Fast Company

E-Ink On Cloth Raises The Terrible Prospect Of T-Shirt Ads

wordy T-shirtE-Ink Holdings, which makes the display tech behind Amazon's Kindle e-reader, can now print updatable digital displays onto cloth. Yep...you're already imagining what Google or Facebook could do with the ad space on your T-shirt, aren't you? And the (horrible/wacky) possibilities don't stop there.

The black-and-off-white electronic paper found in the typical e-reader device is often the only real benefit of e-readers versus more full-functioning tablets (apart from price, in some cases). Fans say the display, being "closer" to emulating real ink on paper, is easier on the eyes, and it's definitely more sunlight-friendly than an LCD or OLED screen. But the technology seems to have stagnated since it arrived on the original Kindle, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos himself noted a color version was many years away.

That doesn't mean E-ink, the company behind the most successful electronic paper, has been doing nothing. They've been experimenting with different applications of their existing tech, as all forward-thinking innovators do, and have worked out how to print one type of e-ink screen onto conventional cloth, as well as the rip-stop material Tyvek that's used in yacht sails and toughened envelopes.

The technology is apparently fully developed, and merely awaits someone inventing a use-case and funding e-ink to produce a real product. You may notice it's not quite the same as a fully pixelated e-ink screen like the ones used in e-readers--instead it's been perfected for e-ink SURF display use (Segmented, Ultra-thin, Rugged and Flexible). This makes the system well suited as a flashing on-off sort of sign, but presumably there's not much stopping E-Ink from cleverly engineering it into a more complex array that emulates a basic 15-segment alphanumeric-capable display. And more precise pixels may be possible--making for a low-resolution black and white display on cloth.

Which instantly makes us imagine Google selling Wi-Fi-connected T-shirts that update with adverts based on the wearer's location and who's walking by; in our location-enabled age this is highly plausible. Would you wear an advertising T-shirt if Google paid you a stipend? Similar tricks could work wherever large amounts of fabric are displayed--suggesting advert-enabled window curtains or sails. Or maybe you could wear your Twitter feed or a smarmy animated gif smack across your chest. At this point we imagine mood-riddled teenagers using their T-shirts as a live-updating display to mirror their angsty inner thoughts...the mood ring for the 21st Century. If the price is right and the printable displays are durable, you never know what may happen.

[Image via Flickr user quartermane]

Chat about this odd news with Kit Eaton on Twitter to ponder if you'd wear an ad T-shirt and follow Fast Company too.

Read More: Apparel Media's Interactive T-Shirts Boost Brands on Campus

 

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3 Comments

  • atimoshenko

    Advertising only works if the people who see it end up spending more money as a result, and spending only works if the potential spenders are able to earn some money first. So advertising can only ever be a (small) percentage of total economic output.

    No less problematically, advertising only works if we notice it, which means that it needs to stand out, which means that it needs to be comparatively rare.

    All of this is to say that the natural saturation point for advertising will be reached before we become walking billboards, regardless of the technology available. Indeed, a good case can be made that the saturation point has already been reached and surpassed.

  • Jeremy Lorentz

    What do you think that people who where Nike, or Adidas, or FUBU, or any other clothing brand is doing? They are advertising that company. You can easily advertise other things besides clothing brands on these shirts and if it's done right, it will still stand out...