FES watch by Sony
E-paper is currently only available in monochrome

Coloured e-paper could have "wide and far-reaching" impact on fashion design

Flexible electronic paper could be available in colour as early as next year, allowing designers to create clothing, accessories and other products that double as display screens.

Commonly used on devices such as Kindle e-readers, e-paper has until now only been available in monochrome, restricting its appeal.

But advances in flexible e-paper technology mean that products such as shoes, watches and garments could soon feature full-colour text, patters and images that can constantly change.

Colour "is the next step"

"Colour is the next step that everybody's waiting for," said Matthew Laird, business development manager at Sony Europe.

"Next year [e-paper manufacturers] are talking about being able to be in a position to release coloured ink, and potentially it will change things a lot."

Kindle e-readers use e-paper
Kindle e-readers are one of the common uses of e-paper. Photo is courtesy of Pexels

Laird made the comments at a Dezeen talk during London Design Festival. Held at the show space of paper brand GF Smith, the talk featured Laird as well as Sony Design art director Richard Small, GF Smith paper consultant Vanessa Fletcher and artist Supermundane.

The talk featured Sony's Fes Watch U, which has a strap and face made from a single flexible sheet of monochrome e-paper.

Both face and strap can display an endlessly changing sequence of images based on designs that can be downloaded from the internet in seconds.

Can be read in direct sunlight

E-paper is a digital technology that mimics traditional paper. Unlike a computer or phone screen, e-paper is not backlit and emits no light. Images and text on e-paper can be read in direct sunlight.

Sony's Fes Watch U is made from black and white e-paper

Individual pixels can be switched between on and off states, combining to create an image that remains on the paper when the electric charge is removed. This allows e-paper to display images or text indefinitely with no need for mains or battery power. Power is only required when the image is changed, increasing battery life.

"It's flexible, it's durable, you can hit it, it's splash proof as well to a point, it's pretty durable, and I think that's where the future is," said Laird. "The uses for it in fashion are really wide and far-reaching."

E-paper could revolutionise fashion and accessories

Sony Design's Richard Small said that in theory e-paper could be produced in large sizes but its cost means its future use will probably be more widespread in smaller applications.

"It's quite expensive," Small said. "I've seen something about the size of a projector screen in e-ink, but it's not cheap. You'd need a lot of power to change the image."

"Where it's going to become popular is where it can be put into rings or earrings or the fashion world rather than anything large scale."