Want to Wear your Kindle? E-ink can Now Print on Cloth!

11 May 2011 2,850 views No Comment

Most of the time reading ebooks on my phone or tablet makes me happy as a lark, and I love that these devices can do a million things AND store all my books. In fact, there is only one circumstance related to the consumption of ebooks that prevents me from skipping about gaily with a song on my lips: reading books on my phone makes me irritatingly pale.  First, may I say that I am aware that the sun is evil and that reading by the pool without wearing copious amounts of protective clothing is tantamount to suicide by melanoma, but let’s face it: tan people get respect!

And now, since you are probably wondering how on earth ebooks would be keeping me from spending long hours poolside engoldening myself, let me explain the difference between Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for … er … Kindle. Display screens on phones are typically LCD or OLED, and they don’t do well in sunlight. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but suffice it to say the screens are neither bold nor brilliant under typical pool-day conditions.  In contrast, e-readers like the Kindle use black and off-white electronic paper, which is purported to be easy on the eyes and performs much better in the great outdoors.

Image courtesy ebooknews.com

While it will take years for electronic ink manufacturers to develop color technology that matches LCD screens, E-Ink Holdings, the company that makes the electronic paper for Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, has been experimenting to extend their existing black and white display technology further. E-Ink Holdings recently announced that they can now print digital displays onto conventional cloth, as well as on “the rip-stop material Tyvek that’s used in yacht sails and toughened envelopes” (Eaton).  E-Ink’s new technology is ready for incorporation into products.

While it’s not as high-resolution as a fully pixelated e-ink screen that you’d see on an e-reader; rather, the cloth displays are segmented, ultra-thin, rugged, and flexible (SURF). The system works well in situations where it can flash on and off, but “presumably there’s not much stopping E-Ink from cleverly engineering it into a more complex array that emulates a basic 15-segment alphanumeric-capable display. And more precise pixels may be possible – making for a low-resolution black and white display on cloth” (Eaton). So yes, we are talking about wearable electronic display screens!

I can see this material being used so many ways, and in so many places in buildings and other structures – for instance, curtains and fabric-covered wall panels or ceilings that flash messages in emergency situations or display advertising. The SURF e-ink could also lend itself to t-shirts that alternate between the words “sexy” and “dance party” – which, based on a recent trip to Paris, I suspect would be wildly popular with 80% of the population of France. The possibilities are endless.


I have filed E-ink on Cloth under wood because it is flexible, and under fire because it can be controlled electronically.


Eaton, Kit. “E-Ink on Cloth Raises the Terrible Prospect of T Shirt Ads.” FastCompany.com 05/04/11. Accessed 05/05/11. URL.

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