Structural colour using organized microfibrillation in glassy polymer films

Nature. 2019 Jun;570(7761):363-367. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1299-8. Epub 2019 Jun 19.


The formation of microscopic cavities and microfibrils at stress hotspots in polymers is typically undesirable and is a contributor to material failure. This type of stress crazing is accelerated by solvents that are typically weak enough not to dissolve the polymer substantially, but which permeate and plasticize the polymer to facilitate the cavity and microfibril formation process1-3. Here we show that microfibril and cavity formation in polymer films can be controlled and harnessed using standing-wave optics to design a periodic stress field within the film4. We can then develop the periodic stress field with a weak solvent to create alternating layers of cavity and microfibril-filled polymers, in a process that we call organized stress microfibrillation. These multi-layered porous structures show structural colour across the full visible spectrum, and the colour can be tuned by varying the temperature and solvent conditions under which the films are developed. By further use of standard lithographic and masking tools, the organized stress microfibrillation process becomes an inkless, large-scale colour printing process generating images at resolutions of up to 14,000 dots per inch on a number of flexible and transparent formats5,6.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't