Crazing and whitening in glassy polymers is probably familiar to anyone who owns a polycarbonate greenhouse or has put plastic crockery through the dishwasher one too many times. This failure mode arises from localized stresses in the polymer when it is exposed to a solvent, high temperatures or ultraviolet light. Now, Easan Sivaniah and colleagues have developed a process that bears similarities to environmental stress crazing to generate controllable structural colour in glassy polymer films. Using standing-wave optics and appropriate solvents, they generate layers of stressed and therefore microfibrillated polymer within the film that are similar to crazed layers. Normally crazing leads to material failure, but in this case, the regular layers result in structural colour. This can be controlled using wavelength, solvent choice and irradiation time, meaning that the authors can represent ink-free images on a small scale, including millimetre-scale interpretations of paintings such as ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and the Mona Lisa.
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