On the Cover of the ‘Rolling Stone’

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:36 pm

National Graphics Inc. was swimming in a red ocean, crowded with competitors, vying for customers, using technology that was quickly becoming outdated. Don Krause, president of National Graphics, had founded the company in 1976 as a prepress color separation business for the printing industry.

The advent of computers and the quick advancement of technology put the prepress color separation industry in danger. The increasing demands of costly machinery and competitive pricing for customers led Krause to rethink the focus of his company.

In 1994, National Graphics dabbled in lenticular imaging, which is the creation of an optical illusion of a three-dimensional image on a flat surface.

At the time, the illusion was created by breaking multiple images into strips separated by black lines on a piece of paper and attaching the paper to a lenticular plastic with an adhesive. The black lines would block the visual of the second image so that an individual could move the product back and forth to see two different images.

Lenticular plastic is a clear plastic made up of small ridges that when scratched with a finger, resemble the feeling of corduroy. The lenses magnify the images and allow the eye to see multiple images at once, creating the 3-D illusion.

Krause saw promise in penetrating the lenticular market with the idea of mass production. Not only did National Graphics find a way to create lenticular images using a commercial printing press, the company set the standard in the industry with its innovations.

In 1994, National Graphics brought on a lenticular technician who came up with an idea to interlace the images on the paper instead of using strips, Krause said.

National Graphics realized that the more ridges in the lenticular plastic, the thinner it can be and the more images they could make from it.

In 1995, National Graphics developed the 75-line lens, which equals 75 lines per inch. The 75-line lens was thin enough to enable National Graphics to print an image onto the back of the plastic, instead of printing the image on paper and attaching it to the back of the plastic.

National Graphics did not seek a patent for the lens at the time, and the 75-line lens quickly became the industry standard.

National Graphics had created a product that would put the company into a "blue ocean," but the firm found itself back where it had started, concerned about competition and seeking to carve out a niche in the market, Krause said.

"We developed a number of innovations where we did not realize we needed a patent," Krause said. "We let the 75-line lens that we developed become an industry standard, but it allowed for the growth in the use of lenticular and its popularity."

In 1996, Krause decided that National Graphics would concentrate solely on lenticular imaging research and development.

"Lenticular has a draw because of its optical visual product, but we wanted to see what we could do with it as well," Krause said. "For us, more and more, the competition was to improve the process and reach into different market areas. It was more about our ability than our competition."

In 1997, National Graphics developed the 100-line lens. The enhancement of the 100-line lens from the 75-line lens thinned the plastic from 0.019 inches to 0.014 inches and added more ridges.

"It lowered the cost and increased the quality of imagery," Krause said.

The 100-line lens is now considered National Graphics’ workhorse lens.

The company can also offer more than just a 3-D illusion with its technology, but a line of different ways to use images, called Extreme Vision.

Extreme Vision allows customers to create images that morph from one picture to another similar picture, for instance from a shark to a spaceship; images that depict movement such as a person playing soccer; images that give the illusion of zooming in closer on the picture; and images that flip from one picture to another.

"We still feel we have the best process in the world, and it will stay that way because we have protected our imaging quality," Krause said.

National Graphics currently has 14 patents on its customized software and printing processes, with more pending, Krause said. The company is waiting for a patent to release spot lenticular, where customers save money by printing images on paper and placing lenticular where it is needed instead of printing a whole sheet of plastic.

In 2000, National Graphics developed the 200-line lens, called Crystal.

The development of the 200-line lens launched National Graphics into the packaging and labeling industry for the first time.

"And with the quality of imaging that the 200-line lens allows, we knew we could use it for brand identity," Krause said.

Bar codes can be read through Crystal. That was not possible with thicker lenses. Also, the flexibility of Crystal allows for it to be used on curved surfaces, without popping off, as packaging and as covers for books and magazines.

"Lenticular is beneficial because it enhances a product and drags consumers to the product," said Jane Boyd, director of sales for National Graphics.

National Graphics creates point-of-purchase items, including key chains, mouse pads, posters, puzzles, cups and calendars for the entertainment industry, and is currently testing injection molding lenticular imagery for cell phone covers and make-up cases.

"The first (marketing) products we did in lenticular were trading cards for snack packs, and in six weeks the company’s sales increased by 80 percent," Boyd said.

National Graphics recently announced that it is working with "Rolling Stone" magazine to create the front and back cover of its 1,000th issue in lenticular.

Rolling Stone will release 2 million copies in the United Staes as a limited edition in May.

Earlier this year, National Graphics did the same for Detroit Magazine as a limited edition for Super Bowl XL.

As the company grows in clientele, National Graphics continues to develop its brand and its technology. With the patents pending and received, National Graphics is swimming in a blue ocean of success.

"We are still working to update our software and are constantly researching and improving our tools as well as creating new ones," Boyd said. "We have new technologies that when they come out will revolutionize the industry."


Editor’s note: In this special report, Small Business Times is exploring

how southeastern Wisconsin companies are enacting "Blue Ocean Strategies" to grow their businesses. See page 9 for more information.

Go Blue!

National Graphics Inc.

Location: 4065 N. Calhoun Road, Brookfield

Industry: Lenticular Imaging

Leadership: Don Krause, president

Employees: 20

Blue Ocean Strategies:

• National Graphics holds 14 patents for innovations it has made in the lenticular imaging industry, including:

– Molded articles having a surface bearing lenticular image.

– Multi-dimensional imaging on a curved surface using lenticular lenses.

– High-definition lenticular lens.

– Lenticular lens with multidimensional display having special effects layer.

– Method of producing a multidimensional composite image.

– Lenticular lens pattern-forming device for producing a web roll of lenticular lens.

– Selectively formed lenticular images.

– Method for forming a graphic image web.

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