Pros: Sophisticated but easy-to-use lenticular creation software. Can convert conventional photographs to layered pseudo-3D and also allows flip and animation effects.
Cons: Creative3D can only print via far more expensive PrintPro versions. Few UK printers offer HumanEyes output to presses or large format inkjets.
Though best known for those 3D plastic rulers we had as kids, lenticular imaging is used for anything from magazine covers from the likes of Empire and Wallpaper* to animated posters on bus-stops and vending machines. It works by viewing an interlaced, multi-part printed image through a clear plastic sheet with parallel lenses moulded into the front surface. Effects can be pseudo-3D, simple animation frames, or flip (where one view suddenly changes to another).
Creating lenticular media has been a very expensive business in the past, as both the tools and output have been prohibitively pricey for most projects. HumanEyes is attempting to change this with its Creative3D software – an entry-level design tool for creating the elements you need to print lenticular media – and lens-free printing system, which uses conventional printers, but only works for backlit signage.
Creative3D provides designers with full image-preparation tools including 2D-3D layering, flip and animation effects, in the same image if needed. However, it cannot output to print, so exported files must be passed to a printing company equipped with the far more expensive PrintPro software. It’s currently Mac-only, but a Windows version is under development.
The cheapest print-capable version is the £2,500 Studio3D, which calculates and outputs interlaced paper proofs up to A2 size, using desktop inkjets and hand-positioned lenses. An unlimited-size production version for flatbed inkjets costs about £7,500, but high resolution offset litho versions can cost £12,000 to £20,000 depending on print size. These prices explain why there are only seven UK printers equipped to output HumanEyes lenticular files, although three more are running trials.
HumanEyes originally introduced its full-function PrintPro lenticular software in 2004, and updated it to version 2.0 in November 2006. This includes a coupled creative-only application that can be handed out freely to designers or photographers. The new Creative3D is essentially the latest version of the ‘free’ module, but decoupled so any designer can buy it and use it without being tied to a particular print supplier. It’s only available for online purchase, unlike the other modules that are sold through UK distributor Turning Point.
The original PrintPro could create stereoscopic 2.5D images from a sequence of about 100 frames taken as a camera moved on a boom arm. Most users, however, wanted to convert single conventional 2D originals without the hassle of special shoots.
PrintPro 2.0 introduced ‘2D-3D’ tools to create a depth illusion by separating image elements into layers.
2D-3D starts with a smart brush that you drag over an object to select all the relevant tones and edges and cut it out from its background. You then need to partly fill in the ‘holes’ left behind the cutouts so the background looks realistic in 3D.
HumanEyes provides an automatic blur fill, but alternatively you can export layers to Photoshop and use its superior paint and clone tools. Updated layers are automatically re-imported. You can also create cutout layers from scratch in Photoshop and import them straight into Creative3D.
Next you switch to a 3D stage view and then simply grab each layer object and pull it out to the required depth in relation to other objects, rotating the whole stage to see what you’re doing. Any object can be rotated within the stage (used for the angled jumping stands in our showjumper test), folded (say to simulate the edge of a box), or given a concave or convex bulge.
The 3D effect can be previewed on-screen by running an animated rotation loop. You can also display the static image as a colour or mono anaglyph image on-screen, which gives a stereoscopic effect when viewed through viewers with red and green plastic lenses. A cardboard anaglyph viewer -- which is the posh name for the type of 3D glasses found in cereal packets -- is provided in the box if you order a CD version of Creative3D.
Layers can also be given animation, flip or transparent fade effects, controlled by a timeline menu.
Creative3D is certainly easy to use and has excellent features, but is likely to be hampered by high output costs.
Lenticular production advances
If you’ve dismissed lenticular printing in the past because of the cost, it’s now time to have another look. Not only is the software more affordable, it’s also benefiting from ink and output advances – including ultraviolet-cured inks that can be printed directly onto the rear surface of the plastic lens material.
Offset litho presses are used for mass production, but large format flatbed inkjet printers (from the likes of Durst, Inca Digital, or Vutek) allow small runs and even one-offs to be produced economically. A limiting factor for all lenticular work, regardless of the originating software and print process, is the high cost of the extruded clear plastic lenses.
HumanEyes has recently announced a partial solution. Its lens-free method, included in the latest print-capable versions, works with flat plastic or glass, which is much less expensive. The interlace image is printed on the back face as before, but instead of moulded lenses, black parallel lines are printed on the flat front surface. These form a mask that blocks some of the interlaces and shifts as the observer moves.
The image must be backlit and works best with large format displays that are viewed from a distance, such as signage in bus shelters.