New Dimensions in Graphics: A Look at Lenticular Displays
This article demystifies the process of producing lenticular designs and describes how modern imaging technology simplifies the associated workflow.
The cutting edge of visual technology is once again centered on 3D, and it looks like it is here to stay. Consumers are excited by 3D, as we’ve seen with the recent box office success of 3D movies and the explosion of 3D television programming. Add to that video gaming, consumer video and still cameras, and smart phones, and you have a trend with no apparent end. Naturally, designers and brands want to exploit 3D technology for print campaigns, too.
Lenticular 3D printing is not new, but in the past it could be a difficult medium to master—and certainly took many printers out of their comfort zones. But the technology in the digital-imaging arena has continued to improve and, as a result, we have new tools that generate high-quality 3D lenticular prints quicker and easier than ever before. The appeal of 3D, coupled with clean workflows and superior print output, means a highly profitable product.
Potentially lucrative applications for lenticular graphics include wide-format signage, P-O-P and P-O-S displays, environmental and architectural installations, vending machines and ATMs, backlit displays (Figure 1), wayfinding signage, and more. For those of you considering lenticular printing as a product offering, let’s take a quick look at the workflow and equipment to be considered for high quality lenticular production.
To get started, you need the proper equipment and qualified production staff. But the most important component for premium 3D lenticular printing is the quality of the content and design. When a designer nails content and layout, the wow factor is undeniable (Figure 2). Viewers are simply delighted. Viewers linger over 3D lenticular prints. They comment on them and pass them around to their friends. There simply isn’t anything in the print world that gets that kind of reaction.
Good design strengthens the 3D illusion, and great design can cause viewers to try to actually reach into a 3D print. However, designers who are new to lenticular 3D may not know what design components are necessary to get that impact. For instance, many brands require designers to use fonts, logos, and colors that work against a strong 3D illusion. Truly successful designs come from specific design knowledge and good coaching from experienced 3D designers.
3D design for lenticular printing isn’t taught in very many formal design programs and frankly, the percentage of designers who have designed in 3D is small. But this is changing, and we are seeing designers embrace lenticular design.
The good news is that high-quality 3D lenticular design can be learned quickly, and it’s easier to master the strategies and techniques for lenticular design than ever before. Most designers today use individual layers for each element in their designs. Designing in layers allows for existing 2D designs to be converted into 3D lenticular-ready files by setting the individual layers into depth planes. It is also possible to assign volume and change a flat layer into a layer with shape. Adding volume to a key focal point layer, like a face and torso, can provide a powerful 3D illusion.
Along with using the individual layers to create the illusion of depth, you’ll need to apply some basic principles of 3D design to give the viewer a strong sense of depth and perspective. In many cases, designers do this with design elements that are carefully sized and proportioned to support their placement in the foreground and carry viewers’ focus to the background. As a consumer, you see this technique in new video-game designs and in 3D animated movies; the effect is similar when the technique is applied to 3D print design. Your team can be trained to convert 2D files to 3D and prepare lenticular 3D files for printing, and you can provide this as a service to your clients looking for 3D but lacking the expertise to create 3D files. Now you’re ready to print, but you’ll want to have the appropriate software and hardware.
Several software programs contain new tools that allow for high quality 3D design for lenticular printing. Adobe Photoshop, for example, uses layers for designing. In CS4 Extended, Adobe delivered a new set of features just to set up layered files for 3D and tools for interlacing and printing. Adobe took its 3D-creation tools to yet another level with the launch of CS5 and added powerful options and actions for the creation of 3D text and graphics that can translate beautifully to 3D lenticular printing.
You also need production software. HumanEyes Technologies, Imagiam, ProMagic, and PowerIllusion all provide such tools. If you want to move into true commercial lenticular production, you will want to do your homework and purchase the most robust production solutions available. The strength of your design tools, interlacing engine, and production assets play a big factor in your true production speed and limit the time involved in content creation, file correction, and basic modification. A streamlined workflow means faster production and greater profits.
Once you’re in the lenticular 3D business, you can begin to explore other lenticular effects, such as flip, motion, zoom, and morph. These eye-catching effects can add a whole new dimension to your lenticular design.
If you are new to lenticular design and production, you might consider training for your team. There are independent consultants in the market and software specialists that provide remote and on-site lenticular design and production-workflow training around the globe.
Printers and production
Possibly the biggest improvement in successful lenticular printing production has come with the latest flatbed UV inkjet printers. These new printers give a print shop the ability to reverse print the interlaced digital file directly to the backside of the lenticular lens without lamination or special coatings. This brings labor and material costs down significantly and delivers improved productivity. The flatbed UV inkjet printer was a game changer for lenticular-display printing.
Registration of the interlaced file to the lenticular lens is a critical step in the production process. These new flatbed printers make registering a lens for application of the interlaced file much simpler and much faster.
The process becomes even easier when you couple the newest printer technology with robust software. The combination of direct printing on lenticular lenses with software that creates a registration file with a series of registration lines based on the necessary pitch-test measurement is powerful. Pitch-testing the lenticular lens to the imaging device will determine the interlacing pitch. Each imaging device can, and will, have a bit of variance. This means you may see a slight difference between printers from the same manufacturer and even the same model type. Use the same device for production that you used to perform your pitch test.
This registration file is sent through the RIP and is imaged directly to the printer’s bed. The production team then uses the series of registration lines from that file to register the lenticular lens right on the bed. Precise registration is completed using visual alignment and inspection. If there are multiple pieces in the job, the operator can simply move to the next lens, register the next lens to the registration lines, draw down the substrate with the vacuum table, and hit print. You can repeat this step as many times as needed to complete the job.
Inkjet printers that excel at lenticular production are flatbeds with large vacuum tables that keep the lenticular substrate drawn down securely to the table. This allows extremely precise registration. In addition to the vacuum table, these new printers jet very small ink droplets, producing near photo-quality results.
The new lineup of flatbed printers on the market allows for CMYK and white ink, which means lenticular-display production for frontlit and backlit applications involves just the application of ink. The current crop of qualified flatbed UV inkjet printers for lenticular displays includes EFI’s Rastek T660 and Rastek T1000, Fujifilms’s Acuity line, Océ’s Arizona line, and Mimaki’s JF line.
Lenticular 3D products are more expensive to produce due to the cost associated with the lenticular substrate, but they have much greater visual impact, and so command a higher price point. To sell lenticular products successfully, you will need to make the value proposition clear to your particular market segment. High-quality samples, a clear sales pitch that emphasizes the sizzle that can only be found in 3D, and a willingness to educate your clients on the design and production process will help ensure your success.
Remember, a lenticular 3D display is a high-quality and high-impact product, but it is not typically ordered in high volume. A large print campaign, such as a run of movie posters, will often be supplemented with 3D pieces, but it is rarely exclusively 3D. However, shorter runs for environmental or architectural design products—for use in hotel lobbies or museum installations, for instance—can benefit from the strong appeal of lenticular printing.
Jeff Miller is sales director, Americas, for HumanEyes Technologies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
RESOURCES FOR LENTICULAR GRAPHICS
DIGITAL LENTICULAR LENSES