3D Technology for Package Visualization

This is an example of writing I’ve done for Brand-Directions.

During the recent Best of Food Packaging show in Minneapolis, Wynn Wiksell from General Mills showed an interesting example of consumers moving to online purchasing. South Korean commuters, too busy to go grocery shopping, are able to examine life-size prints of store shelves and purchase items with their smart phones while waiting for trains. While new technology and novel ideas like this provide a clear benefit to consumers, it creates a huge challenge for manufacturers, retailers and package designers.

Part of the shopping experience in a real store is picking up a product to examine it from different angles. While the front of a package is most important, the other sides factor into a shopper’s decision too. Because of this, the package engineering and artwork is done with every angle in mind. Package design has always been a three dimensional concept. But how does an online consumer pick up and examine a virtual product?

The most visually appealing and widest available method for displaying something from multiple viewpoints is video. All browsers and smart phone platforms have several ways to display video. Video graphics can be as crisp as your bandwidth can handle. But there is a huge drawback. While flashy, video content isn’t very interactive. You can play and stop an animation but that’s it. Consumers can’t choose their own camera angles.

What is needed is a way for consumers to interactively spin 3D models around at will. While several options exist for package designers to create 3D content, there is no standard way for everyday consumers to view it online.

Every computer, and even many phones, have graphics cards with the ability to display 3D content. But after decades of trying, there is still no standard for harnessing that ability. Several different 3D technologies have tried and failed to gain wide acceptance online. One of the most promising 3D viewers of the last decade was Papervision3D. Unfortunately, it runs inside Flash and is experiencing the same slow death.

Currently, one of the most common methods for viewing 3D content is through PDF files. Adobe added rudimentary 3D capabilities to Acrobat Reader years ago. Since Acrobat is so ubiquitous, it has proven a popular way to show off products in three dimensions among professionals. You can download a 3D PDF created by Directions Marketing here. For the 3D content to work properly you’ll need to download the PDF to your computer and open it with a newer version of Adobe Acrobat.

As great as PDF’s are, they have drawbacks. Acrobat still can’t view 3D files on most mobile devices. On computers, Acrobat is limited to the power of the users graphics card. 3D models usually have to be dummed-down so they work smoothly. Even on a powerful computer the graphics still don’t compete with a low-end video game. 3D PDF’s won’t work in a browser so they have to be downloaded to your computer.

So, where does this leave manufacturers, retailers and product designers? We’re all waiting for technology to catch up with itself and a clear 3D standard to be established. The means to create and view 3D content has existed for decades. The problem is that the internet is still in its infancy. While amazing things happen online, the web is still a soup of different technologies that don’t always cooperate with each other. Just getting major browsers to agree on how they display regular old text is an ongoing issue.

When the technology is available to consumers, Directions Marketing will be ready. Over its 60 year history, Directions has quickly adopted new technology and recruited experts to deliver top quality package design. We regularly use 3D illustration, animation and 3D PDFs to communicate with large CPG clients. Contact us today to see how we can help you.