Lenticular Printing Brings Packaging to Life

By: Greg Schuman

Have you ever walked by a display in a store and noticed that the image changes as you walk by it? Or maybe you have picked up a DVD and found that the cover has a serious 3D effect. Chances are that you have seen this special effect printing on occasion for years but didn’t know what it was called. While most people come up with the word “hologram” for any 3D image, these were all likely examples of a special print process called “lenticular printing.”

While the technology has existed since the 1950’s, it has only been in recent years that marketers have started using it as a communication tool. The newest application is applying this effect directly to packaging to help explain what’s inside.

What Lenticular Printing Can Do For You

Great packaging requires a design that both grabs attention and communicates a message and animation can be a powerful method to achieve both of those goals. Imagine walking by a shelf with a row of packages and seeing the face of each package change as you pass by. That change not only pulls your attention towards it, it can tell you a story. Maybe it’s the story of a faucet that turns on and off in a unique way or a speaker that comes in three colors. Animation via lenticular print creates a unique opportunity for the packaging to explain your brand message or even demonstrate the functionality of your product.  Consumers won’t always take the time to read your copy but an animation is understood instantly.

An additional and often overlooked benefit is added perceived value to the consumer. A lenticular image has a value by itself. They have often been collectible and are always seen as something worth keeping. Taking that value and adding it to packaging creates a signal that what is inside must be special and valuable.

What Is Lenticular And What Is A Hologram?

While lenticulars are often confused with holograms, they are in fact very different technologies.  Unlike lenticulars, holograms require special lighting, are monochromatic and show only one image. These days they are produced almost exclusively as an anti-counterfeiting method like the silver sticker that is found on most credit cards.

At World3D we produce nothing but lenticular printing. You can see a gallery of lenticular images and learn about art requirements.

There are two core effects that are possible with lenticular printing: Animation and 3D.

3D doesn’t change or move but instead appears to have great depth—these are the images that are most often confused with holograms.  

The animation effect can show two frames (often called a “flip” image) or more. Using more than two images can create other effects including morphs, zooms, reveals and full motion. These effects are not always possible on packaging, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

How Lenticular is Made

First, let’s take a look at how lenticular images are created. Lenticular lenses are pieces of plastic that are formed with “lenaicules” which are tiny lines formed in to the plastic. Lenticular prints are created by printing a specially prepared digital file onto that lens material. So we are printing directly on to a lenticule, hence the term “lenticular printing.”

We take multiple images and interlace them into one file, and then print that file directly to the back of the lens material. When viewed from the other side, the lens blocks out all but one image at a time so as your angle of view changes, the image changes. This can create a small animation or can simply “flip” from one image to an alternate image.

Limitations Of Using Lenticular Printing On Packaging

While the effect possibilities are nearly endless, there are some limitations. Lenticular usually needs to be on a relatively flat surface since the lens is somewhat rigid and bending it can affect the optics of the lens. That said, the bend can sometimes be adjusted for and we have successfully produced cylindrical items, such as lenticular drinking cups.  

Also, the amount of animation possible in packaging applications is typically limited to 2-3 frames. A hand-held lenticular image can be tilted UP and DOWN to create the effect, allowing for more frames of animation to be used effectively. In contrast, packaging applications will usually require the animation to happen as the viewer walks by the shelf (LEFT to RIGHT). A left-right animating lenticular images can’t have as many frames, limiting the frame count to 2-3 will allow each image to be seen clearly. These limitations aside, most animations can be made to work effectively within the constraints.

Is Lenticular Right For My Packaging Project?

Creating packaging that stands apart from the rest requires a unique approach. While products that need visual explanation may benefit the most from lenticular packaging, most any product can benefit from increased attention on the shelf. While it will certainly add to cost, larger quantities can lead to surprisingly affordable pricing and a big return on investment. If you want to make sure you have the latest methods to stand out and communicate, consider adding lenticular printing to your packaging toolbox.

Greg Schuman, Partner, World3D

Greg Schuman is a founding partner with World3D Lenticular Printing in Los Angeles, CA.