In a triumph of later thinking, a Japanese company has invented a deskside ‘eco' printer that needs no ink or toner and instead relies on a new kind of re-usable paper.

The Sanwa Newtec 'PrePeat' (a play on the word ‘repeat') RP-3100 prints at normal speed on to sheets of A4 plasticated paper the company claims can be re-used up to 1,000 times. The secret of the technology is that the printing is done using heat instead of ink which means the machine never needs toner or ink and has no additional runnings costs for drum or print head replacement either.

Although capable of holding text and grayscale images to a similar level of definition of normal paper, sheets are wiped with no residue as they are fed back into the printer for re-use, the company said.

The re-usability removes the consumable bills that annoy consumers, but this is as yet no consumer machine. The special paper must be bought in reams of 1,000 sheets at a cost of 300 yen (about £2.15 or $3.30) per sheet, which would make one consignment cost well over £2,000 ($3,300). The printer itself is no snip at a reported price of 800,000 yen (£5,700).

Re-usable paper is not a new idea but this is believed to be the first commercial printer to put the technology into the market beyond the realm of highly-specialised printing systems. The RP-3100 has the same general appearance and dimensions as a conventional PC laser printer.

The company sees its invention being used in specialised areas such as price tickets in shops, patient records in hospitals, and reports distributed within large companies. Whichever use case, the obvious disadvantage other than the cost will be keeping track of the expensive paper itself. Even in well-run offices these are likely to go missing.

A demonstration of the printer can be seen on YouTube.