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We live in a three-dimensional world, but only recently has the general public had access to tools and technology that allow us to work and create things in 3D as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the explosive growth of consumer class 3D printers, easy-to-use CAD software, and 3D printing services. It’s a cliché, but increasingly what we can create is only limited to what we can imagine.

It’s possible to print 3D models with plastic, resin, titanium, and more. Here’s a new material to add to that list: photons.

 Zebra Imaging, a Austin-based provider of 3D holographic displays, partnered with Autodesk this year to offer a service that allows users of Autodesk’s popular 123D 3D design tools to turn 3D models into jump-out-of-the-frame holographic prints by simply clicking an export option right in the software. Zebra’s gallery of holographic images was a hit at Maker Faire Bay Area this year and they’ll be at World Maker Faire in New York in September, too.

“In our view it’s a pretty earthshaking invention,” says Craig Newswanger, Zebra’s scientist and systems architect. (Craig’s six-pack Tesla coil project is featured in the current issue of MAKE).

With just a few clicks, you can turn a picture of your daughter, house or whatever into a multicolored holographic image that seems to float in the air. I think that’s pretty amazing.

“I call it ‘portable space,’” says Craig. “You can take something with you that’s bigger than the box it came in.”

We’ve all seen holograms (what up, Tupac?) but what are they? In basic terms, a hologram is a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams. As Craig explains it, the surface of a hologram is composed of small holographic elements called hogels. Think of them as pixels. Within each hogel a set of rays of light are recorded at different intensities and colors. Zebra records more than 200,000 rays of light into each hogel. Software computes what rays should be emitting from every hogel on the surface of the hologram to recreate a 3D image.

Zebra-Imaging-Process

How holograms are created. [via Zebra Imaging]

Much of Zebra’s work is for high-end engineering and architectural clients, but the partnership with Autodesk allow them to bring the price of their prints down. The basic level prints, known as ZScape 3D holographic prints, are available in 8×10 inch steel frames that start at $99 for a greenish monochrome. Full color starts at $199. They come with a light fixture that attaches to the frame. The prints need a light source to display properly.

They also need a dark room for optimum viewing. Zebra sent me a sample hologram and it was pretty cool although I imagined something with greater resolution. As is, it looked a little pixelated (hogelated?), but I still found myself poking my finger into the air the three-dimensional image that appeared before me.

Zebra offers their prints in two resolutions: a rather greenish monochrome and full color. Monochrome prints hogel resolution of 1mmx1mm. Full color prints in .71mm x .71mm hogels.

Thinking in 3D will continue to spawn new ideas and new things we can do with those ideas. What’s exciting to me is to see how the rise of 3D technology is creating a whole new ecosystem of tools, products, and art forms like holographic prints.

For the lay person, I could see creating holograms of friends and family, architectural images, and far-out 3D creations. What uses do you see for this technology?

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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