Lenticular lenses are an innovation that are simple in principle, but used in complex applications. It is basically an array of magnifying lenses, arranged in such a way that depending on the angle you view it, different images are magnified.Remember those interesting posters or pictures that seemed to create a 3D effect or changed when you moved around? Those used a technology called lenticular printing, which in turn use lenticular lenses to produce an illusion of depth or multiple images.
It’s perhaps the most commonly used and most recognizable application of this interesting technology, so it’s often overlooked, despite the fact that construction isn’t exactly a walk in the park.
Interestingly, lenticular lenses have been around for over a century. In fact, French Painter Gois-Clair used a similar sort of technique to achieve a multi-dimensional effect by interposing a vertical grid between the viewer and painting.
The first modern lenticular lenses, however, were produced in the 1930’s by Victor Anderson, mostly for advertising and promotion purposes, which included but were not limited to political campaign badges, billboards, magazine inserts and postcards with people seemingly winking at the viewer. This was perfected in the 1940’s by Vari-Vue, who also introduced animated images.
In the 1960’s, media powerhouse Eastman Kodak developed a technique called ‘Xograph’, an ink based ‘parallax panoramagram’ that further advanced the technology.
By the 1980’s, most of the big players left the game and apart from new materials, not much was introduced in this regard. Lenticular lenses started losing their novelty. It can be said that lenticular lenses really came of age in 1996, when National Graphics patented a technique of printing directly on the reverse of lens material instead of a laminating the paper to the lens material, which resulted in images of much higher detail and clarity.
This new method was commercially labelled ‘Extreme Vision’ and remains one of the most popular innovations in this regard. Today, with the introduction of multi-lens cameras and high resolution print/imaging techniques, lenticular has grown leaps and bounds, and has numerous applications.
Holograms vs. Lenticular – The Age Old Confusion
To most, the description above would bring an image of holograms to mind, not lenticular lenses. While both of them deliver similar illusions of depth and motion, they’re actually quite differently made, and used for different purposes.
Most holograms involve an image that is captured, then converted to a holographic representation on special film. It has to be viewed in proper lighting, or the illusion is lost, and can only use a certain swatch of colors, not the whole spectrum.
Lenticular, on the other hand, can use the whole spectrum of colors, are visible in all lighting conditions and are far more clear and detailed. Images also don’t have to be created in a special environment, all that’s required is the source art/image and your lenticular image generation technique, which differs based on application.
How It Works
In the simplest words, lenticular technology involves displaying multiple sets of the same image or video, which changes when seen from different angles. This gives it the illusion of depth or motion, and is one of the ways in which 3D images or videos are generated. The best part? There won’t be need for any glasses to achieve the 3D effect!
The only disadvantage to this is that there’s only a couple of spots where images are perfectly clear and coherent. Moving out of them might distort the image or video. To combat this, devices with lenticular screens will include cameras that will track eye movement and thus generate the optimal image depending on viewer position.
The images below highlight how each eye perceives different images in a lenticular image, using a technique called interlacing, where a 3D image is achieved from a set of 2D images.
From a lot of the information here, it can be inferred that lenticular technology has always been used only for entertainment or advertisement purposes, but the truth is that it finds use in far more applications than just these. Some of them include:
- 3D displays
- Corrective lenses for eyes (Bifocals)
- Product Packaging
- Magazine inserts
- Old films monochrome to color conversions
The Types of Effects
So now that we know how lenticular technology works, it’s interesting to see how this simple principle can be applied to different applications as listed above, in addition to being used to produce different effects. As mentioned earlier, we’re used to seeing motion or depth effect usage, but there’s more to it than just that!
- 3D/Depth effect
- Motion effect
- Flip effect
- Zoom effect
- Morph effect
It’s impressive that an age old technique has evolved so much over the years and resulted in applications that are used even today, almost a century later. Perhaps it tells us something about ourselves, how a novelty imaging effect from almost a century ago still captivates us and captures our attentions. CGI may be evolving to the point of photorealism, and we can still make out differences in older movies, but lenticular technology has always been something of a marvel!