Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a method for 3D-printing extremely fine hair-like structures, which could be used to create customised paintbrushes with ultra-fine bristles, or touch-responsive surfaces.

The team, who are from the institute’s Tangible Media Group, are able to print hairs as thin as 50 microns in diameter.

The technology, called Cilllia, means that high-density hairy or furry surfaces common in nature can now be created artificially.

“3D printers nowadays have potential to change the way we design materials, yet we are still mostly using it to print static objects like plastic cups,” said Jifei Ou, a PhD student at the Tangible Media Group. “We aim to create programmable materials, and hair is just one of the examples we are exploring in our lab now.”

Potential uses for the printed fur include producing low-friction surfaces and touch-control interfaces as well as creating new aesthetic and tactile experiences.