Laser-induced forward transfer (LIFT) is an industrial printing technique where a laser pulse aimed at a thin layer of ink creates a tiny jet that deposits the ink on a surface. In practice, the technique is plagued with reproducibility issues, in part because it’s difficult to produce only a single cavitation bubble when aiming a laser at the liquid layer. This is what we see above.
The laser pulse creates its initial bubble just above the middle of the liquid layer. Shock waves expand from that first bubble and quickly reflect off the liquid surface (top) and wall (bottom). When reflected, the shock waves become rarefaction waves, which reduce the pressure rather than increasing it. This helps trigger the clouds of tiny bubbles we see above and below the main bubble.
The effect is worst along the path of the laser pulse because that part of the liquid has been weakened by pre-heating, but impurities and dissolved gases in the liquid layer are also prone to bubble formation, as seen far from the bubble. The trouble with all these unintended bubbles is that they can easily rise to the surface, burst, and cause additional jets of ink that splatter where users don’t intend. (Image and research credit: M. Jalaal et al.; submitted by Maziyar J.)