By Jean-Marie Hershey, Senior Editor
Lenticular printing has evolved from a Cracker Jack novelty to a medium that lends itself to a variety of practical and profitable applications for digital and offset printers. From large-format indoor and outdoor advertising to direct mail, packaging and apparel, advances in lenticular technology are expanding the market and introducing printers and marketers to the considerable profit potential of lenticular printing.
Lenticular printing uses graphics specifically designed for viewing through a "lens sheet" that enables the viewer to see different images, depending on the viewing angle. The image itself is a composite of multiple "interlaced" viewpoints of the art work. The lens sheet material is a unique plastic composed of individual "lenticules" which act as a magnifying glass to enlarge and display the portion of the image below. These lenticules are precisely aligned with the interlaced image underneath it in order for the special effects to work. In this way, lenticular print can appear to show motion and 3 dimensional effects because each eye is viewing the lenticular print from its own angle. In contrast to the early days of lenticular printing, when an image could only be printed on paper and then laminated to the plastic sheet, printers, today's litho and digital flatbed presses can now print directly on the smooth backside of the lens to produce eye-catching 3D, morph, flip, animation and zoom effects.
Until recently, the creation of these effects was left exclusively to lenticular experts, a fact that helped to raise the bar to entry into this highly specialized and potentially lucrative market. That was then.
HumanEyes Technologies, Ltd., (www.HumanEyes.com) has the "now" covered with software designed to facilitate the creation and production of 3D and 2D lenticular effects. The company's product line includes PrintPro for printers, Creative3D for designers, Capture3D for photographers, LensFree technology, to enable the creation of all the above-mentioned effects with no need for a dedicated lenticular substrate, as well as a technology that enables the fast conversion of 2D images into 3D. Each is distinguished by its ease of use.
WhatTheyThink spoke recently with Jeff Miller, Director of Sales, Americas, to learn more.
WTT: What is the appeal of lenticular printing in a multi-media world?
JM: It's captivating. Lenticular technology has something special and unique that you don't find in the 2D printed medium or in video or broadcast TV, film or movies. Research studies have shown lenticular to be around five times more powerful in attracting consumer's attention than 2D. It's a matter of how brand owners and ad agencies spend their money, whether they can up sell successfully, and whether they have the clientele that appreciates lenticular. But make no mistake, modern lenticular printing is a mass-merchandising tool. Wal-Mart, Circuit City, Best Buy and others all compete for the rights to distribute the DVDs and CDs that display lenticular packaging.
Research studies have shown lenticular to be around five times more powerful in attracting consumer's attention than 2D.
WTT: Can we use the terms 3D printing and lenticular printing interchangeably?
JM: The two are related but not interchangeable. Many like to use the word "illusion" when referring to 3D, which we think of almost as stereo viewing, where you're able to see depth, dimension, shape and form. It's possible to achieve some illusion with a tangible printed piece by producing it as an anaglyph, which you view with a pair of special glasses that unites two out-of-registration images, producing a pronounced vision of depth. In lenticular printing, you're working with the same concept, but you're laying that interlaced file underneath lenticular plastic. Lenticular is one way to display 3D as well as other digital effects such as flip and animation without the need for a special viewing device. In our opinion, lenticular printing is currently the best way to achieve 3D and special effects for commercial applications.
Lenticular is one way to display 3D as well as other digital effects such as flip and animation without the need for a special viewing device. In our opinion, lenticular printing is currently the best way to achieve 3D and special effects for commercial applications.
WTT: What other kinds of effects can be achieved with lenticular technology?
JM: Animations are a combination of two, or more, 2D images that produce different 2D effects such as flip (changing of different images on the same spot), zoom, morph, rotation and movement. Depending on the quality of the lenticular sheeting, the capabilities of the software, the output resolution of the hardware and the skills of the operator, one also can have combinations of different effects such as two or more 3D images actually flipping from one to another, where you get the canceling effect of seeing one image until you move the lens in your hand or you walk by and see another image.
WTT: How does HumanEyes advance the practice of lenticular printing?
JM: Our technology makes the workflow easier, such that you don't need to have a lenticular expert in house and still get as good or better results in shorter time frames. We've embedded a lot of the know-how necessary to do good lenticular into our software, such that any graphic/prepress professional can get started making money with lenticular printing right away. Another aspect of our quest to make lenticular effects feasible and available is our LensFree technology, which can produce 3D and flip illusions without a lenticular lens – just with ink – on a substrate like Plexiglas, PETG and glass – essentially, any clear substrate that permits good ink adhesion.
We've embedded a lot of the know-how necessary to do good lenticular into our software,
WTT: Would you briefly describe the genesis of the HumanEyes product line?
JM: We started with our photographic engine, which enables a photographer with a single input device – typically a still digital camera – to transform a series of frames into a dramatic 3D image file, which is then used to create a lenticular output. That grew into a need that we saw in the industry for improving the tools for lenticular production and making them more powerful, efficient and user friendly. One example is how we moved to address the needs of ad agencies and end-users, who could now convert their vast visual assets into new vehicles using our simple 2D to 3D conversion tools. To address other market needs we introduced our intuitive time-line workflow for the creation of 2D effects. This is only the beginning. We are committed to an ongoing stream of innovations, all focused on making lenticular design and production easier, and faster.
WTT: Lenticular printing has been around for a long time. What's driving the development and adoption of lenticular today?
JM: There has been a previously unmet need for a truly novel print application that would deliver high impact and visibility to complement electronic marketing solutions. The printing industry now has more tools to address the challenges of lenticular printing in a very efficient way, and the tools introduced by HumanEyes that put the content creation in the right hands of professional designers and streamline the workflow all the way to print and finishing. On the litho side, there's been a commitment from the hardware manufacturers to improve their presses and to incorporate UV technology to enable direct printing to the lens. We're also seeing higher quality in plates that can hold finer detail. We've seen commitments from the lens manufacturers to improve the formulations of lenticular substrates to be clear and sharp and repeatable. In the digital and digital wide format market, we've seen the development of specialty printers that can handle unique substrates, including lenticular plastic sheet. The release of several new flatbed UV devices with higher resolution and more precise registration benefits lenticular production in terms of being able to print directly to a rigid lenticular substrate and thus saving the need to laminate. One of the things we've seen this year, is eagerness on the part of some of the digital manufacturers that want us to certify their devices as lenticular-capable. Finally, you have tools such as those HumanEyes is bringing to market. Creative and prepress professionals with a working knowledge of programs like Photoshop, FreeHand, Quark and InDesign find our tools to be intuitive and practical for specific 3D and lenticular designs.
WTT: What is the best argument for a printer adding lenticular capability?
JM: There are fewer players. We recently analyzed the Dallas-Fort Worth area and determined that 15 of the 600 print shops were offering printing on plastic, and out of those 15 there were just five lenticular printers. Would you rather be one of five or one of 600? Differentiation - the ability to bring something new to the market or into your sphere of influence – is huge. It's also worth noting that shops that are doing lenticular and for which lenticular is a core part of their business are charging more for the product. It's also true that shops that specialize have been able to ride a wave of profitability that justifies the investment in new hardware or client education. Companies that do lenticular usually have a couple of very sharp salespeople who are out there helping the brand differentiate.
WTT: Can you explain the concept of "lenticular content creation" and how it relates to HumanEyes' work on the design side?
JM: Lenticular content creation refers to a good 3D and/or lenticular effects design that corresponds with the vision of the designer. You can't take just any 2D piece and make it into a good 3D lenticular piece. HumanEyes' Creative3D puts creative control of the lenticular project in the hands of the designer. In the past, designers were asked to turn everything over to the specialist at the print shop that does the lenticular printing. That print shop would say, turn over the photos, logos and art. We'll put something together based on the vision you've articulated, and we'll provide you with a proof. One of the reasons lenticular hasn't grown the way we think it could or should have in North America is that once the designer is told to turn everything over, it's no longer their creation. That's one of the turnoffs associated with lenticular from a designer's perspective. In contrast, our design software gives them total control. They turn over the final product like they do now with a Photoshop or an InDesign file or Quark file and say here, print this. With designer back in control, there's a paradigm shift at hand, and we're excited about the opportunity we have to drive the industry in this way.
There's a paradigm shift at hand, and we're excited about the opportunity we have to drive the industry in this way.
WTT: What kind of pre- and post-sale consulting does HumanEyes provide?
JM: We communicate intensely with our prospects to understand their needs and capabilities, so that they buy the right product and build an optimized configuration. We only sell our software with onsite installation and training from our Professional Services Group. When somebody buys our product for a digital application, it comes with two days of onsite installation and training at their facility anywhere in the world. With litho, it's between three and five days. That's unique to the industry. We find it shortens the learning curve and makes the whole process run smoothly. We also provide extended professional services to customers who have some experience using our technology and wish to improve their lenticular capabilities.
WTT: Under what circumstances should a printer consider adding lenticular capability?
JM: I would ask if they're committed to what it will take to make any change in the company, but that would apply if a company is moving from paper to plastic or from litho to digital or vice versa. What's their motivation for bringing it in? It's very clear that the manufacturers are enabling the market with higher quality manufactured products, and we're enabling it with higher-quality, very capable lenticular and 3D software, but is that where they want to spend their time and energy? Just bringing in a UV press doesn't mean they'll be able to covert their customer base to using it. Shops that are contemplating lenticular would be well advised to make sure they have the market for it as well as a specialist on staff who knows how to sell it.
WTT: Clearly, the quality of the sales effort is key.
JM: Designers and ad agencies and brand owners are at such a comfortable place with so-called traditional printing that it's very easy for them to very quickly conclude that this or that job is going to be produced on 20-pt. card stock with spot color or spot varnish because they understand all of those things. What they don't know is plastic. What they don't know is lenticular.
WTT: What's next for HumanEyes?
JM: As brand owners, agencies, designers and consumers, we're all interested in what's new, hip, cool and fun. We haven't yet seen how good lenticular can be. HumanEyes is committed to listening to our current installed base as we continue to push and expand the market, with support from hardware and substrate manufacturers. You'll certainly see more advancements in the run up to drupa 2008.