GettyImages 130851248BlueMorphobutterflylr
GettyImages 130851248BlueMorphobutterflylr

Dazzling new paint based on butterfly wings

Riley Riley

A butterfly’s wing has inspired a dazzling new shade of paint.

The blue paint uses ground-breaking technology developed during a 15-year research project.

The inspiration for the new colour Structural Blue came from the American Morpho butterfly which is renowned for the deep, shimmering blue of its wings.

Lexus claims the paint is deeper, more lustrous and essentially more “blue” than anything seen before.

First presented on the LC grand tourer at the 2016 Geneva motor show, it has now been developed for production, adding extra elements of exclusivity and hand-finished quality to the LC coupe.

In Australia, Structural Blue will be offered in extremely limited numbers on the LC flagship from the first quarter of next year.

Due to the complex technology and fine quality of the process, only two Structural Blue cars can be produced in a working day at the Lexus Motomachi factory.

The 15-year quest to develop Structural Blue was a collaboration between the company’s US and Japanese technical centres and California-based VIAVI Solutions, a leading provider of thin-film optical coatings and pigments.

In their intensive search to create the new colour, the team studied the structure of the Morpho butterfly’s wings to determine how a similar iridescent effect could be achieved with vehicle paint.

Despite their appearance, the wings are actually colourless.

The blue seen by the human eye is created by light interference on the microscopic lattice surface structure of the butterfly’s wings.

Replicating such high luminance and colour saturation required unprecedented efforts to develop a new kind of multi-layered pigment.

At first it seemed the challenge was simply too great: the desired quality could be secured only by using a pigment with 40 separate layers.

But the team persevered, constantly improving the process until the effect could be achieved with just seven layers, making it practical for use on highly exclusive vehicles.

The pigment is used to produce a new paint in a production process taking eight months, including 12 production steps and 20 quality inspections.

The paint is applied in a 15-micrometre layer between the primer and clear coats.

Tiny flakes – in the paint generate iridescence, giving the impression the colour constantly changes with the light.

Conventional pigment paints reflect less than 50 per cent of incoming light as a visible blue colour, but with Structural Blue the level is nearly 100 per cent.

In total, 300g of pigment with 300 billion pigment flakes are used to paint just one LC coupe.

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