Is Lenticular in Your Future?
New software from HumanEyes turns 2D images into 3D
Lenticular printing"?3D output achieved by using a special plastic lens material"?has been around for a while, of course. But working with the technology has always been somewhat complex, reaped relatively low profit margins, and typically has been pursued by lenticular specialists.
In the last few years, however, the cost of getting into the business, and the ease of creating the prints themselves, has eased dramatically, changing the landscape of who can get in on the ground floor of the technology. Now, not only can 3D imaging make a big splash for viewers, but the profit margins for very short-run P-O-P and other digital-print applications also can be substantial.
One company that has helped shape these lenticular trends is HumanEyes. at Print 05, in Chicago, the company showcased its original HumanEyes3D software (which was shown at Graph Expo last year), and also previewed its new 2D-to-3D technology. The HumanEyes 3D product allows for the creation of natural panoramic 3D images with a single standard digital camera (and also provides the ability to re-use the same shot for multiple applications for print or display). Plus, it "builds" the lenticular knowledge into the software, so that the process is automated. For example, the software's calibration strip gives you immediate feedback as to whether or not the image matches the lens pitch"?and if it's off, it tells you what to do about it.
In addition, the new 2D-to-3D technology is capable of taking any standard 2D image and converting it to a 3D image suitable for output in the same manner and with the same basic effect as images created from a stereo-camera process.
How it works
To produce 3D images via HumanEyes' software, here's how the process works. For 3D imaging, the user places a standard, high-quality digital still camera on a panning arm. Images are then shot at about 1-degree increments. These increments need not be precise, and it's possible to create the final 3D images without using all of the shots taken. The HumanEyes software then analyzes the various images and "interlaces" them into a single image.
The interlacing process is done to precisely correspond to a specific lenticular lens"?essentially a sheet of plastic that has a series of very thin channels extruded at an angle to act as a lens. The lens projects the interlaced image printed below it (either directly on the lens material or on a film or paper substrate, which is later laminated to the lens material) so that, ultimately, different angles afford several different views. The viewer actually sees several different images at different angles and, because the human eye works in pairs, each eye sees a slightly different image"?resulting in a dramatic illusion of depth. Of course, lenticular lenses can also be used for "flip" imaging, which renders two or more different images. The angle of view determines which image is seen, and as the viewer moves from side to side, the image appears to "flip" from one to the other.
For the 3D effect to truly work, the pitch of the lens (measured in lenticules per inch, "lpi") and the resolution of the printer must be in synch. The HumanEyes software includes a test patch for quickly analyzing and matching the image resolution to the exact pitch of the lens.
Also critical is viewing distance"?the viewer must be within a certain distance from the finished product to get the 3D effect, and this will vary with the thickness and pitch of the lens material, as well as the size of the image. Different thicknesses and pitch are more suitable for different applications. Very high-res lenses are good for up-close viewing, whereas wide-format printers are better off using thicker and lower-res (lpi) lens materials.
Can you do it?
The necessary photography is not much more complicated than a standard studio set up, and certainly should not pose an obstacle to a company already engaged in photographic work. The HumanEyes software does the real work for you and can probably be mastered in a couple of days by anyone regularly using adobe Photoshop. and if you are outsourcing your image capture, your current resource should be able to do it without any specific training.
And this is also where the new 2D-to-3D technology comes in: With it, you can bypass the capture process and convert existing standard images in most common formats (TIFF, EPs, JPEG, etc.) to 3D. It does so by using algorithms to create the necessary depth parameters and different angle viewpoints. It will certainly take a while to figure out the best way to create images from existing 2D images for optimal 3D effect, but any good prepress operator should be able to handle this without much of a problem.
As far as output goes, it's quite possible to print the images on standard existing wide-format printers without modification. The interlaced images look like a visual hodgepodge without the lenticular lens material on top, of course; the operator uses register marks on the output print to line up the lens material, and that brings the images into visual resolution. The lens material and the print must line up precisely and be glued together with an optically clear adhesive to achieve the best 3D effect.
A variety of flavors
The HumanEyes software comes in several flavors, as well as price points. The Litho version fetches $15,000 to $30,000, and a Digital-Print version"?dubbed Studio 3D"?is priced at $7000. Also available is a Mini Studio version priced at approximately $3500, although this can only create images up to 17 x 24 in. (keep in mind that 1:1 imaging is critical to ensure the image and lens pitch precisely match, so enlarging the final image is not usually a viable solution). The software is dongleprotected; all versions are upgradeable.
And HumanEyes (www.humaneyes.com) is not the only company out there looking to make lenticular more accessible to print providers. Other producers of lenticular software include: 3DZ (www.3dz.co.uk), based in the UK, offers its LCK Virtua 3D, a "lenticular construction kit." And 3DPhotoPro (www.3dphotopro. com) in Vancouver is selling its PhotoProjector software and also distributing in North America the Variograph software from the Siberian Innovation Technological Center.
In the near future, you can expect to see more 3D work at trade shows, airports, shopping centers, and grocery stores near you. And since getting involved in the technology has gotten so much easier, shouldn't some of this work be yours?
Stephen Beals is (firstname.lastname@example.org), in prepress production for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.