Science

Futuristic Paper Reflects Light Like 3D Objects, Might Just Save Printed Media

File this one under “Straight Out of Our Sci-Fi Dreams”. When you shine a light on a photo from different angles, nothing happens to the image. But what if the shadows on it could change as if it were a real, three-dimensional object? That day is closer than you think.

HP, 3M and UC Santa Cruz (go Banana Slugs!) have been collaborating on a truly remarkable project [PDF]. Instead of using flat paper for photo printing (which can’t change its reflective properties), the researchers are creating a new kind of paper with specular micro-geometry. In other words, it looks like regular flat paper to your eye, but its surface is actually covered in thousands of microscopic hills and valleys. We can print onto those tiny shapes to control the way the light reflects from different angles. The result is that the object in a photo would reflect light the same way as the object would in real life. Or so your eyes would perceive.

Clearly the technology still has a ways to go. It seems they’ve only been able to get the dots down to a certain size, and so the images still look somewhat pixelated, and they can currently only do black and white so far, but they believe that to be just a matter of refining their manufacturing techniques (you can read the full PDF report here). The video, which shows proof-of-concept, is amazing. In an age of ereaders and tablets, where it seems we have fewer and fewer reasons reasons to hang on to printed media, this could offer something those digital devices couldn’t. If they can get it down to modern photo-quality, it could be revolutionary. [UCSC via FStoppers via PetaPixel]