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Lenticular Labels Emerge

With a new, thinner lenticular lens from National Graphics, Outlook Group Corp. is converting p-s labels that turn heads.

Ever get the feeling you were being watched in a public place, say, in the supermarket or in a department store? Well, that eerie sensation may become more and more familiar in the months ahead, thanks to a development in imaging materials that brings the eye-catching appeal of “lenticular” printing technology into the pressure-sensitive label market.

Lenticular technology can best be described as “similar” to three-dimensional imaging, but only as similar as, say, a tug boat is to a submarine. Both technologies use natural reflected light to replicate a moving image on a two-dimensional surface; lenticular, however, has a lot more going on “below” the surface.

Depth of Vision
Lenticular printing combines interlaced electronic images with a specially designed, plastic lenticular lens that provides true depth of vision for the viewer of the label or package.

Think of it as being able to view a 3-D movie without special glasses, because the lenses have been built right into the movie screen. Viewing the interlaced images through the lenticular lenses creates the illusion of depth, motion, or other effects.

Tim Traub, business unit manager for Lenticular Solutions at Outlook Group Corp., a Neenah, WI-based converter of flexible packaging, cartons, and labels, has been working with lenticular imaging for the past five years. He says the sometimes startling effect of a lenticular image, particularly on a store shelf, can grab the focus of even the most ardent shopper.

“People are moving down the aisle,” explains Traub, “and all of a sudden they see a product moving on the shelf next to them. It's going to get their attention.”

Flexibility Leads to Labels
Lenticular imaging is likely to be grabbing consumers' attention more frequently in the near future with the development of Crystal Web 7-mil, high-resolution lenticular lenses by National Graphics. Based on the company's patented Extreme Vision lenticular technology, the new, thinner lens has greater flexibility than the 18-mil materials that have been standard for the industry, making them better suited to the p-s label market, according to Traub.

For much of the past ten years, the 18-mil lenticular lens material was used largely in the “promotional” arena for printing collectors' cards and the types of “collectibles” found in cereal boxes. The base lens material that carried the lenticular image was too thick for use as a p-s label, because it couldn't consistently be applied to a curved surface, such as a plastic or glass bottle, without detaching or fracturing.

Outlook recently began utilizing the thinner lens material for converting p-s labels at its 125,000-sq-ft label facility. The new material not only adapts much better for label use, Traub reports, it also carries up to 200 lenticular lenses/in. versus just 75 on a traditional 18-mil lens. The new 7-mil material also can hold better registration of small type than thicker materials, adds Traub, and is capable of carrying easily readable bar codes, something the thicker material could not.

“The label product, the seven-mil lens, is a brand new area for us,” Traub told PFFC. “We finished the R&D and are just starting to bring it to market, and we've seen some significant interest and inquiries already.”

Traub says current and potential users of lenticular labels and packaging could be “everyone from the smallest guy you could imagine to the largest companies. We've done projects for Kraft, we've done jobs for mom and pop USA. It's a significant-sized industry itself.”

Complex Converting
Outlook converts the lenticular packages and labels on a 28×44-in., sheet-fed, offset press. Finished lenticular images can be as large as 7 × 9 in., although a majority of the jobs are 2 × 2 in. or 3 × 3 in.

To convert traditional p-s labels, the company operates ten flexo printing presses from Mark Andy and Nilpeter, with a maximum of 16 in. and 14 colors.

Traub notes that National Graphics' Crystal Web lenticular lens material, which Outlook typically purchases from the company in 26×40-in. sheets, can be converted virtually the same as any other substrate, only with far greater attention to and knowledge of the converting process. For example, it can be embossed, hot foil stamped, and printed (using Kohl & Madden inks).

However, says Traub, the act of converting the 7-mil material is “very complex. It's much more difficult than a conventional label process, but that's just the nature of the beast. As you get thinner and thinner, the complexity of printing gets harder and harder. It's just not an easy product to print.”

Among the companies that utilize lenticular technology are Sony Computer Entertainment America, General Mills-Canada, Reebok Intl. Ltd., Coors Brewing Co., General Motors Corp.-GMC, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.

According to Traub, lenticular technology is best suited to higher volume, value-added applications of 100,000 or more. But even though the cost has come down to just pennies per item, lenticular labels aren't likely to be found on soft drink containers anytime soon, though you might spot them on upscale liquor bottles.

“It's not a product that is going to fit well in the low-dollar volume, low-margin type industries,” Traub notes. “It's never going to be as inexpensive to produce as a conventional label, but it brings a lot of uniqueness that a conventional label could never offer. And when you get into things that have some significant dollar price tags already — like pharmaceuticals and liquors — and they're already spending a pretty good amount of money on packaging, this is something that fits in real well.”

The Figures Tell the Story
Traub says he's seen it estimated that annual industry sales of lenticular products reached $200 million-$300 million last year, though he believes that figure to be conservative. Still, that's just a fraction of the North American packaging market, which was an estimated $108 billion in 2000. P-s labels alone accounted for more than $5 billion in sales. That's all the more room to grow, says Traub.

He believes many upscale industries such as cosmetics, or even higher-volume products that require shelf-appeal — such as toothpaste — would be ideal for lenticular.

Traub recalls when Colgate began marketing its Total brand toothpaste in a refractive foil package, its effectiveness quickly attracted imitators, and he expects to see much of the same as lenticular labels begin appearing on store shelves.

“Four or five years ago, there wasn't anyone who would have thought about using a lenticular label,” says Traub. “Now you're seeing more and more mainstream applications. And even though it will probably always be tied to the promotional-type application, you're just seeing it starting to broaden its base and impact more and more markets, which is good.”

Good, at least, for Outlook Group Corp. — and its customers.

CONVERTER INFO
Outlook Group Corp.— Lenticular Solutions;

Neenah, WI; 262/783-7042; lenticularprinting.com

SUPPLIER INFO
National Graphics Inc.
, Brookfield, WI; 262/781-5888; nationalgraphics.com

Mark Andy Inc., Chesterfield, MO; 636/532-4433; markandy.com

Nilpeter Inc., Davies, FL; 954/385-8835; nilpeter.net

Kohl & Madden Printing Ink, Fort Lee, NJ; 800/793-0022; kohlmadden.com



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