We’ve all seen cards with images that move or provide a 3D effect without glasses when the viewing angle is moved. Although the technology has been around since the 1940s, its limitations in viewing distance and clarity has seen it largely remain a novelty for prizes in cereal boxes, collectible cards and the occasional movie poster. Now researchers have updated the technology for the 21st Century, enabling a much clearer 3D image on posters up to five meters in size which can also be viewed from a distance.

Traditionally such animated or 3D images have been produced using of a technology called lenticular printing which combines two or more images attached to the back of a lenticular lens. Instead of these grooved lenses, the new display consists of 250,000 individual lenses with a diameter of two millimetres each. So unlike lenticular images that can only be viewed well at arm’s length, the new display allows 3D images to be seen clearly from a distance – the other side of the street for example – something that is sure to appeal to advertisers.

The new display developed by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg, working jointly with the RealEyes company and the University of Kiel, owes its improved performance to its greater precision. When a finished picture is glued to the grooved lenticular lens the sheet cannot always be put in the exact position, negatively affecting the final effect. The new process sees the lenticular sheet glued to the photo paper before the image is applied.

Specialized software calculates a complete image for each of the 250,000 individual lenses based on the three-dimensional model of the overall image so that the lenses do not distort the resulting image. Each lens subsequently renders a perspective of the overall image that shifts toward or away from its neighbor to a negligible degree. For each of the 30,000 different viewing angles, the display delivers an independent view of the scene – therefore, the viewer sees one image that continuously changes with the viewing angle.

The researchers have already produced a prototype in A0 size (one meter square) and they expect the first advertising posters to appear over the course of the next year. These posters are expected to be larger and cover a space of approximately three to five meters (9.8 to 16.4 feet).