Thermochromic inks or dyes are temperature sensitive compounds, developed in the 1970s, that temporarily change color with exposure to heat. They come in two forms, liquid crystalsand leuco dyes. Leuco dyes are easier to work with and allow for a greater range of applications. These applications include: flat thermometers, battery testers, clothing, and the indicator on bottles of maple syrup that change color when the syrup is warm. The most well-known line of clothing utilizing thermochromics was Hypercolor. The thermometers are often used on the exterior of aquariums, or to obtain a body temperature via the forehead. Coors light uses thermochromic ink on its cans now, changing from white to blue to indicate the can is cold.
Thermochromic paint is a relatively recent development in the area of color-changing pigments. It involves the use of liquid crystals or leuco dye technology. After absorbing a certain amount of light or heat, the crystallic or molecular structure of the pigment reversibly changes in such a way that it absorbs and emits light at a different wavelength than at lower temperatures. Thermochromic paints are seen quite often as a coating on coffee mugs, whereby once hot coffee is poured into the mugs, the thermochromic paint absorbs the heat and becomes colored or transparent, therefore changing the appearance of the mug.
Thermochromic papers are used for thermal printers. One example is the paper impregnated with the solid mixture of a fluoran dye with octadecylphosphonic acid. This mixture is stable in solid phase; however, when the octadecylphosphonic acid is melted, the dye undergoes chemical reaction in the liquid phase, and assumes the protonated colored form. This state is then conserved when the matrix solidifies again, if the cooling process is fast enough. As the leuco form is more stable in lower temperatures and solid phase, the records on thermochromic papers slowly fade out over years; this may lead to interesting effects in combination with accounting records, receipts from a thermal printer, and a tax audit.
Thermochromism can appear in thermoplastics, duroplastics, gels or any kind of coatings. The polymer itself, an embedded thermochromic additive or a high ordered structure built by the interaction of the polymer with an incorporated non-thermochromic additive can be the origin of the thermochromic effect. Furthermore, from the physical point of view, the origin of the thermochromic effect can be multifarious. So it can come from changes of light reflection, absorption and/or scattering properties with temperature. In addition, the application of thermochromic polymers for adaptive solar protection is of great interest in the last decade.