Nano-Scale 3D Printing Technology Helps Researchers Print the Smallest Color Picture Ever Printed


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The micro-scale image and QT color options.

The micro-scale image and QD color options.

Measuring itself at an astoundingly tiny 0.0092 mm, or 80 µm x 115 µm, in size Guinness World Records Limited has just named ETH Zurich and their spin off company Scrona Ltd. as the official World Record Holders for the smallest inkjet-printed color image. The image, about the same size as the cross-sectional area of a typical human hair, depicts a pair of colorful clownfish hanging out in front of a cluster of sea anemones. In total it is about the same size as a single pixel on a retina display. Because the image is so small it is, of course, completely invisible to the naked eye and in order to be seen by the Guinness World Records judges needed to use a special miniature microscope.

The mini color image was created using the amazing 3D NanoDrip printing technology recently invented by ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich), a Switzerland-based engineering, science, technology and mathematics university. Currently , ETH Zurich is ranked among the top science and technology universities in the world, just behind places like MIT, Stanford, Cambridge and National University of Singapore. Their new technology is currently being commercialized by a spin off company called Scrona, as is the miniature microscope called the µPeek used to view the image.

The µPeek miniature microscope.

The µPeek miniature microscope.

Despite its diminutive size, the clownfish image still has a photorealistic 24 bit color depth that is as close to a realistically recreated image that is possible at that size. The super-detailed image was created by depositing individually colored quantum-dots (QDs), similarly to how an inkjet printer depositioning and combining color inks, in precise patterns. Each QD nanoparticle can be programmed with a very specific color, and they each can be combined together to make a virtually unlimited number of color shades and variations. QD colors are so vibrant and intense that they are currently being used to manufacture some of the highest resolution flat panel displays ever made.

In order to depict a realistic image at the nano-scale each QD needed to be printed with a resolution of 25,000 DPI, which is an inter-pixel distance of about 500 nanometers. The QDs need to be placed with an incredible amount of sub-nanometer precision at each individual pixel location in order for the image to be recreated correctly. The ability to place nanoparticles with such absolute precision will have a massive impact on the future of micro-scale manufacturing and fabrication.

3D NanoDrip printing technology printed this image at 0.0092 mm.

3D NanoDrip printing technology printed this image at 0.0092 mm.

I really can’t think of a more showstopping use for Scrona’s new 3D NanoDrip printing technology. Even with what is currently considered cutting edge semiconductor technology it has not been possible to manufacture nanostructured materials on this scale before. This technology and the successful application of QDs will open up a wide variety of potentially groundbreaking new applications for this technology in the electronics, optics and display sectors.


The micro-image will be suspended between two synthetic sapphire crystals.

Scrona is currently using Kickstarter to launch the miniature microscope that was used to view the tiny image. The µPeek is a small, credit card sized device that will wirelessly connect with a user’s smartphone and let them perform microscopy as easily as they use their phone to take photographs via an Android/iOS App. One of the interesting perks for backing the µPeek are options that will include microscopic images only viewable with the small microscope that will be printed down to the size of a grain of sand. The images will be made of either pure gold or vibrant fluorescent nanoparticles.

When anyone backs the µPeek on Kickstarter they can get one of three different custom printed micro-images. If they select the white µPeek at the $292 option they’ll receive it with a micro-image of up to thirty printed gold letters or at the $594 option and receive a micro-image of the user’s choosing recreated in gold. The gold images obtain 256 levels of varying brightness by printing a series of fine gold lines with alternating average thicknesses that have been placed with sub-nanometer accuracy.  And if backers select the blue µPeek option for $1,499 they will receive a full-color micro-image of the backers choosing printed in NanoDrip florescent colored quantum-dots. The full color option consists of three layers of red, green and blue fluorescent nanoparticles that are meticulously aligned to reproduce the true-to-life image.

The three micro-image options.

The three micro-image options.

You can see the Kickstarter video for the µPeek here:

Scrona’s Kickstarter campaign for the µPeek is currently almost funded, having raised more than $75,000 of the approximately $125,800 (125,000 Fr) that they are seeking. The campaign is scheduled to end on January 9th. You can see the µPeek campaign here, and find mot more information about this amazing technology over on the Scrona website.  Discuss this story in the Nanoscale 3D Printed Picture forum on

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