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How Do Color-Changing Items Work?

Alyssa Mertes

Published: July 23rd, 2020

Do you remember your high school chemistry class? Chances are if you didn't fall asleep, you know a little something about molecules and compounds. This basic knowledge is all you need to understand how mood items like rings, pencils, and cups change colors.

How do color-changing products work? Why do people love these novelty items? It's time to paint a picture and learn the amazing science behind mood products.

Are you more visual? Watch this interesting video about the color changing process!


What is the History of Mood Rings?

The mood ring first came onto the scene in 1975. New York marketing executive Joshua Reynolds was studying biofeedback (electronic monitoring of human body functions), and instead found something new to sell at popular department stores. At the time, the ring wasn't the cheap plastic version we've come to see in souvenir and novelty shops. It was made of real silver or gold and valued between $45 and $250.

These mood rings were an instant success and opened the door for the future of color-changing products. In fact, Reynolds sold $1 million worth in only three months! A string of other color-changing items followed suit, such as pencils, cups, and even clothing. Needless to say, this new phenomenon definitely put everyone in a good mood.

Newspaper clipping Source:

Why Do Items Change Colors?

There has to be an extreme change in temperature in order for color-changing items to work. While you shouldn't throw your mood pencil into a fire or blizzard, you'll likely see a difference in appearance depending on both temperature and pressure. For example, if you squeeze a mood pencil, it will be a much different color than if you let it sit on your desk.

Of course, temperature isn't enough to change the color of the product. There are two types of inks or dyes that make items change color.

Leuco Dyes

The most common method is through leuco dyes. Most promotional products, like mood pencils and stadium cups, use this type of ink to change colors. Each microcapsule inside the dye contains three substances:

1. A colorant
2. An acid
3. A solvent

The solvent remains solid at low temperatures, keeping the colorant and acid close together. As a result, the mixture reflects light and creates color. When the temperature increases, the solvent liquefies and the colorant and acid come apart. At this point the dye becomes translucent, allowing any color, pattern, or word printed on an underlying layer of ink to show through.

Pens before and after

What Are Leuco Dyes Used For?

Leuco dyes are found in a wide variety of products. They add a fun element to packaging and typical objects like pens and drinkware. Take a look at some of the surprising places you'll find leuco dyes.

Thermochromic Liquid Crystals (TLCs)

While they're not as common as leuco dyes, TLCs are also very effective at changing a product's color. The crystals are liquid, but their molecules are structured and organized in a way typical of solid materials. This substance is composed of mini capsules that are covered by a chemical base. In warm temperatures (about 80ºF), the capsules reorganize like matches in a box. However, in colder temperatures, the crystals move farther apart. The final color depends on how close the crystals are together and how much white light is reflected.

Thermochromic liquid crystals work very similar to iridescent products. They are also very temperature sensitive, which means they provide a more accurate reading than leuco dyes. As such, they're used for many important items like thermometers and other medical equipment.

Before after

What Are Thermochromic Liquid Crystals (TLCs) Used For?

Thermochromic liquid crystals (TLCs) are used for a number of essential items. From household appliances to modern technology, check out all of the uses for this substance.

Do Mood Items Actually Show Emotions?

As the story goes, a mood item reflects how you're feeling at any given time. The factual evidence of this is about equivalent to fairy dust – you've just got to believe in its power for it to be real!

For those who believe in the magic, you can gauge how you're feeling based on the color of your item. Take a look at the Mood Item Color Wheel to get a better grip on your feelings.

mood items

While there is a correlation between how you're feeling and body temperature, mood items are meant to be fun and shouldn't be taken too seriously. In other words, don't expect flowers if your significant other's ring is suddenly purple. It's also best to not get overly concerned if you see the mood cup they're holding turn dark green.

How Long Do Mood Items Last?

How Long Do Mood Items Last?

In about five years, your mood ring or item might turn black and stop responding altogether. No need to worry, you're not in a permanent state of indifference, there are a few different reasons why this happens.

To start, mood items are susceptible to water damage. As such, if you have color-changing drinkware like mood stadium cups, it's best to avoid washing them in the dishwasher. Use plenty of soap and scrub gently instead. Items that change colors from TLCs are more likely to have this issue than those made with leuco dyes.

Mood items may also stop working if they're left in an extreme temperature for too long. For instance, if you leave color-changing pencils in your hot car all day, they might not work as well. Keep these items stored at a normal temperature to extend their shelf life.

The Bottom Line

Mood items will always be a valuable way to get attention, whether it's hitting the road in a stylish, color-changing car or advertising your company with mood pencils at the next trade show. Bring this trend into your life, and don't be surprised if your mood ring gets permanently stuck on blue!

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

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Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.