Kimiko Ryokai, Stefan Marti, Hiroshi Ishii
Josh Monzon & Rob Figueiredo
© 2003-2006 MIT Media Lab


I/O Brush
The World as the Palette

I/O Brush is a new drawing tool to explore colors, textures, and movements found in everyday materials by "picking up" and drawing with them. I/O Brush looks like a regular physical paintbrush but has a small video camera with lights and touch sensors embedded inside. Outside of the drawing canvas, the brush can pick up color, texture, and movement of a brushed surface. On the canvas, artists can draw with the special "ink" they just picked up from their immediate environment.

There are many paint/drawing programs on the market today that are designed especially for kids. These let kids do neat things, but kids usually end up playing only with the "preprogrammed" digital palette the software provides. The idea of I/O Brush is to let the kids build their own ink. They can take any colors, textures, and movements they want to experiment with from their own environment and paint with their personal and unique ink. Kids are not only exploring through construction of their personal art project, but they are also exploring through construction of their own tools (i.e., the palette/ink) to build their art project with.

The Brush

Most drawing tools/pens we use today allow only a one-way flow of ink, and we are oblivious to how the content of the tool came to exist inside. What if we could not only have control over the outflow of the ink, but also have influence on what goes inside?
Indeed, old fountain pens served as both tools to pick up and release the ink, and paintbrushes still preserve that function. We bring back this tradition of a drawing tool as both an input and output device, but instead of picking up the liquid ink, I/O Brush lifts up and captures photons.

In our current prototype, the brush houses a small CCD video camera in its tip with a ring of white LEDs around it. Force sensors are also embedded inside of the brush, measuring the pressure that is getting applied to the bristles. When the brush touches a surface, the lights around the camera briefly turn on to provide supplemental light for the camera. During that time, the system grabs the frames from the camera and stores them in the program.



The Canvas

On the canvas, the brush lets the artist draw with that special ink s/he has just picked up. We currently use a large touch screen with a back projection screen.

Our current development includes the technology that allows artistic creations not only to be appreciated from a fixed point in time, but as an active portrait with the memory of its process of creation. This way, the stories about the evolving creation are part of the creation that could be shared, and hopefully appreciated by its viewers. The brush strokes artists make on the canvas will be linked to the movies that documents where the artist’s had picked up that certain materials so that the portrait can take both artist and audience back through the journey and reveal the stories behind the special palette of colors.


Gold Award - Industrial Design Society of America 2005 Industrial Design Excellence Award


I/O Brush was invited to be part of many different exhibits this year:

Ars Electronica Center
Linz, Austria (August 2004 - August 2006)

BETT Educational Technology Show
London, UK (January 12-15, 2005)

Wired Magazine's NextFest 2004
San Francisco, USA (May 13-16, 2004)

TED Conference 2004
Monterey, CA, USA (February 25, 2004)



High Resolution MPEG [27MB]
High Resolution Quicktime [25MB]
Low Resolution Quicktime [9MB]


Ryokai, K., Marti, S., Ishii, H. (2005) "Designing the World as Your Palette." In Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '05), (Portland, OR, April 2 - 7, 2005), Oregon Convention Center.

Ryokai, K., Marti, S., Ishii, H. (2004) "I/O Brush: Drawing with Everyday Objects as Ink." In Proceedings of Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '04), (Vienna, Austria, April 24 - April 29, 2004)



Discovery Science Channel, June 9, 2004, High Resolution Quicktime [23MB]
Discovery Science Channel, June 9, 2004, Low Resolution Quicktime [9MB]


Where can I buy I/O Brush?

We are currently investigating a consumer product version of I/O Brush. However, at the moment, we do not yet have consumer products for distribution. If you are interested in investing, buying, or simply would like to be on our mailing list for announcements about our future product, please write us at .

Can I have I/O Brush as a museum piece?

We have installed I/O Brush as a long-term interactive piece at American and international venues such as Ars Electronica Center in Linz (Austria). We are happy to discuss future exhibit possibilities. To discuss possibilities, please write us at .

Can I use pictures and videos of I/O Brush?

To download and obtain permission to use high resolution pictures or videos, as well as request an interview with the inventors, please write us at .

I have seen the video of I/O Brush. Does it really work, or is it a mockup?

It really works! Check out the technical papers that are online.

I have seen the I/O Brush at the Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria. Is this the most recent version?

No. The most recent version is enhanced with more sensors, which allows for a much smoother paint experience, and the interactive canvas that documents the process.

Where can I see a live demo of I/O Brush?

  • MIT Media Lab, Tangible Media Group (open for Media Lab sponsors and educational purposes)
  • Coming soon! At UC Berkeley, Center for New Media (open for sponsors and educational purposes)

For setting up a visit, please write to .

What is the song in the I/O Brush video?

"S'il Vous Plait" by Fantastic Plastic Machine

What are the technical details of I/O Brush?

Please check out the research papers in the Publications section on this page.

© 2003-2006 MIT Media Lab – I/O Brush patents pending