New photo printing tech reflects light like 3D object

UC Santa Cruz researchers developed a new way to print photographs on special "reflectance paper," covered in dimples that reflect light as if the image is a 3D object. From UCSC:

"If the paper is flat, it will always look flat no matter what you print on it. So the question became how to get the surface of the paper to have geometry to it," (computer science professor James) Davis said. "With the reflectance paper, for each pixel we have a little dimple that has all angular directions on its surface. Now we can print ink over it in a way that controls the angles of light that will be reflected from each pixel."

The mathematical "reflectance function" describes how light is reflected from each point on an object. Measuring the reflectance functions for an object or scene can be done by taking photographs lit from many different lighting directions. Art historians and restorers use these techniques for documenting important works of art and historical artifacts, said Davis, a computer graphics expert who has developed software for displaying the results on a monitor.

"Photos reflect light like 3D objects with novel printing technology"

"Printing Reflectance Functions"


  1. i could see this being neat large scale in public areas with lots of moving light, or maybe on some kind of display that rotates

  2. As if 3-D is not the same as 3-D which requires a convergence of two images for the mind to determine distance of field. I suspect the printed dimples prevent proper focus to create an indeterment distance of field.

    1. No, a single POV that moves in time can have a similar effect, which is why birds can catch bugs.  You’ll see them bobbing their heads to get a range on something.  And don’t movies fool our brains every time?

      1. Wow!   If a fixed-location pointsource illuminator is used (a spotlight, as with rainbow holograms,) then the reflective dimples become the equivalent of lenses, and the printing becomes the equivalent of small images.

        In other words, this can function as a PRINTABLE 3D lenticular display. A hologram employing geometrical optics.  But it’s based on mirrors rather than lenses.   And by using a lens-array rather than a row of cylinders,  it gives up/down parallax, not just left/right.

        > printed dimples prevent proper focus

        Lenticular postcards have exactly this property.  They produce no variable focus as found in real 3D objects, only parallax information as with stereopticons.  They might not look very 3D unless you tilt them back and forth (or walk past a large one.)

        So, print one yards wide, view from yards away, each dimple functions as a “3D pixel.”

  3. “The problem with paper is that it’s flat”

    I’m pretty sure that’s a feature of paper.

    Great concept though, naturally not ideal for everything, but I can think of a few things this would be perfect for. I’m imagining that cost will be an issue though.

  4. I want to say three things:

    1) Oh great!  It’s ‘silk’ surface, all over again.

    2) But, but, but, prints are 3D objects….

    3) Actually, it’s an older technique, but without needing a separate lens array, glued to the print.

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