Researchers at Dartmouth College have developed a smart ink that turns 3D-printed structures into objects that can change shape and color. The innovation promises to add even more functionality to 3D printing and could pave the way to a new generation of printed material. The advancement in the area of form-changing intelligent printing -- also known as 4D printing -- provides a low-cost alternative to printing precision parts for uses in areas ranging from biomedicine to the energy industry. "This technique gives life to 3D-printed objects," said Chenfeng Ke, an assistant professor of chemistry at Dartmouth. "While many 3D-printed structures are just shapes that don't reflect the molecular properties of the material, these inks bring functional molecules to the 3D printing world. We can now print smart objects for a variety of uses." Many 3D printing protocols rely on photo-curing resins and result in hard plastic objects with rigid, but random molecular architectures. The new process allows designers to retain specific molecular alignments and functions in a material and converts those structures for use in 3D printing. By using a combination of new techniques in the pre-printing and post-printing processes, researchers were able to reduce printed objects to 1 percent of their original sizes and with 10-times the resolution. The 3D printed objects can even be animated to repeatedly expand and contract in size through the use of supramolecular pillars. With fluorescent trackers, the objects can be made to change color in response to an external stimulus such as light.