A team of scientists from Jilin University has developed a "water-jet" printer that they say may make ink printing a thing of the past.
The secret lies in the paper, which is coated with invisible dyes that react with water. Words and images of a slightly lower quality than ink-jet or laser printing appear as the jet of liquid touches the paper.
The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
"The days of rewriteable paper are coming - printers of the future will use water-jet paper," the research paper said.
The cost of water-jet printing was about 1 per cent of traditional methods as a single sheet of paper could be used about 50 times, according to the lead researcher, Sean Zhang Xiaoan.
The paper would probably be more expensive than normal, but without the need for ink cartridges the process would be cheaper, Zhang said.
The chemists are still working on the system as it can only print in a limited range of colours, including blue, purple and gold.
They are also working on improving the quality and durability of the print, which lasts about a day. The report did not say when the technology might be ready for commercial production.
Zhang argues in a demonstration video that the technology would have environmental benefits.
"Three major problems are the energy crisis, global warming and ecological and environmental deterioration: all these three problems are caused by one factor - deforestation," Zhang said. "We not only save a lot of money [using water-jet printing], but we also solve the problem of paper waste."
Waste paper makes up about 28 per cent of municipal solid waste in the United States, according to US government figures.