- A startup named Lumii makes images appear 3D on IDs, labels, packages, and more.
- It uses machine learning-inspired algorithms to accurately place tens of millions of ink dots on two sides of a clean film.
- The design adds motion, depth, as well as chromatic effect to printed materials.
Creating 3D holograms that are used to authenticate currency and products typically requires complex and expensive printers. This is what makes them so difficult to counterfeit.
Now, a team of researchers at MIT has developed a new technology that can replicate the visual effects of holograms on printed materials. It doesn’t use any fancy display screens or cameras.
Two MIT PhDs have launched a startup named Lumii that makes images appear 3D on IDs, labels, packages, and more. They have been working on this project for years.
The Technology Behind The 3D Appearance
Researchers have developed complex algorithms to accurately put tens of millions of ink dots on two sides of a clean film. This forms light fields that provide that same visual effects as special lenses and films. The design adds motion, depth, as well as chromatic effect to printed materials.
One can think of it as a signal processing or machine learning problem, but researchers formulate it as an optimization problem. Each ink dot should be placed on a specific position to achieve a perfect rendition of a 3D image from one perspective.
The perspective is changed every time you rotate a material or observe it from a different angle. Well, in this case, all dots need to be readjusted, which messes things up form the first perspective. This is what makes the algorithm complicated – it has to use only two layers of ink to form 3D images from as many viewpoints as possible.
Research team not only had to take care of pixels on a screen but also light rays in space. They built an optical system to represent hundreds of different viewpoints while processing trillions of light rays.
The startup doesn’t have its own packaging facilities. Instead, it helps printing presses and package manufactures produce eye-catching packages for major brands.
Everything we purchase, and every product we consume, has some sort of label on it, but we barely notice it. Consumer packaged products is alone a $200 billion industry. That’s why researchers are trying to optimize their technology for packaging design.
They are mainly focusing on shrink sleeves – the plastic wraps covering a broad range of products from spray cleaner and mouthwash to energy drinks. With attractive graphics and vibrant colors, custom printed shrink sleeves have been proven to increase sales by up to 20 percent.
The technology could also be beneficial for security applications, such as ID cards, which typically uses expensive sheets to obtain holographic effects.
Lumii has already created shrink sleeves and labels for several companies. They used 50 micron PVC and PET sheets to produce material and motion effects. However, thicker substrates (up to 700 microns) would create better 3D effects.
Effects can be reflective, transmissive or rear-illuminated on a clear bottle. Although these effects work in one color channel at a time, it can be artfully integrated with digital customization and color printing.
This software and algorithm-driven methodology can replace foils and other label materials in the near future. For now, the company makes profits by charging a fee as per the complexity of the design.