Peacock Feathers Inspire A Brighter Future For Colour E-books

Many books are purchased purely on the strength of the story or the information they contain, and for these simple black and white text is all that is required. Fortunately, this kind of display is something that the vast majority of E-readers on the market have mastered. But some books, such as art books, graphic novels, encyclopaedias, magazines and textbooks, are purchased not only for the textual information they contain, but also the pictures and illustrations within them.


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For this latter group, the same kind of rich and vivid experience one gets from a printed book is somewhat elusive in electronic form currently. One solution presented by e-reader manufacturers has been the use of LCD displays, which utilise a backlight to create the different colours needed. Producing colour in this way has its drawbacks though, not least the substantial amount of power it consumes and the unfriendly glare it can give off.

The problem with colour E-ink

On the other side of the E-reader market are the popular E-ink models, which create a paper-like appearance through the use of positively and negatively charged micro-capsules. Colour E-ink readers have been produced recently, but these generally suffer from dulled colours that lack vibrancy. Because they rely on reflected light rather than a backlight, the colours produced can be dim, particularly in unfavourable lighting conditions.

Unlocking the secrets of structural colour

So finding a way to generate a richer colour experience for readers of E-books has become a priority for many in the business, with one of the main concerns being how to produce vibrant colours that remain the same from any angle. And the answer may strangely enough lie in the feathers of a peacock’s tail.

Researchers from Ann Arbor’s University of Michigan have found a way to produce colour that relies on trapping different length beams of light. This method was found to be ‘angle-insensitive’, meaning that it stayed the same from all viewing angles.

The research was inspired by the colour mechanism of a peacock’s tail feather, known as structural colouration. Structural colour works slightly differently than what many would consider conventional colour, which is the result of light bouncing off a particular pigment that in turn absorbs part of the spectrum and leads to the appearance of a particular colour. Instead, structural colour is created by light passing through groove-like structures of different lengths.

Not only were the researchers able to replicate the effect on an experimental screen, but they were also able to modify it to hold its colour regardless of angle. It is believed that the principles tested in the research could be used in future to create more accurate and vibrant colours on reflective screens such as E-ink readers.

A step towards the future of colour E-books

The research remains in its early stages, but it represents another significant move forwards in the quest to present an enjoyable and consistent colour experience for E-book consumers.

Carolina Green is a tech enthusiast who covers all topics from e-readers to plastic technology. When she is not writing, she likes to go to the gym and spend time with her loved ones.

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