PFI-TT: Fabrication of color-shifting coatings containing reflective microstructures

Project: Research project

Project Details


The broader impact/commercial potential of this Partnerships for Innovation - Technology Translation (PFI-TT) project is to design, fabricate, and evaluate the properties of coatings that change color when viewed at different angles or under different lighting conditions for technological and aesthetic use. Color-shifting coatings have commercial applications as diverse as security, anti-counterfeiting, decorative paints, cosmetics, packaging, and advertising. Current color-shifting coatings technologies rely on very small nanoscale structures, which are challenging and expensive to produce. Current technologies also provide little control over the specific colors reflected and the angles to which those colors are reflected. More customizable color-shifting coatings that use larger microscale structures may enhance the distinctiveness of security features, provide new avenues for self-expression, and reduce cost. Success of this project may enable the design of the microstructures to create customized, desired color palettes that can be fabricated by scalable methods. The proposed technology will also be incorporated into an entrepreneurial innovation course at Penn State as a team-based case study to provide undergraduates with hands-on experiences developing a commercialization plan for a new technological invention.

The proposed project aims to exploit, for the purposes of coatings design, the color generation that occurs when light reflects multiple times within microstructures. Existing color-shifting materials, such as diffraction gratings or thin films, create optical interference through the use of periodic nanostructures. By using microstructures that are orders of magnitude larger and easier to fabricate in various geometries, there is an opportunity for greater customization of the reflected colors. Objectives of this project include the fabrication of microstructure arrays over large areas, generation of nickel metal molds that can be used for polymer imprinting of microstructures, evaluation of thermoplastic polymer embossing and scalable methods for microstructure film production, and evaluation of the prototype film optical properties as benchmarked against current competitor coatings. Partnerships to aid manufacturing scalability will be pursued. Customer discovery will be conducted to aid in evaluation of commercial potential and target market applications.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date8/15/201/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $299,946.00


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