You’d be hard-pressed to miss the big push to 3D in the cinemas now – but print and interactive designers have a major innovation of their own to experiment with, and we’ll be seeing a lot more of it in the near future.

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Enter the world of augmented reality – AR for short – a burgeoning subculture in the design world. Currently the most popular form of AR uses a 2D barcode (also known as a fiduciary marker or fiducial), which when viewed through a webcam or mobile phone, transforms on the screen into a 3D model or video clip ‘floating’ next to your image on the computer (or phone) screen.

It can be used to make print material come alive as video content when shown to a webcam, or allowing users to download and print out sheets to view and manipulate 3D models.

AR has been around in various forms for at least 15 years, but it has failed to move into the mainstream. This may be poised to change.


“AR definitely isn’t a gimmick,” say directing duo Ubik (ubik.tv) “It’s here to stay in one form or another. Whereas virtual reality – which was hailed as the future of the user interface and TV and all sorts – has died a bit of a death as an immersive technology, AR is not immersive, it doesn’t cut you off from the real world as VR did, so it has much more scope for real-world applications.”

Augmatic’s James Alliban (augmatic.co.uk) created AR business cards, which he handed out to attendees at the recent Adobe Max conference. Watch the business card in action below.

AR Business Card from James Alliban on Vimeo.

Alliban is a Flash designer, so uses FLARToolkit, a spin off of the C++ based ARToolkit to create his AR projects. Although you need a working knowledge of ActionScript to use it, this free API makes AR accessible to creatives, rather than just developers.

“FLARManager ecases the whole process,” explains Alliban. “This requires the use of a fiducial marker, but I’ve also dipped into the open-source arts-based programming language, Processing. I used a colour-tracking algorithm to create Virtual Ribbons.”