University of Rochester

Halftone Technology Makes its Way to the Marketplace

April 27, 1995

If you're surprised by the speed with which your next printer produces high-quality images, you might have the University of Rochester to thank.

More than half a dozen companies that supply the technology large printers and other devices use to print halftones have licensed a new technology developed by electrical engineers at the University of Rochester to speed the creation of halftone images. A variety of manufacturers have outfitted and sold tens of thousands of devices with the technology.

The method yields higher quality halftones than other halftone methods in a fraction of the time. The technology enables ink-jet and laser printers, digital film recorders, and digital image setters to create halftones up to 40 times faster than conventional technology. Users of such equipment include publishers, architects, graphic arts firms, engineering firms, and advertising agencies.

It usually takes many minutes, even an hour, for a large- format printer to produce a large color image. Such delays occur because a printer's internal "brain" can't format the data into a halftone quickly. The scene of workers standing idly by as a printer labors to finish a document is one played out again and again across corporate America every day.

The Rochester technology cuts the number of calculations necessary to produce images. In color printers, for instance, the technology halves the amount of information needed to produce high-quality images, cutting printing speed dramatically.

The method was invented four years ago by Kevin Parker, professor and chair of the University's Department of Electrical Engineering, and former graduate student Theophano Mitsa, now at the University of Iowa. They began their project in an effort to improve the printouts of ultrasound images, where tiny mistakes or "artifacts" in the printing can be serious hindrances to diagnosis and treatment. The result: A method that eliminates irregularities or "artifacts" not only in ultrasound images but in other images as well.

Companies that have licensed the technology include CalComp Inc., Raster Graphics Inc., Torque Systems Inc., Visual Business Systems Inc., Connectel Communications Corp., and Adobe affiliate VerTec Solutions Inc. The president of Visual Business Systems, Roy Finney, recently showed off the technology at a trade show in Boston, and viewers were impressed.

"It's taken for granted that this screening technique produces better images," says Finney, "but the problem has always been having it work quickly enough. Now a printer can work at full speed and produce a very high quality image." VBS produces software that automates imaging in photographic-quality printers, digital film recorders, and large-format ink-jet printers from such companies as Eastman Kodak, Polaroid, Agfa, and Hewlett- Packard.

Research Corporation Technologies (RCT) received two patents for the technology on behalf of the University and the inventors, and is licensing the technology to companies. RCT, of Tucson, Arizona, manages hundreds of technologies from research institutions across the country. Last year its projects brought in nearly $60 million, two-thirds of which went back to the inventors and their institutions.

"We expect this to become a major technology in halftone printing systems, and the University will receive significant royalties," says Kim Baker, technology transfer associate at RCT. For information on licensing, contact Baker at (520) 748-4462. tr