Phyto Printing

Phyto Printing

Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live in watery environments. Like land plants, phytoplankton have chlorophyll to capture sunlight, and they use photosynthesis to turn it into chemical energy. Biodesigner Luis Undritz utilises the photosynthesis process to “print” phytoplankton, creating patterns on a variety of materials by using a light projection technique based on screen printing.


Phyto printing uses a light projection to control the growth of phytoplankton to create high-resolution prints. The result is a living material that breathes and metabolises. Additionally, the growth process can be observed. Phytoplankton is a group of organisms to which cyanobacteria and microalgae belong. These phototactic living beings grow exponentially and can produce large amounts of oxygen and bind carbon dioxide. Undritz uses a DLP laser projector, which is the interface between the digital image and the organism. This projector is crucial in the precise controlled growth of phytoplankton. It creates the conditions the organisms need to grow. The technology also is adaptable, depending on the type of phytoplankton. The many different phytoplankton strains each have preferred light conditions. The projector makes this possible through its three lasers (green, blue, and red) so that the light temperature can be adapted to the organisms by mixing it with the three lasers. The use of local algae strains promotes the use of local biodiversity into design processes. A toolkit was also designed to help extract wild strains from the user’s environment and use them for the printing process.


The inspiration for the project comes from the screen printing process. Although similar in some ways, this process uses a video projector that exposes a surface with a negative black and white image. On the surface is water with nutrients and a very small amount of phytoplankton. These phytoplankton must be heavier than water so that they sit directly on the surface. The organisms will then begin to grow in the illuminated areas, creating the projected pattern/image. After 3-7 days, the growth process is complete and the image is fully developed.


Luis Undritz wanted to design a process that was accessible to designers, artists, and makers. By creating more accessible equipment to design with organisms etc. it allows creatives to explore the possibilities of this new biofabrication process and enable them to develop a huge range of applications. The printer can operate with a variety of materials, such as textiles, ceramics, and paper. Undritz states that we urgently need to rethink how we use materials and processing techniques to stop relying on non-renewable polluting resources. As designers, we need to develop new techniques that create materials that bio-remediate the air and produce oxygen.



Derived from the Greek words phyto (plant) and plankton (made to wander or drift), some phytoplankton are bacteria, some are protists, and most are single-celled plants. The most common phytoplankton are cyanobacteria, green algae, and chalk-coated coccolithophores. Phytoplankton have chlorophyll to capture sunlight, and they use photosynthesis to turn it into energy. They consume carbon dioxide, and release oxygen. In ideal conditions populations can grow vastly, a phenomenon known as a bloom, which may cover hundreds of square kilometres. Phytoplankton are the foundation of the aquatic food web, and are arguably one of the most important things in our oceans. Through photosynthesis, phytoplankton consume carbon dioxide on a scale equivalent to forests.



Luis Undritz