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Japanese researchers develop inkless printing

Researchers at Kyoto University have created the world’s smallest Japanese print, completely without the use of pigments.

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Inkless technology produces the world’s smallest “Ukiyo-e” print

The history of printmaking in Japan spans centuries and artists today still rely heavily on pigments to create their work.

The Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences (iCeMS) at Kyoto University has developed a new printing method to recreate Japanese artist Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave.’ The print measures 1mm in size and was created without the use of ink.

Easan Sivaniah, professor and head of the Pureosity Group at iCeMS Kyoto University, where the research was developed, explains: "Polymers, when exposed to stress - a kind of 'stretching out' at molecular level - undergo a process called 'crazing' in which they form tiny, slender fibres known as fibrils.

“These fibres cause a powerful visual effect. Crazing is what the bored school kid sees when he repeatedly bends a transparent ruler until the stretched plastic starts to cloud into a kind of opaque white."

Crazing is what the bored school kid sees when he repeatedly bends a transparent ruler until the stretched plastic starts to cloud into a kind of opaque white

The team at iCeMS found that by controlling the way the microscopic fibrils were formed and organised in a periodic pattern, a process called organised microfibrillation (OM), they could also control the scattering of light to create colours across the whole visible spectra.

OM technology allows for an inkless, large-scale colour printing process that can generate images at resolutions of up to 14,000 dpi on a number of flexible and transparent formats.

Researchers have also highlighted that the OM technology could prove useful in food and medicine packaging were security labels could be created like a watermark to ensure a product has not been tampered with.

Sivaniah explains that the applications for this method go beyond conventional printing ideas: “OM allows us to print porous networks for gases and liquids, making it both breathable and wearable.

OM allows us to print porous networks for gases and liquids, making it both breathable and wearable

“So, for example in the area of health and well-being, it is possible to incorporate it into a kind of flexible ‘fluid circuit board’ that could sit on your skin, or your contact lenses, to transmit essential biomedical information to the cloud or directly to your health care professional."

Lead author of the paper, Masateru Ito, says that more is to come from the basic principles raised in this research. He comments: "We have shown that stress can be controlled at the submicron length scales to create controlled structure.

"However, it may be that it can also create controlled functionality. We demonstrated it in polymers, and we also know that metals or ceramics can crack. It is exciting to know if we can similarly manipulate cracks in these materials too.”

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