Paint the rainbow: the Scribble Pen that lets you draw in 16 million colours

Ink In The Box

This magical pen can recreate any colour you point at, and save 100,000 of your favourites in its internal memory. Its makers spill their secrets

Since the earliest version of MacPaint, launched in 1984, graphics software programmes have done their best to imitate real life, providing mini icons of pens, pencils and paint pots to show what these magic pixel-manipulators will do on your screens. But now, in a process of barely credible technological sorcery, those software tools are feeding back into real life. You know the pipette icon that can reproduce any colour on your screen? Soon you’ll have one in your real-world pencil case.

Launched this week on Kickstarter, the Scribble Pen is a real-life colour-picker that is capable of sampling then drawing in 16 million different shades, from something the size of your average felt-tip pen. Tap a tomato with one end of the magic wand, and moments later you can splurge out a stream of scarlet ink from the other.

“We were inspired by Microsoft Paint and Photoshop,” says Kevin Harrison, from the San Francisco start-up that has been developing the device for the past two years with a team of electronic engineers and colour scientists. “We thought, wouldn’t it be great if you could have a physical colour-picker that could not only sample, but match and reproduce any colour in real life?”

For artists, designers and children alike, those days of rifling through a box of dried-up felt-tips in search of the perfect shade may soon be over. With a 16-bit RGB colour sensor and microprocessor on one end of the pen, the device determines the colour in question, then mixes it in the barrel of the pen, using water-based dye inks in the usual cyan, magenta, yellow and black – as well as white, which allows for greater opacity.

“Colour sensors exist in the graphics and paint industry,” says Harrison, “but we wanted to make something fast, accurate and super easy to use, something you could take anywhere, so when you spot that perfect colour, you can snap it and save it.”

Capable of saving 100,000 unique colours in its internal memory, the nib of the pen then “draws” using micro-dispensing components, “like the print-head of a desktop inkjet printer, shrunk down,” he says, “only a bit different – and that’s the secret bit.” Just like your forever-jamming desktop printer, one of the biggest challenges has been making a nib that self-cleans, avoiding the endless de-clogging of technical drawing pens. Inks, meanwhile, will come as individual cartridges, for around $3–$10 (£2–£6) each.

Alongside the ink pen, which has launched on Kickstarter for $150 (£87), and will likely sell for around $300 (£175), is the Scribble Stylus, which connects via Bluetooth to smart phones and tablets, allowing you to reproduce colours on screen, as well as tag and search colours, and convert them to different colour models. Both pens will come with a set of nibs, allowing you to draw different stroke widths, making lines light or heavy.

“It has so many applications,” says Harrison, “from graphic and fashion designers, to interior decorators and the colour-blind – even the baking industry. We’re currently developing hardware that will be able to ice cakes in any colour.” So, one day soon, you actually will be able to taste the rainbow.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Oliver Wainwright, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 13th August 2014 10.03 Europe/London

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