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Update Your Wardrobe By Printing New Clothes

Heat-sensitive inks and dyes may soon let you give your shirt a different pattern for every day of the week.

Update Your Wardrobe By Printing New Clothes
Minnesota Historical Society

The latest fashions are perennially out of fashion. Which is a problem for those who don’t want to shop for clothes at the same frequency they shop for food.

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If so, the new Shader Printer is made for you. Designs etched with its low-power laser are only as permanent as a night spent in the freezer. Pop in your shirt, shoes, or clothes and the cold temperature erases any decals or logos. Adding a touch of intense heat (about 120 degrees Fahrenheit) from a special laser printer (or even a hairdryer) prints any design back onto the material.

The heart of the system is a “bi-stable color-changing material,” a substance added to plastics, fabrics, and other materials which changes color at different temperatures. Developed by researchers at the Japan Science and Technology Agency, Keio University, the University of Tokyo and MIT, the Shader Printer is still finding its niche (conference logo wear anyone?). Its 151 DPI resolution and easy print-and-erase options, however, are promising.

The printer is just the latest in a color-shifting products that have gone from novelty to utility in the last few decades. The mood rings of the 1970s and “hypercolor” dyes in T-shirts of the late 1980s are now the sunglass lenses, paints, threads, and even medicines that respond to temperatures (or pressure, water, magnetic fields, or UV light) by changing colors.

Even more interesting are new super-fast photochromatic materials for data storage and optics. While conventional materials plod along at seconds or hours, scientists publishing in the Journal of the American Chemical Society show new materials can respond to UV light almost instantaneously, and the change back almost as quickly (such as the video here) Soon, fashion may move at the speed of light.

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About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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