Experiment: Thermochromic Screen Printing

With all the snow that we’ve been having in the Seattle area lately, it seemed like an appropriate time to post this. This is a bun that has been in the oven for awhile. Probably a little to long, but maybe I like a crunchy crust.

I broke this project into three sections. Research: Done, Illustration: Done, and Printing: Not yet done.

This post will cover the first two, but just as a quick summary, here’s a picture.

This should give a pretty good idea of what were going for.


thermochromism  (ˌθɜːməʊˈkrəʊmɪzəm) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
a phenomenon in which certain dyes made from liquid crystals change colour reversibly when their temperature is changed


I first found out about thermochromic inks and printing from an old post on My Modern Metropolis. Up on finding this, I needed to know how it worked, and if I could use it for screen printing. I spent a couple hours looking for my on this exact set of printed things; I found plenty of re-posts, but I couldn’t find very much on how it was actually done.

From there I started looking for heat sensitive paints and things along those lines. The first site that I found was Alsa Corp. They sell all sorts of specialty paints, but they’re all geared towards use on cars and motorcycles. Either way though this was the first place that I felt like I was actually making some progress towards what I was looking for.

I went through many other sites before coming to a page on the XL Labs site. This page is very helpful and has good links to more information if you want to look into how to do this process for yourself. Though that page I was turned onto Chromatic Technologies Inc. They produce thermochromic inks for everything from beer cans to CD jackets, or in my case, screen printing ink. I’ll be ordering a  blue to colorless ink that changes at 8Celcius or 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cold Color Warm Color
Black (426) Colorless
Blue (286) Colorless
Red (185) Colorless
Orange (172) Colorless
Green (341) Colorless
Magenta (226) Colorless
Purple (2593) Colorless

Aqua (326)

Green (362) Yellow (3965)
Orange (158) Yellow (604)
Purple (273) Pink (2375)
Burgundy (506) Blue (306)

Here’s a video of the color changing in action. Not screen printed, but the same base ink.


I had a good idea of the illustration that I wanted to make before I was fully sure of how the process worked. For the reference I was looking for I went to one of my favorite sites of all time, Digital Comic Museum. This site is a constantly growing archive of Hi-Res scans of golden-age comics in the public domain comics. If you’re a designer or illustrator, bookmark this site. Even if just looking for good titling types, this site is wonderful. The main reference that I used was from the corner panel from Strange Fantasy. I also ended up using a couple of references from the SanMar catalog as well. SanMar is where I got the reference for the shorts.

Rough Sketch

Working on from the rough sketch I continued the design in the same way that I always design for screen printing or press. Creating one color at a time, being careful to keep the color layers separate. With this illustration I wanted it to be special so I let myself go with adding detail. For that, I have to make apologies to Rufus, there is a large amount of detail that will be in white ink.

Even know what I wanted the final image to look like, this was still a very tricky illustration to create. Effectively I was creating two separate images that had to overlap perfectly with just a single color, while still looking completely natural and successful on their own. I had to rework a good bit of the illustration because once the warm temperature illustration looked good, it would mess something in the cold temperature illustration up. What overall resulted from this though was better than I had initially expected from the illustration as whole.

Detail of the shoes
Detail of face
The Final Illustrations

And hopefully this is how the final product will turn out!

Proof for the sweatshirt!

The printing will be done by Fingers Duke and if they turn out well you’ll be able to pick them up at their store in the Kitsap Mall or order them on their website!

By joetowey

I live in the greater Seattle area. I have my BFA in graphic design and visual communication from Northwest College of Art. I've been largely influenced by the area that I've grown up in. My largest passion is for print design, having worked both in a print shop and screen printing company. Look at my silly pictures at http://joetowey.wordpress.com Email me at joe@fingersduke.com -or- call or text me at 425-478-5294


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