Researchers Painted with Lasers Because Lasers

A photo showing the laser paintbrush process and results.
Optica 8, 577-585 (2021)

Researchers at Russia’s ITMO University developed a laser paintbrush that paints paintings without using paint. (Try saying that three times fast.) The laser-painting tool is actually more of an etching tool, creating microscopic structures in metal that reflect select wavelengths of light that correspond to yellow, red, and other colors.

Images produced by the laser paintbrush are just a few millimeters wide and contain incredible, sharp detail. The colors are also very vibrant, thanks in part to the use of “structural color.” There are zero pigments in these “paintings,” just nano-structures etched by the laser tool. These structures can diffuse certain wavelengths of light, effectively sucking out unwanted colors and only reflecting colors chosen by the artist.

But as you can see in the above photos and video, this process has a very limited, very vibrant color palette. Other “nano painting” processes produce a wider range of colors, so what gives? The team at ITMO University says the laser paintbrush is the first step toward a commercial “nano painting” tool for artists, and that the device’s color palette isn’t as important as usability, and speed and the durability of “paintings.”

Pictures made with the laser paintbrush have no special storage requirements and should last indefinitely. The laser paintbrush also allows artists to erase or replace colors—two features that you won’t find in other “nano painting” methods.

The laser paintbrush is clearly a viable product, and it could help revolutionize visual art. But there’s no word on when this kind of device will reach the general public, or how much it would cost. For now, all we can do is wait for researchers to improve the technology, and hopefully add a few more colors to the palette.

Source: Optica 8, 577-585 (2021) via Ars Technica

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