How Thermochromic Ink Works? (2)

In life, the only thing that stays the same is change. The only exception to that rule, of course, is the color of paint on your car. You might really hate that lime green, but there is no way -- no way -- you're going through the expensive and time-consuming chore of painting it all over again. You wish that the colors of the things in your life were as dynamic as life itself.


Well, sometimes our possessions and paints really can change color, thanks in part to thermochromic ink technology. Thermochromic inks take advantage of thermochromism, which refers to materials that change their hues in response to temperature fluctuations. Still hate that lime green? Pony up for the right paint and on a warm day, it could morph from a Kermit the Frog hue into a more tolerable sunshine yellow.


Thermochromic inks first hit the mainstream in the 1970s, appearing in one of that era's lasting icons -- the mood ring, which supposedly used the wearer's body heat as a sign of his or her emotional state.


More recently, a microwaveable maple syrup bottle featured a thermochromic label that indicated when its buttery, delicious goodness was warm enough for your waffles. And some beer cans sport graphics that appear when their hoppy contents are cool enough to provide optimum refreshment.

Since mood rings, thermochromic inks have evolved at a steady pace. They're still used in all sorts of silly novelty items, but they have many useful and creative applications, too: thermometers, clothing, paint, drink containers, toys, battery indicators, plastic products of all kinds and much more.


There are numerous companies integrating these dynamic, eye-catching inks into their products. Doing so can help them grab consumers' attention and differentiate a brand from those that use old-fashioned inks with just one static hue. Paired with a clever bit of creativity, such products provide real visual wow.

Keep reading and you'll see how these crazy inks pull their chameleon tricks. Be ready -- your eyes in are in for a surprise.

Loco for Leuco (Dyes)


Liquid crystal-based TLCs are a temperamental bunch and rather difficult to incorporate into labels, clothes or other goods. Leuco dye inks, though, feature more durable chemistry that lets product designers employ these inks for all sorts of fun applications.


One of the most famous applications of leuco dyes is on cans of Coors Light beer. These cans feature a graphic of a mountain landscape next to the company's logo. At room temperature, the mountains appear white. Cool the can to drinking temperature (about 45 degrees Fahrenheit or 7 Celsius), though, and those same mountains turn a vivid, bright blue. As the beer warms in your hand, the graphic again shifts to its original white. This color change can happen over and over again.


As with TLCs, leuco dyes are also microencapsulated into tiny droplets that are only about 3 to 5 microns in size, which prevents them from reacting with or being damaged by other chemicals.

Usually, leuco dyes are colored when they're at a cool temperature. Then, as heat rises, they become translucent, which lets them reveal any colors, patterns or words that may be printed on an underlying layer of ink. In other products, leuco dyes can be blended with another color so that as temperatures change, a two-tone effect occurs. Mix blue with yellow, for example, and you have an ink that looks green at lower temperatures and yellow when heat rises.

It sounds a bit magical, but there's some basic science behind the way the inks work. The teensy capsules contain a colorant, an organic acid and a solvent. At lower temperatures the solvent remains in a solid state, keeping the colorant and acid in close proximity to each other -- and as a result, they reflect light and create color. As the solvent warms, the colorant and the acid separate and there's no visible color, which in turn exposes underlying inks.


Take your maple syrup bottle as an example. At room temperature, the bottle shows a picture of a tiny black microwave; when warmed, the black area fades, temporarily revealing the word "hot."

When it comes to temperature accuracy, leuco dyes are more ham-handed than TLCs, so you can't depend on them for applications where you really need a precise temperature reading. But leuco dyes can be integrated into all sorts of fascinating and amusing products.

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