A new laboratory at UWE in Bristol is set to combine traditional print techniques with cutting-edge sensor and materials technology.
UWE Bristol’s Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) is set to start a five-year £1.5m project in January on new designs for print heads for commercial printers and the development of the next generation of inks with distinctive properties and new ways of printing.
“The technology could lead to food labels that react to heat”
This could lead to new applications such as a T-shirt that can warn its wearer when dangerous chemicals are in the air, or pharmaceutical packaging with ink signifying when pills have been tampered with.
The lab will be run by Dr Susanne Klein, who used to work for printer maker Hewlett Packard as a senior researcher at its labs in Bristol.
The research will combine the CFPR’s knowledge of traditional photomechanical printing methods, such as Lippmann and Woodbury, and use the techniques for use on a 2.5D printer, which creates texture as part of an image on a substrate.
Using her expertise in colloidal chemistry (working with particles suspended in a solution), and liquid crystals, Klein will also develop specialist inks that can change colour in certain environments.
Such properties could mean a T-shirt print might be able to detect chemicals in the environment that have a proven link to cardiovascular disease, and change colour to warn the wearer. Similar ink on the garment could also react to heat and change colour when the wearer has spent a long time in the sun.
Smart inks could also help manufacturers trace a product as it passes through the supply chain, or curb counterfeiting.
“There are lots of problems with counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals and sometimes products are found to be counterfeited where the packaging is identical to the original,” said Dr Klein. “We will produce packaging with printing ink that will change colour every time it passes through and is authorised at a different stage on its way to the customer.
“Another application could be in the case of food that needs to remain cold in its packaging. The technology could lead to labels that react to heat, switch to another colour if they have warmed and stay that colour,” she said.
“The printing landscape is changing and I think our research will contribute to that, but the industry is traditional with its own way of doing things, and no big printer will make any radical changes. Our plan is to feed in little advances, bit by bit, so that commercial printers can adapt slowly to new technologies.”
The funding will provide £300,000 per year for five years to the University and Klein will set up a team comprising a post-doctorate student and a technician to work with the CFPR to develop this new printing approach.
“This funding is unprecedented nationally in an art school environment,” said Professor Carinna Parraman, Director of the CFPR. “This is a unique opportunity to pair an experienced material scientist, coming into academia with industrial and manufacturing process knowledge and skills, with the CFPR’s expertise in photomechanical processes invented in the 19th century.”
The CFPR has already been working with advanced 3D printing technology with a wide range of materials including ceramics.
The 32nd annual miniature print exhibition from the CFPR is on at the bar in the Arnolfini in Bristol until 24 December. Yoi can see more at www.uwe.ac.uk/sca/research/cfpr/.