Fathom Optics’ Light Field Technology Software Adds Motion & Dimension, Easy as Spot Color

What You Can Do

The technology works similarly to moiré, where two screens can create undesirable artifacts when at incompatible angles. Fathom uses light fields to precisely calculate 1-bit screens that create desirable illusions of depth, movement or both. This can be flashy or can mimic different textures and materials, from fluted glass to shimmering foils.

Because light fields are created using calculations, not new physical materials, they can be oriented in either portrait or landscape. With lenticular lenses, the movement can only take place in the direction that the lenses are extruded. If that is across the feed direction of a label, the motion will not come out in the right way. Fathom’s Light Field Effects can be designed to shift as consumers walk by a product on a shelf, rotate the package in their hands, or as the package is tipped to pour or drink from.

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The art file on the belly band wrapping FLEXO’s July 2021 cover.

Multiple effects can be placed in different areas on the same package, offering both orientations and depth in one area and movement in another. All these effects are printed with two interference screens. So, no matter how many effects are added to a package, a maximum of two print stations are needed.

Fathom designer Niko Arranz says, “Fathom Effects should enable a new rejuvenation of design ideas and manufacturing capabilities for the flexo industry. Designers will be able to add dynamic movement to the next generation of packaging and labels. We can replace foils, but we can also do way more, from textures to dimensional objects. This is something new that designers are really enjoying playing with.”

Design Process

One of the challenges of working with lenticular lenses is designing effects for them. This requires special skills and special software to prepare multiple interleaved images, so only highly specialized companies can do it.

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Dion Press Operator John Dion just completed mounting Fathom Effect Plate 1 to a sleeve for the MPS press using a J.M. Heaford plate mounter.

Fathom Designer software is a vastly simpler alternative that allows anyone to add motion and dimensional effects as easily as adding a spot color, varnish or foil. Designers can work in a native environment, such as Adobe Illustrator, and add spot colors to the file wherever they want to place an effect. Multiple effects only require separate spot colors in the file, to digitally specify where each effect lands.

AI or PDF files are then uploaded to Fathom Designer and the designer sees a palette of available effects. The selected effect will immediately map to the area and be shown in a color-accurate virtual representation of the bottle, can, tube or box. The package can be viewed in 3D with all the effects and overprint colors performing the way they would on the printed product. (This feature can also be used to create a 3D packaging preview with any artwork that doesn’t include Fathom Effects.)

When the designer is happy with the result, a preview link can be generated and sent to the customer. Once approved, the job is RIPped normally through whatever system the printer or plate maker uses. RIPped files are uploaded to the Fathom Producer portal, where the actual calculations are made on the effect layers, using algorithms tuned to the press and materials used for the job. The files are then returned for plate making.

Print Effects

Effects are typically printed in either black or white with the same inks that are used normally in the process. The initial work has been done with UV inks on inline presses, but projects are underway to work with both water- and solvent-based inks in the near future and on wide web central impression (CI) flexographic presses.

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Brent Berthiaume, Dion’s prepress manager, examines the job as it comes off press.

The key to Fathom Effects is to print these two interference effect screens with a spatial separation between them. This can be done by printing on both sides of clear film, in the case of shrink sleeves or clear wraparound labels. When printing on opaque materials like paper, paperboard or white films, the first effect screen can be printed on this material; then a clear film can be laminated to the base layer, and the second effect screen can be printed on top of this. Colors and protective varnishes can be added in either layer as required.

In the past, shrink sleeves struggled with foils, holograms or lenses because they would have issues with the shrinking process, especially in high-shrink areas. Even holographic coatings were adversely affected. By contrast, Fathom Effects gain from this same shrinking in two ways:

  • Material multiplies in thickness as it shrinks, adding further depth and motion by moving the screens further apart
  • Shrinking increases the resolution and LPI, further enhancing the activity of the effects
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Dialing in the print quality for Fathom Effect Plate 1

Printing the high linescreens of the Fathom Effects has also demonstrated to converters that they are capable of printing at resolutions higher than they have before. The microstructures commonly printed with Fathom are printed at essentially 480 lines per inch and higher. Due to Fathom’s algorithm-based approach to preparing light field screens, printers have even demonstrated the capability to print at 600 lpi and 800 lpi successfully, using widely available commercial plate technology and their existing 900-1,200 cpi anilox rollers.