Ultrathin high-resolution flexographic printing using nanoporous stamps

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Science Advances  07 Dec 2016:
Vol. 2, no. 12, e1601660
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601660

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Since its invention in ancient times, relief printing, commonly called flexography, has been used to mass-produce artifacts ranging from decorative graphics to printed media. Now, higher-resolution flexography is essential to manufacturing low-cost, large-area printed electronics. However, because of contact-mediated liquid instabilities and spreading, the resolution of flexographic printing using elastomeric stamps is limited to tens of micrometers. We introduce engineered nanoporous microstructures, comprising polymer-coated aligned carbon nanotubes (CNTs), as a next-generation stamp material. We design and engineer the highly porous microstructures to be wetted by colloidal inks and to transfer a thin layer to a target substrate upon brief contact. We demonstrate printing of diverse micrometer-scale patterns of a variety of functional nanoparticle inks, including Ag, ZnO, WO3, and CdSe/ZnS, onto both rigid and compliant substrates. The printed patterns have highly uniform nanoscale thickness (5 to 50 nm) and match the stamp features with high fidelity (edge roughness, ~0.2 μm). We derive conditions for uniform printing based on nanoscale contact mechanics, characterize printed Ag lines and transparent conductors, and achieve continuous printing at a speed of 0.2 m/s. The latter represents a combination of resolution and throughput that far surpasses industrial printing technologies.

  • Printed electronics
  • stamp
  • porous
  • carbon nanotube
  • flexography

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