Keith (13) asked a question about thermal papers in cash machines.

Keith’s question
More and more places are using thermal paper as a form of receipt paper for customers. With time the information fades. How can one scientifically go about recovering information which may have faded from thermal paper.

Keith, many thanks for the question. I never realised that thermal(heat sensitive) paper was used in so many places and that it is also the basis on which the polaroid camera worked.

Thermal paper is made using a collection of dyes which exist as colourless crystals that become coloured when they interact with an acid.


For those who enjoy their chemistry you might have come across adding a dye called phenolphthalein to an acid solution. The dye changes from colourless to a deep purple.

The applied heat (from the cash register machine) melts a layer in the paper which contains acid crystals. The liquid acid then interacts with the layer below it which contains a colourless crystalline dye which changes colour as the acid interacts with it.  The print then shows. The acid quickly becomes crystalline again.

Over time the print does begin to disappear.

A little investigation.

Obtain an old till receipt which your adults do not want to save. Put it onto an ironing board and with a hot (care) iron, iron it.

Stop

To make it more scientific predict what you think might happen before you carry out the experiment. Any ideas, if so you have a hypothesis.  Now find a very old (fading) receipt and using a hair drier blow warm air onto the BACK of the receipt. Again predict.

I think I’ll stop there. Many thanks for the question Keith. Please comment or ask another question.

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