Custom Polaroid-Style Instant Camera Uses E-Paper as Reusable ‘Film’

Photographer and e-paper fan Cameron Dowd has designed and produced a working Polaroid-like camera that records images on e-paper. As such, the “film” can be used over and over again.

In the full documentation uploaded to and shared by Hackaday, Dowd explains that his interest in e-paper — specifically that it can hold an image permanently without power — got him thinking about a way to use it to record photos in a unique way. The idea is that the e-paper could be updated with a new photo whenever the photographer tired of the old one.

“The replaced photo would be lost forever (if you shelve away a photo and don’t look at it again, is losing it even a problem?),” Dowd writes. “And, well, photo paper is expensive, and single use, and all that. E-paper is truly the future.”

e ink camera

Dowd’s e-paper camera takes a picture and then “prints” it directly onto an e-paper screen that is updated via an NFC (near field communications) connection, so there is no physical connection necessary although he has set the screen to be held onto the camera unit with a magnet.

e ink camera

The camera body is 3D-printed and painted and his working model is even jazzed up with a walnut wood texture handle. The camera works with a single button that communicates with the user via an LED. Holding down the button turns the camera on and off, a constant red light from the LED indicates that it is ready to capture a photo, and if the LED is blinking that means it is taking a photo.

Once a photo is captured, the e-paper screen can be disconnected from the camera and since it is attached with magnets, it can easily be displayed on a metal surface like a refrigerator.

“If you want to take a new photo though, you need to make the decision — will the new photo be worth losing an old one forever? Of course you could also buy more NFC e-paper screens, but oh boy are those prices prohibitive,” Dowd says.

“I would love to find a source of cheap NFC e-paper screens, I hear they are sometimes used in supermarkets but I have never found them for sale. The ones I’m using now from Waveshare are not cheap enough to make this idea really fun unfortunately, but hopefully e-paper gets cheaper in the future.”

e ink camera

Dowd says the camera took years to complete, and any future designs that make use of color screens or different resolutions are likely to take a similar amount of time, he adds — though he does have interest in pursuing such advancements.

The code, which Dowd admits is “rustic” since it was made mainly through Google copy and pasting, is available to access via his Github. PCB files are available on Hackaday, and if there is enough interest, Dowd says that he could put the CAD files online, too.

Image credits: Cameron Dowd