Plastic books?
June 17, 2016 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to use the technology that makes polymer banknotes to create books?

That is, instead of paper, somehow imprint text onto the polymer sheet. If it is possible, any idea how much it would cost? Bonus question: can these polymer sheets be made of recycled consumer plastics?

I am not a chemist or any other kind of scientist so I have no idea whether this is possible. Thanks!
posted by orrnyereg to Science & Nature (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You want indestructibles. They feel like the same material a FedEx envelope is made from. They're a bit thicker than a regular paperback book, definitely thinner than a board book. Text isn't as crisp though.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:50 AM on June 17, 2016

You may be interested in Teslin.

*full disclaimer* I am one of the librarians there.
posted by librarianamy at 8:11 AM on June 17, 2016

You can buy waterproof paper, which also happens to be very tear-resistant (there are other brands as well). I've used this to print out reference cards used under harsh conditions. I've also used large-format maps printed on the stuff. There seem to be a few grades of water-proofedness and durability, but it's great stuff.

It's expensive—in small quantities, it costs something like US$0.50 per letter-sized sheet. For a small-volume project, you could just get paper by the ream and print digitally. For a large-volume project, you'd probably want paper on the roll and offset printing, but I don't know if this stuff is available on paper-roll sized rolls and whether it is compatible with offset printing.
posted by adamrice at 8:13 AM on June 17, 2016

Back in college I worked at a mall book store and one novelty type book we had was a waterproof collection of erotic short stories marked for reading/use in the bathtub. I seem to remember its being more substantial than just laminated paper but I'm not 100% sure what it was made of (and can't really google now at work for obvious reasons)
posted by Captain_Science at 8:20 AM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

For an easily-obtainable real-world example of this, the book Cradle to Cradle by Michael Braungart and William McDonough is printed on recyclable synthetic paper. Check out DuraBooks.
posted by AgreeableAnne at 8:23 AM on June 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

AgreeableAnne beat me to it. Another link for DuraBook.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:26 AM on June 17, 2016

Oh sorry, depending on how many pages, say 50 sheets of 8.5x11, $11 for the sheets of tyvek, maybe $5 for printing 50 sheets, and $10 for spiral binding?

Maybe $25 for a 50pg 8.5x11 book?
posted by gregr at 8:30 AM on June 17, 2016

fwiw, tyvek isn't the same material as polymer banknotes, if that is important. it has visible fibres and is opaque, while banknote paper can be transparent.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:05 AM on June 17, 2016

gregr, I think Tyvek will melt to your laser printer's fuser, destroying everything. (Actually, I believe the corona wire will play holy hell with it, and the drum will be the nearest thing to bond to. But once the machine is junked, who cares how it happened?)

An inkjet printer, on the other hand, will work OK but the ink won't be water-proof. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 10:04 AM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Check out Cradle to Cradle, which is printed on just such a material.
posted by chiefthe at 10:28 AM on June 17, 2016

wenestvedt -- I've never run tyvek through my printer, but this product is designed for that purpose, so I figure it works fine.
posted by gregr at 12:11 PM on June 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

I will defer to the seller, then. :7) And actually I am pleased to see Tyvek suited to a laser printer: I have such ideas!!
posted by wenestvedt at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2016

So it sounds like it's possible but pretty expensive. I was thinking about the possibilities for libraries in the developing world with humid/tropical climates. Paper books take a real beating in those situations--I was thinking plastic might be better.

Still, it's a start. Thanks everyone for the info!
posted by orrnyereg at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2016

This is possible and being done, but as you observe, the expense makes it impractical. There's a paper company called YUPO that makes a synthetic, 100% recyclable plastic paper that's suitable for offset presses and they have a paper that's suitable for HP Indigo ink-based digital printers (YUPO might be what Cradle to Cradle was printed on, I'm not sure). Several manufacturers are now creating synthetic polyester papers that can work on dry toner machines, like PoliPrint and Teslin, but they are prohibitively expensive for books right now.
posted by girih knot at 10:21 PM on June 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

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