You might have thought that the highest-resolution image would have come in the form of the world’s most massive print. But it is actually printed on the world’s tiniest canvas, measuring just 50 micrometres squared.

Researchers from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research’s (A*STAR) Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) in Singapore have created the world’s highest-resolution printer that's capable of producing full-colour images at 100,000dpi. The printer far outpaces current industrial-grade inkjet and laser printers, which can only achieve up to 10,000dpi.

A coloured nanoscale rendition of a standard test image used in image-processing experiments. [Credit: A*STAR]

This printer is nothing like the one in your studio, since it doesn't even use ink or dyes to make its images. Instead, the printer actually treats the nano-surface as a lithographic material, manipulating its light-reflecting properties to achieve a full-colour image.

The researchers’ inspiration came from stained-glass windows, which have embedded metal particles that scatter the light as it passes though the glass to achieve a certain hue. The printer creates a similar effect by printing the surface with a metal film coated with precisely patterned tiny metal discs. Each of these discs are sized and spaced specifically to reflect light into the individual nano-dots of colour that make up the 100,000dpi image.

Besides making really cool images that can only be viewed under a microscope, the technology could revolutionize the way images are printed, as well as allow for new types of high-density optical data storage. A*STAR's technology transfer arm, Exploit Technologies Pte Ltd, is already talking with potential collaborators to explore the licensing opportunities of its technology.