The chemical processes needed to produce the pigments and inks for printers, combined with the issue of wasteful plastic cartridges, make printing a less than sustainable process. To address this issue, a team of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Chemistry has come up with a way to meet all your printing needs with transparent ink.
Transparent ink may sound counter-intuitive when it comes to printing, but the process is inspired by creatures like butterflies and peacocks which use light manipulation and reflection through microscopic structures to produce vibrant colors in a phenomenon known as structural color.
Traditional printers, like that in your office, use microscopic droplets of ink clustered together to produce a full image. The newly-developed printing method uses a similar process, but instead of using multiple primary color inks, it uses just a single polymer ink, placed on glass with a hydrophobic surface, where it forms a structure that looks like a tiny dome. This dome then covers a surface in what is essentially thousands of tiny lenses, reflecting different wavelengths of light depending on size, causing the human eye to perceive them as different colors.
The researchers are currently focusing on creating detailed small images using the new method, but they believe that in the future, this technology, which would be adaptable with home and commercial printers, could be used to create more eco-friendly billboards, art pieces, and even your child’s home-printed book report. What’s more, these prints won’t fade with age and sun exposure and the single ink technology could make it more affordable than current printing methods.
Source study: Science Advances – Facile full-color printing with a single transparent ink