New technology puts a face to a cake

  • 2002-03-14
  • Jorgen Johansson,

New Swedish technology is now available in Latvia that can print on virtually anything you can eat.

Mikael Franzetti, co-founder of the pizzeria Mamma Mia, is venturing into uncharted territory - edible ink printing.

"We've only been doing this for two weeks. So far we've had nothing but positive reactions," he said. "At first people don't seem to know exactly what it is they are looking at when I show them a cake with a printed picture on it.

"They ask what they are supposed to do with the part of the cake where the picture is. Well, simply eat it. It's perfectly safe."

A few Franzetti's childhood friends in Sweden converted a machine originally intended for printing on paper and textiles into a printer that can print on any surface and texture no thicker than two millimeters and less than a meter wide.

The machine itself is about two-and-a-half meters long, one meter wide and one meter tall. There is an opening at the bottom of the machine where the food "canvas" - a cake, for example - passes through on a conveyer belt. A computer with a scanner is connected to the machine. Inside, edible ink is transferred onto the surface in a process Franzetti says he cannot explain.

"Marzipan goes in on one side and comes out on the other with the printed picture on it," he said. "We have technicians in Sweden who know more exactly how it works, but I don't bother too much with the technical aspects."

But the machine can print in a resolution of 300 dots per inch so there is not too much room for creativity.

"All we need is a diskette with the logotype or picture saved on it," he said. "An ordinary photograph is also okay. Then we just run it through our computer and print the picture onto the marzipan," Franzetti explained.

Other than an inability to reproduce complex images, there are very few limitations to the "cake printer," Franzetti said. It neither can print in white.

It's possible to print on anything up to 0.5 meters wide, 30 meters long and two millimeters thick.

"It is a great gimmick to have your face on your birthday cake, but then again, you don't really buy a cake for yourself but for somebody else," Franzetti said.

Prices, including a picture, for these cakes are 6.50 lats ($10.15) for cakes 20 centimeters in diameter and 8.90 lats for 25-centimeter-wide cakes.

There is currently only one machine in Latvia, but Franzetti did not rule out the possibility of manufacturing more.

For now the Franzetti company is content with printing on cheese and marzipan for cakes. But they are already trying to come up with more inventive products.

"We'll start on a small scale until we know if there is any interest in these sort of things," he said. "As of now we only offer this product in Latvia, but if things go well we are thinking of expanding to Estonia and Lithuania."