The future of Picturebooks (?!)

As a Design Technology teacher I am constantly tinkering and experimenting with the latest gadgets and technological advancements. Two such advancements have recently got me excited and reaching for my wallet….

Two companies have produced new types of inks, both with unusual and un-tapped properties relating to illustration and design.

‘Living Ink’ is a company that has manufactured an algae-based ink that actually grows over a period of three days to reveal your message / graphic. This idea is fantastic and opens up a whole range of future possibilities. Linking with my current research focus, Sendak’s classic tale could see Max’s room really “grow with leaves and vines”, adding an element of interactivity never before experienced.


Fig. 1. Maybe a forest really could grow in Max’s room?!

Books could grow with the child and be required to be looked after and nurtured as part of the story. As it has a time-lapse effect, new parts of the story or image could be revealed over time, giving it a potentially great life. Whilst this concept is till in it’s infancy and at the ‘gimmick-stage’, I very much like the idea behind it and the move away from synthetic-based inks towards a more natural and sustainable product.


Fig. 2. Living Ink, using timelapse ink, could open a range of opportunities for writers and illustrators.

A different, yet somewhat similar concept is the use and application of ‘Conductive Ink’ in ‘Circuit Scribe’. Whilst electrical-conductivity ink has been available for a while now, it’s application inside a convenient pen, again opens up a range of possibilities that could transform conventional picturebooks for children. Although many batteries are still rather large to fit inside the pages of a picturebook, the technology is advancing constantly and pages that have in-built interactive elements such as lights, sounds and moving parts are in the not-too-distant future.

Fig. 3. ‘Circuit Scribe’ allowing electronics to be embedded into the pages of a picturebook.

Although comparisons could and should be drawn with Kindles, Ipads and similar electronic reading devices, this could potentially add a greater amount of interactivity. Readers could use the pens to finish elements to complete circuits and change the story, interaction with the reader as an energy source could mean their fingers are used to complete circuits and trigger motion and a whole menagerie of sight & sound.

Add to this, current smart pigments available, including thermochromic (changes colour with heat), photochromic (changes colour with UV light) and phosphorescent (glow in the dark) and illustrators have a whole range of opportunities to tap into.

Whatever medium is used, whether it is pen & ink, the latest digital media or indeed, one of these new range of smart inks, the key thing should always be the function and effectiveness of the illustration. Think of the outcome first and then choose the tools. Like in my Design technology teaching, students may wish to make a table and then choose the tools best suited for the job. I hope they never pick up a soldering iron and a sewing machine and think “I want to use these, so what should I make?”…



Fig. 1. Maurice Sendack, Illustration from Where The Wild Things Are, 2000 (London: Red fox)

Fig.2. [Accessed 19 December 2015]

Fig. 3. [Accessed 19 December 2015]



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