Seeking out new dimensions in hologram technology

In the 1977 blockbuster Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope, R2-D2, an astromech droid, produces a flickering holographic image of Princess Leia for Obi-Wan Kenobi, a mentor to Luke Skywalker. “Years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars,” she says. “Now he begs you to help him in his struggle against the Empire … You’re my only hope.”

Forty years since the movie’s opening, this scene still inspires Mitsuru Kitamura, one of Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd.’s leading hologram researchers. “My ultimate goal is to develop technology to make a moving holographic image, like that of Princess Leia,” Kitamura says. “We still have a long way to go, but we have to aim high if we’re to make a breakthrough.”

Holograms allow people to see 3-D images recorded from real objects or computer graphics without the need to wear special glasses. Although such images have become more refined and increasingly colorful over the last two decades or so, moving holographic images have yet to be created outside the cinematic domain.

Lasting impact from teenage encounter with holography

Kitamura’s entire career has pivoted around holography since he joined DNP as a researcher in 1996. Little wonder, then, regarding his aspirations.

“I became fascinated with holograms as a middle school student, when I saw the rainbow-colored eagle that popped up on the cover of the March 1984 issue of National Geographic,” Kitamura says, explaining his first encounter with a hologram. “I wanted to be involved with digital imaging processing after getting a master’s degree from Keio University, and that’s why I joined DNP.”

Kitamura’s early focus was to develop software to create holographic data from computer graphics at a time when the company had succeeded in producing only rudimentary samples.

“The biggest obstacle we faced was dealing with the large amount of data contained in tiny holograms,” he recalls. “They required storage space of 5 to 10 gigabytes, when the average PC was equipped with a hard disk that stored a mere 200 megabytes. Fortunately, however, DNP had already dealt with such large quantities of data in making photomasks [essential devices for producing chips] at that time. That helped us a great deal.”

Virtuagram® completed after seven years of research

Kitamura’s research efforts proceeded slowly, but steadily, and were fully supported by DNP, which gave him seven years to complete what would later be called Virtuagram®, a full-color, 3-D, computer-generated, embossed hologram.

“When Virtuagram® was marketed in 2003, I thought to myself, ‘At last, I’ve introduced it into the public domain,’” Kitamura says. “When I saw newspaper articles about it, I was really happy.”

Virtuagram®’s technology, which was upgraded in 2011, allows DNP to print large quantities of high-quality, full-color, embossed holograms generated from computer graphics with a wide variety of graphical effects, using a fully digital process.

Standing out from the crowd

DNP holograms are used for credit cards, gift certificates, packages and securities, to name but a few applications. Although the firm has hundreds of competitors in the field of embossed holograms, DNP stands out from the crowd by supplying high-quality holograms for artistic productions and security purposes.

DNP’s involvement with holograms dates back to 1972, the year after Hungarian-British physicist Dennis Gabor won the Noble Prize in Physics for his work on holographic technology.

A traditional hologram is produced by splitting a laser beam into two, with one beam radiating onto a target object, thus allowing its reflected light to shine (be recorded) onto a holographic dry plate; the other beam does not strike the object but is radiated (recorded) onto the same plate. Since the two beams travel different paths, they create an interference pattern, which essentially constitutes the object’s 3-D image data. With the Virtuagram® technology, DNP can now emboss required data onto the surface of materials without the use of lasers.

Never-ending research pursuits

Kitamura says he has more immediate goals than producing a moving holographic image.

“I’ve only dealt with embossed holograms,” he says. “But embossed holograms aren’t as expressive as Lippmann holograms in that the former has only horizontal 3-D effects, whereas the latter has both horizontal and vertical 3-D effects. Embossed holograms are more rainbowlike in color—not fully lifelike. My immediate goal is to make embossed products as expressive as Lippmann holograms. I’m preparing to embark upon research to address the problems.”

  • *Virtuagram® is a trade name registered in the United States and Japan.
  • *DNP department names, product specifications and other details are correct only at the time of writing. They are subject to change without prior notice.

November 30, 2016 by DNP Features Editorial Department

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