The Chemistry of Fashion: Scratch-and-Sniff Lab Dips?

Earlier we wrote about a new invention in polymer development that involves using catalysts to dye the polymer, where one of the questions we asked was how lab dips would be handled.

And we were curious about how lab dips might be handled for emerging trends that use scents and other sorts of nonstandard ‘dyes’ and prints. Admittedly, we were being a little facetious when we asked:

“And a final thought about lab dips is how are people going to do the lab dips for fragrance molecules and optical brighteners?  We can see designers falling out of windows to avoid being the anointed one to handle lab dips that need to have both color and scent matched.  Fashion design curricula may need to add more chemistry at this rate.”

Little could we know that not two weeks later PC World’s Geek Tech would publish an article about scientists from Japan developing a printer and ink that would print scents onto paper.   Now, admittedly, it is very early days, but it’s also just a short step to move from paper to textiles, and from there to deal with the productization challenges of getting the ink to sustain the scent through the manufacturing and retailing processes.

Chris Brandrink asked:  How or why would you use scent printing? Well, we’re sure that every children’s wear or home furnishing designer out there would have ideas – even if they can’t get the scent onto wovens, so how about cute aprons or dresses made of nonwovens (like the wonder textile Tyvek) where they could have floral print borders with scent printed patches?  Or for the home furnishings market, how about Christmas table runners printed with pine and cinnamon? Or for the goth crowd, hand fans printed with patchouli and musk? And of course, for Valentine’s day, the rose-drenched love letter.

There are tons of wonderful things one could design using scent printing, but the technical designer immediately wants to know how the scents are going to be matched from what the designer intended to what the factory sends back. There are additional issues in printing with scent – how do you handle the issue of allergic response which is increasingly common?   As it is, there is a miasma of disgusting smells released when a box of new counter samples fresh from the factory are opened.  Between the manufacturing chemicals, and whatever fumigants were used to prevent vermin and pests from hopping a ride overseas, it’s a pungent mix of odors.  Now add in printed scents, and we may need to add oxygen masks to a designer’s tool kit.

And of course, we are back to the whole question of lab dips…in addition to our CYMK color match swatches, are we also going to be presented with a set of scratch and sniff swatches to match the scents to as well? Fashion designers may need to learn a whole new language of smell on top of color.

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