How Fabric Displays Work

Fabric Displays Using PLEDs

An engineer uses an ink jet printer to create a PLED.
An engineer uses an ink jet printer to create a PLED.
Photo courtesy Philips

PLED stands for polymer light emitting diode, which is a technology used in backlighting, illumination and electronic displays. Unlike LEDs, which are small bulbs, a PLED display is a thin, flexible film made of polymers and capable of emitting the full color spectrum of light.

A PLED is constructed of several layers:

  • An engineer begins with a glass or plastic substrate -- for PLED fabric displays, plastic tends to be a better choice because it's less fragile but more flexible than glass.
  • Next comes a transparent electrode coating, which an engineer applies to one side of the substrate.
  • Then the engineer coats the same side of the substrate with the light emitting polymer film.
  • The last layer is an evaporated metal electrode, which the engineer applies to the other side of the polymer film [source: Cambridge Display Technology].

When the engineer applies an electric field between the two electrodes, the polymer emits light, much like an LED. Because the polymers in PLED are made of organic molecules, they are also known as OLEDs -- organic light emitting diodes. To learn more about how these diodes can emit light, read our article on How OLEDs Work.

Using a PLED screen, it would be possible to create a fabric television. PLED displays are very thin and relatively light compared to other display technologies. Of course, the screen is just one important element in the overall fabric display -- you would also need a power source, such as a lithium-ion battery, and a signal source. The signal source could be a small computer containing preloaded video clips or even a WiFi-enabled device that could stream audio and video directly to your clothes.

Clothes using PLED displays aren't currently available, though several Web pages list fabric displays as a likely PLED application in the near future.

In the next section, we'll look at how an invention called T-Shirt TV works and the impact it's made on advertising.