is only
    50×50 micrometers. =P

  • printer

    It may then be surprising to know that IBM printed “IBM” at atomic level in 1990 — each printed dot was an atom.

  • Bua

    This is the stuff I want to hear! Another human triumph. Can’t wait for consumer/commercial applications…

  • Bruce

    What is also interesting is that there is no “color” involved both in the construction and replay of the image. Somewhat like a hologram and very much like a butterfly or many bird species the color is derived from the spacing of each individual element in the spatial array. (Diffraction)

    What all this means is that color is no longer specified by resemblance to an established standard but, in fact is specified by a very well definable measurement of distance in a 2 dimensional spatial array.

    Color-flow problems? Not any more!

  • Bruce

    Also…. the colors, the color balance, the general “look” of the image (anywhere from sepia to HDR) can be infinitely changed AFTER printing by means of the light source, the angle of illumination etc. Photoshopping or post prod. is achieved by the display method and not by image manipulation.

    This method for all intents and purposes is a digital hologram.

  • Matt

    Why hate what is beautiful? Science and technology are beautiful. I have never understood why people are anti science or technology, must be just resistance to change.
    And, FYI, “photos from the turn of the century or older” were scientific wonders back then, and called less artistic than painting. Well, I guess people probably hated drawings on cave walls when it first started.

  • Rob

    Not really printed as the atoms had to be individually manipulated with a scanning tunnelling microscope

  • Rob

    As mentioned above, not really printed

  • Jens Bauer

    Troll: How big is the printer ? ;)