Although it had various predecessors, such as tabula scalata and double portraits, true lenticular pictures emerged in the early 1900s, and it took until the 1950s for a commercial application of them to emerge, through Victor Anderson’s Vari-Vue product. Arriving at a time when consumerism, public relations, and pop culture was about to explode, Vari-Vue and several other emerging lenticular companies grasped the emerging opportunities, and churned out an incredible range of lenticular print products.
The “I Like Ike” campaign badges
The first Vari-Vue product was a Presidential campaign button for Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, developed in 1952. The badge read “I Like Ike” in black letters on a white background, and when turned changed to a black and white image of Eisenhower. The Presidential campaign as a whole was a huge success and Eisenhower won in a landslide, but it was also a victory for Vari-Vue, with the first successful mass production of a lenticular print product. Badges would remain a popular use of the technology, and Flasher badges would be produced for Adlai Stevenson, Kennedy, and Nixon, as well as celebrities like Elvis, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones.
Cereal and snack lenticular print tilt cards
A major volume product for Vari-Vue were “tilt cards”, given away free in packs of Cheerios and Crackerjacks. These featured small, simple, almost pixel art lenticular print cartoons of sportsmen hitting balls, animals doing tricks, and children playing, and were found either attached to the outside packaging of the product or as a free gift inside. A very popular collectable amongst young children, Vari-Vue produced around 40 million tilt cards from the 1950s to 1970s.
Gumball machine toys
In the late 1950s Vari-Vue began to think about ways of incorporating lenticular prints into other products, and a popular version of this were small, cheap, plastic gumball toys, such as a small TV set with a moving screen, animals with moving faces, and novelty jewellery. In a similar fashion, small lenticular images were often added to children’s stationery such as rulers, pencil cases, and erasers through to the 1980s.
Lenticular print book and album covers
In 1967 the Rolling Stones released Their Satanic Majesties Request with a lenticular art album cover, showing a portrait of the band and their heads turning to look at each other; it quickly became a limited edition due to the high production costs but some special re-issues have re-created it. Johnny Cash and The Stranglers also released lenticular album covers, and then it would be over 20 years until music artists of the 1990s and early 2000s began to use them again. A number of books developed covers in similar fashion, as would numerous special edition comics in the 90s and 2000s as larger scale lenticular prints became easier to produce.
Collectable and trading cards have long been popular products for children, and lenticular print provided a way to make certain cards, or collections, stand out far above the rest. Numerous companies developed baseball card sets often creating a 3D-styled image of star players.
Since the1960s a number of countries have released postage stamps with lenticular designs; Bhutan, Yemen, North Korea, and Ajman among them through until the 1970s. More recently New Zealand, the Netherlands, the UK, and the US have released special edition postage stamps all of which utilised animation effects to illustrate magic, dinosaurs, and clips from TV shows and short films.
One of Vari-Vue’s competitors was the first to truly attempt lenticular art prints of any kind, before the current improvements in technology, with their lentograph pictures. These used more of a 3D effect on bible scenes, children’s characters, nature scenes, animals and landscapes. The images were close to the size of A4 paper and sold in illuminated frames.
Lenticular print shop displays
With the development of computer and digital technology for printing, the possibilities for lenticular have enhanced incredibly, with almost any size of print now possible, and as many as 60 individual frames of animation able to fit into a single image. Besides the application to true art prints, lenticular is also finding it’s way to new areas of promotion and marketing, with brands such as Burberry utilising them for shop window displays of models and clothing.