Understanding and Designing Interactive "Involvement" Products.

It's Fun ... It's Magic

By Stephen A. Singer, President - Micro Format, Inc.
Wheeling Illinois

©1996, revised 2000


Interactive involvement products bring to life as well as bring excitement to the printed word. Successful product development requires the mind of a creative communicator, a working relationship with an innovative manufacturer and a determined customer. These imaginative products help put "fun" back into the printing industry.

Our discussion begins with an observation:

To capture one's attention, human senses must be stimulated.

The greater the stimulation, the longer the attention span.

One method used to obtain increased sensory stimulation is through the involvement of multiple senses. Just watch children as they spend numerous hours playing video games while images flash on a screen. Dramatic sounds fill the air and hand-eye reflexes are challenged.

This is not new, the concept of involvement products. For the sake of this discussion, we have traced it's history back to the early 1800s when 3-D was identified for the first time.

The history of Stereo Viewing dates back to 1838 when 38 year old Sir Charles Wheatstone presented a paper to the British Royal Society on "The Phenomena of Binocular Vision." In it, Wheatstone demonstrated that the human mind perceives an object in three dimensions because each eye receives a slightly different view. To define this phenomena, he "coined" the word "stereograph" from the Greek words stereo (solid) and graph (I look at).

The first stereo viewer, based on a design by Scottish Scientist Sir David Brester, the inventor of the kaleidoscope, was manufactured in England. The viewer consisted of a box with a paired lens at the end. The other end contained a slot for inserting images on glass. The glass was later replaced by paper. Included was a mirror and a small door at the top of the box to admit light.


 The stereoscope was presented to the public for the first time in 1851

at the International Exhibition of London.


 Holmes-Battes Stereoscope on wooden stand ca. 1870-1880

Stereo Views were introduced in America by William and Fredrick Langenheim in 1854.

A few years later, in 1859, the now familiar stereoscope viewer with an aluminum or

wooden hood, was invented as a joint venture of Boston photographer Joseph Bates

and Dr. Oliver Wendell Homes.

Within a year, "stereo-mania" had swept the United States.



For three quarters of a century, up until the second world war, millions of stereoscropic photographs were made by both amateur and commercial photographers. During those early years, until the advent of radio and motion pictures, entertainment in the American home was often centered around the stereoscope, much like television, video games and the computer is today.


Keystone View Company #V26102 Wright airplane in Flight Ft. Meyer, Va.

To experience the perception of depth requires the use of both eyes. Thus if we can learn to consciously control each eye independently, we can "fool our brain" and cause it perceive three dimensional objects from otherwise flat images. One such technique for seeing 3-D involves "Free Style Viewing."

 The official logo for the 1990 National Stereoscopic Association

(NSA) Convention where President Eisenhower was honored as the only President who was an active stereo photographer.


Free-viewing is best defined as looking at a stereoscopic image without a stereoscope and seeing the image in 3-D. Using the Parallel Viewing Technique, focus on a point beyond the image. Viewed using this technique, two slightly different images will appear as three images. The mind perceives the middle image in 3-D. Both the left and right image are ignored as the brain concentrates on the middle image.


 Author John Waldsmith in his book Stereo Views, claims "Free-Viewing will not harm your eyes - in fact," he continues,

"It strengthens your eye muscles."



The Parallel Viewing Technique involves making the lines of sight of the left and right eye nearly parallel, as if looking at something far away. Look through and beyond the image; focus on a point beyond the image.

The Cross-Eyed Viewing Technique involves crossing one's eyes so that the lines of sight of the left and right eyes intersect. Cress your eyes when viewing the image. Do not concentrate on any particular part of the image.


In 1844 Sir David Brester discovered that a slight variation in the repetition of a series of images could create a three dimensional illusion.


Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro

Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format

Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro

Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format

Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro

Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format

Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro Micro

Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format Format


Viewed using the Free-Viewing Technique, the word "Format" appears to drop backward to a lower level.


The word "Micro" appears to shift forward. This effect is caused by a variation in the repetition of the words. The words "Micro" are separated by 5 spaces. The words "Format" are separated by 4 spaces.


There is a strong relationship between stereoscopic photographs and stereograms. Like the stereoscopic photograph, stereograms use dual images to fool the brain.

In 1959, Dr. Bela Julesz developed the two picture random dot stereogram. At first glance Random Dot Stereograms appear to be a meaningless pattern. However when viewed using either the parallel or cross-eyed viewing technique, previously hidden images appear.

These images may be shapes, designs, words or even a company logo.

While working at Bell Labs in 1979, Dr. Christopher W. Tyler conceived the idea of a device-free stereogram.

There he produced his first successful auto-stereogram which he published in 1983.

With he advent of the computer, stereograms became a new art form. Computer aided, two slightly different displaced dot patterns are embedded into an image field. The image field is then covered with randomly placed dots, thus producing a Random Dot Stereogram.

 The stereogram to the left contains a hidden geometric shape.

Practical Application -

A case can be made for staring at a random dot stereogram that has a logo printed along side. During the attempt to identify the logo illustration as a random dot 3-D image, the viewer tends to etch the actual logo image into the mind thus committing it to memory for an extended period of time. 


The technical term for a red/blue 3-D image is anaglyph. In his book Adventures in Virtual Reality, Tom Hayward defines an anaglyph as "a figure in relief, or raised above the surface. It is a subtle way of indication the third dimension."

The word is derived from two Greek words meaning to "carve up" ("ana" means up; "glyphien" defined as "to carve). A "glif" id defined as a grove or channel; any incised or raised figure.

Anaglyphs are a feasible from of stereo illustration since viewing then requires a minimum of special equipment. The only equipment necessary is an anaglyphoscope viewer, constructed with a pair of complementary color viewing filters. The scope, more commonly referred to as "3-D glasses" is both flexible and portable. Red Blue printed anaglyphs are most common. The coloration of the film used in 3-D glasses may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer; red and green, orange and green, red and blue. This variation seldom affects viewing. The lens color and the printed ink colors are properly balanced when the image is clear and free of "ghost views."

Printing Ink

Red/Orange Color

Blue/Green Color

Pantone Matching System

PMS 151

PMS 333

Van Son Match


Tulip Tint Peacock

Stereo imagery is reconstructed by isolating left eye images and right eye images through the use of special viewing techniques (parallel or cross eyed) or a special viewing apparatus (stereoscope). The need to view single image photographs in 3-D led to the development of anaglyph imagery. During development in the late eighteen hundreds, photographs used as "stereo pairs" were tinted, each a different color.

Anaglyph stereo differs from conventional stereo in that the two images are super imposed as a multiple shades of blue and red. 3-D viewing is accomplished by using a viewer with complimentary colored lens. The left red lens filters out the red image. The right blue lens filter out the blue image.

In 1993, while experimenting with his personal computer, Steve Singer created 3-D/Virtual Reality Paper®. While wearing a pair of 3-D anaglyph glasses, images appeared to "jump off the screen" when drawn "blue right - red left." The same images appeared to move "into the screen" when drawn "blue left - red right." When black words were placed over a "red left - blue right" image, they appeared to sink into the 3-D screen image. However when placed over a "blue left - red right" image, words appeared to float.

Images appear to float above the page when viewed through a red/blue anaglyph viewer.


It was thought that if words could be made to appear to float in front of a computer screen, the same thing could be done on paper. Numerous background designs were created until one was discovered which would work every time without interfering with the copy printed on the sheet.

Because it creates excitement and curiosity, anaglyph imagery has many business applications, primarily in advertising. Presentations and flyers using this technique are usually retained by the consumer, typically studied, distributed and saved for future reference. A major objection to using 3-D imagery in direct mail applications is that once printed, a viewer must be provided to complete the recipient's involvement in the project. One solution is to included a pair of "3-D Glasses" in every mailer. Another is to deliver the message in a 3-D Viewer Mailing Envelope™. This envelope, developed in Cleveland Ohio by Glen Moore and Adapted by Steve Singer, has a red/blue viewer die-cut into the back panel of the envelope.

Two problems are solved when using this envelope. First, each recipient receives a viewer so that the enclosed material

can be seen is 3-D. Secondly when received in a bundle of mail, curiosity insures that the envelope is among the first opened.

 Viewer Mailing Envelopes provide a creative answer to the question "How do I send a viewer through the mail."  

ChromaDepth™ -- 3-D Viewing in the 1990s

Conceived and developed between 1990 and 1992, ChromaDeptd™ 3-D is a patented viewing technique invented by American researcher Richard Steenblik. Following two years of development with his business partner Fredrich Lauter and researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), ChromaDepth™ 3-D glasses were first used commercially in June 1992 at a laser show presented at the American Museum of Natural History Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Anaglyph 3-D images work, as explained in information provided by Chromatek, Inc., because either one of two images is filtered from view. The ChromaDepth™ process is unique in that it doesn't begin with two images; it requires only one image. The depth information is encoded into the range by the colors chosen. Objects in the foreground are colored red. Background objects are colored blue. Objects in-between are colored according to their position in the rainbow. Thus an orange object appears behind red but in front of Green.

ChromaDepth™ compatible images has a sharp, clear appearance.

However when viewed with ChromaDepth™ 3-D glasses, images

suddenly appear in three dimensions.

Thus dazzling 3-D effects can be created at low cost and with little additional effort. Printing costs

are similar to that of creating a normal, two dimensional image.

The ultimate quality of a ChromaDepth™ 3-D image depends on both

the image design and the quality of the colors comprising the image.

ChromaDepth™ Tips:

  1. Use a BLACK or DARK BLUE background
  2. Color objects according to the colors of the rainbow -"ROY G BIV"
  3. Front to Back - Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet

  4. Use strong, high contrast colors - favor Red, Green and Blue.
  5. When possible, use a Black outline around each colored area.

This helps to avoid color blurring where different colors meet.



Since complementary colors filter one another, through adaptation and control of this technique, words and graphic images can be made to appear or disappear.

The "Red Mesh" technique may be used to hide images. Using light blue or gray ink, print the "hidden" message or image. Next conceal the image by printing a "red mesh" foreground.

When viewed using a red lens decoder, the hidden image will "magically" appear.

Since ink is transparent, it is difficult to completely hide an image using this technique.

Once viewed with a red filter, images are more easily identified and can usually be

seen without the use of a viewer. However it is the impact obtained from the

first impression that can be effectively used in an advertising campaign.

There are a number of tips for hiding images beneath a mesh background.

  1. Print hidden image in light blue or reddish gray ink.
  2. Avoid using think lines or solid areas.
  3. An open face type font can be hidden easier than a bold type face.
  4. Spread the image across the entire area covered by the mesh background.
  5. A larger image is more difficult to identify without the use of a viewer.

Another method which can be used to make words appear is the "stain class" technique.

The "stain glass effect" takes advantage of the fact that certain colors appear to drop out, while others turn darker when seen through a red lens. A unique font is created by changing the colors in each pane segment. Background panes are filled with complementary "drop out" colors. Those segments that are used to construct the letter should be filled with non-complementary colors.

Placed side by side, letters can be used to create hidden messages.

Red Filter Complementary "Drop Out" Colors:

Magenta - Orange - Pink - Red - Yellow

As seen in the "stain glass" technique, red analogous colors disappear when viewed through red lens glasses.

In the example to the right, each segment of the pie chart, except one, is printed with a red non-complementary color.

The theme of this campaign was "Work with our company and we will make your problems disappear!"

When seen through a red filter, only the "problem segment" which was printed with yellow ink disappeared.


Hidden messages can be used as an effective marketing tool. However as with an anaglyph 3-D program, a viewer is required as an integral part of the program. An effective direct mail campaign can be developed with the use of a "dual red lens" Viewer Mailing Envelope. An interactive envelope such as this serves a dual purpose. First the envelope is normally opened first when received in the mail. Second, a red viewer is placed into the hands of each recipient.


In 1992, Paul Wakefield of Odgen Utah developed a unique interactive paper product called Touch-It® Living Paper. Using technology similar to that of "mood rings" made popular in the nineteen sixties, body heat activates encapsulated crystals, causing the coating on the surface of the paper to change color.

Six standard colors of Touch-It® Paper were created.

Blue to Clear (white)

Teal to Yellow

Purple to Pink

Green to Yellow

Gray to Clear (white)

Orange to Yellow

The original paper color changes when heat is applied. It returns to its original state as the heat dissipates. Used in a laser printer, the paper enters the printer in its original state; it arrives in the receiving tray in its changed mode. As the paper cools, the original color returns before your eyes.

Information printed on thermochromatic coated paper may be designed to incorporate the use of sight and touch. Thus this paper product becomes a unique resource when used in an advertising campaign.

"TOUCH HERE" ... If this paper changes color you are a winner"

Since body temperature caused the color to change, in a campaign such as this everyone is a winner.

Since hidden messages can be printed on the surface of Touch-It® Color Change Paper, this paper can easily be used to create interactive, involvement products. Messages be made to appear as if by magic, when the paper is touched or rubbed.


Two methods may be used to successfully hide words and graphics.

  1. Positive Image Printing - In its cool state, match the ink color to the color of the paper. Print words and images on the surface of the sheet. As heat is applied to the sheet, the background color on the paper will change leaving the printed image in plain view.
  2. Reverse Image Printing - In its cool state, match the ink color to the color of the paper. This method requires printing a screened (shaded) background over the entire sheet. When preparing the necessary art work and line copy, design the art as a "reverse" image. Screen (shade) the background between 5% and 10%. The higher the screen percentage the more visible the image.

Fine tuning this technique is required because as the screen percentage is increased images are more easily seen when the paper is in its cool state.

As heat is applied to the surface of the sheet, the printed background will become visible. The reversed image appears as the paper changes colors. As the paper cools the paper returns to its original color, once again hiding the printed image. 

Similar effects can be created when printing thermochromatic ink on paper or other materials.

Thermochromatic ink is available for offset printing, flexo (flexography) printing as well as for silk screen printing.


Most of the technologies and concepts used in producing interactive, involvement products are not new. Some have been around for may years. We have traced a path which began with the Stereoscope and moved through Free Viewing and Random Dot Stereograms. Anaglyph Imagery followed incorporating a red and blue filtering effect to create images in the third dimension. ChromaDepth™ technology created the 3-D effect by separating light into colors; each color appearing at a different level when seen through a viewer designed for this patented technique.

Returning to the "filtering technique," images can be made to appear or disappear when seen through a dual red viewer. Adding the sense of touch, images hidden on the surface of Touch-It® Paper, or paper printed with a coating of thermochromatic ink, can be made to appear by simply rubbing the surface of the paper.

Our grandparents enjoyed seeing three-dimensional photographs back in the eighteen hundreds. Red/Blue anaglyph images were used in comic books and in motion pictures during the nineteen fifties. Color Change technology was made popular in the sixties with "Mood Rings." Random Dot Stereograms and "cross eyed viewing" was discovered during the decade that followed and later made popular in the United States by N.E.Thing Enterprises and their "Magic Eye" graphics. And as the new century was barely underway, the April 2000 Swimsuit Issue of Sport Illustrated featured an extensive series of swimsuit clad models photographed in 3-D. An anaglyph red/blue viewer was included in every issue.

Yes - we live in a high tech - high touch world and our attention span continue to shrink.

However involvement products work every time because they cause us to stop, look and touch. Used properly, they demand and get our immediate attention.

With the understanding as to their origin and "how and why they work," the creative designer can incorporate each concept into practical modern day applications. Combining these ideas with modern computer technology, exciting things begin to happen.

"Areas of Involvement" which may benefit from Interactive Materials include:

Retail Advertising

Business to Business Advertising

Point-of-Purchase Packaging and Displays

Direct Mail Marketing

Advertising Specialties

Educational Material

Promotional Printing

Imagine ... we have yet to address combining interactive involvement materials with the internet.

Opportunities abound in this yet explored wonderland of high tech - high touch - worldwide community in which we now live.

In 1995, the following statistic was provided by Greg Bassine President of Direct Marketing Group, Portland Oregon:

"In 1980 we had 8.5 seconds for a prospect to decide if a piece of mail they just received was "junk mail" ... or opportunity mail. In 1990 we had only 4.2 seconds. In 1995? Try 2.9 seconds!

Next time you go to your mail box and browse your mail, pick up a piece and count to 2.9 seconds and see what made you decide if it was a keeper or loser."

In this new millennium ... it takes less than a second to click DELETE on an e-mail message. Snail Mail stands little chance of obtaining more than a second before a similar action is taken.

Use you imagination.

Understanding, designing and working with interactive involvement products can be fun.


Exciting results can be obtained when science and technology meet ...

and the magic is brought to the home and business environment.


 Bibliography and Credits

The Magic PC Stereogram Book - Daniel Sillescu -Published by Sybex, Inc.

Stereo Views - John S. Waldsmith - Published by Wallace-Homestead Book Company

Stereogram - Published by Cadence Books

Constructing Anaglyph Images - Raymond Nicyper - Published by Jerry Haines Sales - Covina, CA

Adventures in Virtual Reality - Tom Hayward - Published by Que Corporation

Adventures in 3-D -Douglas E. Wolfgram - Published by Que Corporation

The Deep Image - 3D Art and Science - Ray Zone - Published by 3-D Zone - Los Angeles, CA

ChromaDepth™ Information - Chromatek, Inc. - Alpharetta, GA

Direct Marketing News - Greg Bassine - Published by Direct Marketing Group, Inc. - Portland, OR


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