3/26/14

One of the many other times 3D failed to become a big thing. Lenticular photography, 1931.

Hey, consumers! You know that 3D television you didn't buy two years ago, that Sharpsonysung desperately wanted you to desperately want? This may totally fail to surprise you, but stuff like that has happened before. A slightly interesting technology becomes expensively attainable to a public that finds it amusing just long enough to sniff and wander off. Enter "three way" photography, 1931-style, as seen in this article from Popular Science Monthly!

We now call this "lenticular" printing. You can pretty much tell when you're in the presence of lenticular-ness because the image looks kind of dark, kind of blurry, and usually has some kind of vertical comb filter or something embossed into the surface of the image. It goes "zip, zip" as you drag your fingernail across it. It's pretty cool, and still occupies a niche in advertising or the sign industry, but it never became a thing you would use for all your family portraits, like old Ming the Merciless here probably hoped.

Image from Wikipedia. A close up of a lenticular print.

Here's a quick lazy summary of how it works: multiple images (usually two or three) are printed in vertically alternating slices on the same paper. A textured comb-like lens is either laminated onto the paper or simply suspended in front of it to view the duplex print. The lensing effect of the comb changes which image you see, depending on your viewing angle in relation to the print. So, as you shift your head around, the image seems to change. This is pretty impressive for 1931, if you ask me.

Limitations of lenticular? Well, it's way more expensive than normal printing (duh). Then, they're kind of blurry. Also, the nature of the printing process usually makes for a sort of dim image, lacking the contrast and vividness of a regular photo. You can even make backlit signs this way, but that doesn't solve the brightness problem. It's still nowhere near as bright as a conventional backlit sign, so you don't dare use them side-by-side or the lenticular section of your sign will be humiliated.

So, 3D TV was pushed on us as a half-baked stupid thing nobody wanted. (Care to have your family wear kooky glasses and sit in single file to watch a movie together?) Now the industry is swearing up and down that 4K television won't be a total waste of your time (It's roughly four times the resolution of your current high def TV). Unlike 3D and lenticular technology, 4K doesn't have a painful downside, apart from price. It's just a higher resolution image. It will catch on just as fast as televisions are replaced by consumers for the magic price of about a thousand dollars... I think. My HD idiot box still looks super nice and I'm not feeling a deep urge to replace it any time soon. Sorry, Ming.

Click for big.


2 comments:

Fil said...

Outta sight. By coincidence, I just contacted a company that sells lenticular lens sheets. I had this naive idea that I could sell some art utilizing the charm that is the lenticular lens. In the end, the process is not as much difficult as it is expen$ive. From the website world3d.com:
"Our minimum order is typically 500-1,000 pieces on small format...minimum orders are about $2,500. Smaller jobs (2,500 pieces) are usually a little under $2 per unit. Mid-size orders (15,000+) are usually well under $1. Large orders (50,000) are usually well below 50¢."

PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Well doesn't that beat all? We recently had some lenticular signage made for a job, which was backlit. Short run, too. Expensive and still slightly disappointing, especially when you remind yourself what it cost to get it made.

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