Natural structural color materials, especially those that can undergo reversible changes, are attracting increasing interest in a wide variety of research fields. Inspired by the natural creatures, many elaborately nanostructured photonic materials with variable structural colors were developed. These materials have found important applications in switches, display devices, sensors, and so on. In this critical review, we will provide up-to-date research concerning the natural and bio-inspired photonic materials with variable structural colors. After introducing the variable structural colors in natural creatures, we will focus on the studies of artificial variable structural color photonic materials, including their bio-inspired designs, fabrications and applications. The prospects for the future development of these fantastic variable structural color materials will also be presented. We believe this review will promote the communications among biology, bionics, chemistry, optical physics, and material science (196 references).
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