While looking for a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based inks, a team of researchers stumbled upon an algae-based solution that sees artwork grow on paper over the course of a few days. Colorado (US)-based startup Living Ink Technologies has now taken to Kickstarter to get its "time-lapse" ink into the hands of children, artists and teachers.

The patent-pending Living Ink is made from a formula of, for the most part, living algae cells and water. It can be applied to paper with a pen, a paintbrush or even a printer and is visible at first, so the artist can see what's being created, and then fades after a few minutes. The ink comes in two varieties, one that's fast growing (which shows as pink at first) and one slower (that's initially in blue).

Once the doodling is done, the work is placed inside a portable greenhouse containing nutrients and moisture, then popped in a solid wood stand and placed near a source of light such as sunlight or the glow from a table lamp.

Over the course of a day or so, the algae in the fast ink start to reproduce and show up on the paper first, followed by the slow-growing ink over the next couple of days. When all is revealed, the paper can be removed from the greenhouse and the artwork put on display. The designers compare the process to "gardening on paper."

Scott Fullbright, one of Living Ink's founders, first tested the material on a birthday message card to his grandmother. The message revealed itself over time and she was duly impressed.

The company says that the ink, which took top prize in the US Energy Department's National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition regional contest in Boulder (CO) earlier this year, is child-friendly and completely safe, as youngsters are one of its target markets.

Living Inks has launched on Kickstarter today to bring the idea into production. Early-bird funding perks start at US$30 for fast and slow Living Inks pens, five sheets of high quality paper, and a greenhouse to grow and display the work. Artist and teacher editions are also available. Delivery is estimated for May 2016 if all goes to plan.

The pitch video below shows how Living Ink works.

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