MIT Scientists Invent Reprogrammable Color Changing Ink For Customizing Your Gear

What if you could customize your clothes, vehicles, and other possessions on a whim? MIT scientists have come closer to making every DIYer’s dream a reality with the invention of a new spray-on ink that can change colors and patterns.

Scientists at MIT‘s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created “PhotoChromeleon Ink”. The new ink mixes cyan, magenta and yellow photochromic dyes together. Photochromism is the darkening, lightening, or the color change of an item when it is exposed to electromagnetic radiation. The PhotoChromeleon Ink is able to change color when it is placed under ultraviolet (UV) lights.

mit PhotoChromeleon ink

Users will be able to choose their desired colors, patterns, and designs on a computer. The ink will then be sprayed on an object and that object will be placed inside a box with a UV light and projector. The dyes all respond differently to UV light. The UV light is able to activate or deactivate certain colors depending on the chosen design. It takes between 15-40 minutes to complete the entire process on small objects.

This may seem like a neat party trick, but the process allows for even further customization and preservation. The PhotoChromeleon Ink does not respond to natural light. Users will therefore not need to worry as much about fading. The process is also more sustainable than simply purchasing a new object. If a user would like to create a new design, they need to simply place their object under the UV light again. The UV light acts like an eraser and can wipe out the original pattern and colors. The object is then ready for a new design with the PhotoChromeleon Ink.


This process still has a few limitations. Scientists are not yet able to completely recreate every dye that is used in printing. Users will therefore be limited to a certain color scheme. It is also unclear how much this process costs. Ink is not cheap and this customization process may be too pricey for the average consumer.

The ink is still being tested, but could have a number of uses. CSAIL researcher Dr. Yuhua Jin remarked, “This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste. Users could personalize their belongings and appearance on a daily basis, without the need to buy the same object multiple times in different colors and styles.” Others have noted that this dye could even be used to camouflage military vehicles. This technology could potentially help discourage rabid consumption and encourage sustainability.
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