New photochromic ink from MIT can change colour

While we are not quite sure you can ‘paint’ or ‘spray’ packages yet, this new development certainly has possibilities to make some CPGs really stand out on the shelf.

The system takes its cue from creatures like chameleons who can camouflage themselves by changing colour. Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have developed a new spray-on ink that can infinitely change colours, designs, and patterns when zapped with different wavelengths of light.

Called PhotoChromeleon, it uses photochromic dyes (which work on the same principle as glasses that automatically darken in sunlight) that can be applied to almost any object using standard painting methods like brushes or sprays. The ink was created by mixing cyan, magenta, and yellow photochromic dyes together to create a single solution that works like paint, but which is invisible until exposed to a very specific light array.

Each dye reacts to different wavelengths of light, so by using three different light sources, the researchers were able to selectively activate and deactivate the three different ink colours to produce specific shades, complex patterns, and even high-resolution images.

Once an object, such as a shoe or a smartphone case, has been coated with the ink, it’s placed in a box with a projector and a UV light. The projector shines pre-determined images and patterns onto the object in different wavelengths to activate the colours in the ink, while the UV light resets the ink, essentially erasing all the colours and designs.

Depending on the size and shape of the object, and the complexity of the design being reproduced, the activation process can take anywhere from 10 to 40 minutes. The CSAIL researchers are still looking to recreate photochromic dyes that match all the colours used in modern printing processes.

The team is looking to collaborate with material scientists to help improve the colour spectrum of their dyes which would open the product up to countless applications such as changing the colour of your car when you get bored of its current shade. There is certainly huge potential for applications in the packaging arena. Watch this space!


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