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Printing colour at the optical diffraction limit

Abstract

The highest possible resolution for printed colour images is determined by the diffraction limit of visible light. To achieve this limit, individual colour elements (or pixels) with a pitch of 250 nm are required, translating into printed images at a resolution of 100,000 dots per inch (d.p.i.). However, methods for dispensing multiple colourants or fabricating structural colour through plasmonic structures have insufficient resolution and limited scalability1,2,3,4,5,6. Here, we present a non-colourant method that achieves bright-field colour prints with resolutions up to the optical diffraction limit. Colour information is encoded in the dimensional parameters of metal nanostructures, so that tuning their plasmon resonance determines the colours of the individual pixels. Our colour-mapping strategy produces images with both sharp colour changes and fine tonal variations, is amenable to large-volume colour printing via nanoimprint lithography7,8, and could be useful in making microimages for security, steganography9, nanoscale optical filters6,10,11,12 and high-density spectrally encoded optical data storage.

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Figure 1: Working principle and fabrication process for high-resolution plasmonic colour printing.
Figure 2: Optical micrographs and spectral analyses of arrays of nanostructures with varying diameters D and gaps g.
Figure 3: Numerical simulation for structures of the same periodicity (D + g = 120 nm).
Figure 4: Full-colour image printing and resolution test patterns.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) Young Investigatorship (grant no. 0926030138) and SERC (grant no. 092154099). The work made use of the SERC nano Fabrication, Processing and Characterization (SnFPC) facilities in IMRE. The authors thank S.H. Goh, I.Y. Phang, J. Deng and V.S.F. Lim for technical assistance, and M. Asbahi, M. Bosman, W.P. Goh and K.T.P. Lim (IMRE) and K.K. Berggren (MIT) for fruitful discussions.

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K.K., H.D. and J.K.W.Y. conceived the ideas and designed the experiments. K.K., H.D. and J.K.W.Y. fabricated and characterized the samples. R.S.H., S.C.W.K. and J.N.W. performed numerical simulations. All authors analysed the data and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joel K. W. Yang.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kumar, K., Duan, H., Hegde, R. et al. Printing colour at the optical diffraction limit. Nature Nanotech 7, 557–561 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2012.128

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