Dynamic See-Through Display Technology Sheds Light on Sign Industry

University of Cincinnati College of Engineering researcher Jason Heikenfeld has started a quiet revolution in active and electronic signage. Using screen printing inks and existing light sources, Heikenfeld brings an affordable product to the sign industry with the 21st century version of the neon light — what liquid crystal display (LCD) can’t do. Transitions Digital Graphics provides a new advertising display system to existing display manufacturers.

The College of Engineering patented technology is called “Light Wave Coupling,” developed at UC by electrical engineering faculty members Heikenfeld and Andrew Steckl. They licensed it to a California-based company, Transitions Digital Graphics (TDG), who have now trademarked it under the name of “The Transitions Effect.™” The Transitions Effect™ Display System is a patented edge-lit technology that uses invisible ink to achieve bright multi-layer full color images.

“Our product will compete between traditional single image light boxes and active displays such as LCD or plasma screens,” says Erick Couch, TDG technology director. “Instead of one static image, three images can transition in the same advertising space for a cost close to that of a single image system.”

“It’s the only way right now, period, to start targeting active signage in a way that’s really eye catching,” says UC’s Heikenfeld. “Andrew Steckl and I started working on it together to make something almost as transparent as a window pane and put a full-color image on it. It does two things: you have a different type of advertising with entirely higher aesthetics. So, for example, it’s not a Starbucks sign hanging in a window — it’s a Starbucks sign that actually morphs into a window. And you can actually partially see people on the other side, too. It’s a big thing in modern architecture to have window transparency — that’s very important.

Early two-photo prototype developed by UC.

Early two-photo prototype developed by UC.

“The other thing that’s an advantage is that if you have one layer that can go transparent to full-color image,” Heikenfeld continues. “Then of course you can stack two or three of them and you can cycle through them.”
“TDG has demonstrated it to both media and industry people, who are very excited about the new technology,” says Couch. “In a nutshell, it is a novel transparent and emissive signage technology/product. This is absolutely one of the most unusual and eye-catching new options available for signage use.”

The new technology will be demonstrated Thursday morning in Cincinnati:

WHEN: Thursday, March 19, 8:30 a.m., ending approximately at 9:30 a.m.

WHERE: The American Sign Museum, 2515 Essex Place Cincinnati, Ohio 45206, (513) 258-4020

WHAT: A dynamic demonstration of the latest in sign technology, a joint presentation by Transitions Digital Graphics and the University of Cincinnati, followed by Q&A with both TDG and UC experts.

Technical Details

Jason Heikenfeld with student Linlin Hou, 3rd yr PhD candidae in ECE dept.

Jason Heikenfeld with student Linlin Hou, doctoral candidate.

The Transitions Effect™ is a new low-cost means to inject motion into advertising in place of conventional light boxes. This technology enables edge-lit displays to be printed using proprietary inks that are invisible under normal light. When subjected to ultraviolet light, these inks become visible. This allows stacking of multiple images, then selectively turning them on and off to produce eye catching effects.

  • >

85% transparency (It looks like a panel of glass when turned off.)

  • Unlimited color gamut 
  • Very high brightness/self-emissive (night or sunlight viewable)
  • Very high efficiency (comparable to light box)
  • thin (<1/4") and stackable for “morphing” of multiple images 
  • $1–2/sq. ft. up-front materials and component cost 
  • <<1$ / sq. ft. for new content Compatible with existing screen or solvent-ink-jet printing 
  • Curved or flexible formats 
  • Small to large panels possible
  • “The fundamental scientific challenges have long been solved,” Couch says. “Over the last four years, Transitions has conquered the technical and business challenges of translating this technology from the laboratory into a commercial product.”

    “We recognize our best role to be that of an enabler for a network of established display manufacturers, each who have their existing clientele with whom they are eager to show new technology,” Couch adds. “Our conversations with industry experts support this business model. We will authorize, train, enable and supply while developing the brand and evolving the product line.”

    About Jason Heikenfeld
    During 2001–2005 Heikenfeld co-founded and served as principal scientist at Extreme Photonix Corp. In 2005 he joined the University of Cincinnati as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Computer Science (now the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering). Heikenfeld's university laboratory, the Novel Devices Laboratory, is currently engaged in multi-disciplinary research paths spanning photonics, nanoscale structures, electrowetting and biomedical devices. He has authored and c-authored more than 100 publications in refereed journals, industry magazines and conference proceedings, as well as a book chapter. He is an inventor on several granted and/or pending U.S. patents.

    About Transitions Digital Graphics
    Transitions Digital Graphics, LLC, has translated the University of Cincinnati's fundamental innovation into a production ready system. TDG introduces the Transitions Effect™ Advertising Display System, a patented edge-lit technology using invisible ink to achieve bright, multi-layer, full-color images. TDG authorizes, trains and supplies a select number of producers while growing the Transitions Effect™ brand and evolving the product line. TDG has developed production inks, films and electronics. Completing a product involves conventional printing and assembly processes Transitions is the exclusive licensee of this unique technology.

    About the American Sign Museum
    The American Sign Museum, a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, was founded by Tod Swormstedt, former editor and publisher of Signs of the Times magazine. It began as an idea, with no collection. It has grown to boast a collection of more than 3,000 cataloged objects, with new acquisitions arriving every month. The museum’s mission is to inform and educate the general public, as well as business and special interest groups, about the history of the sign industry and its significant contribution to commerce and the American landscape. Museum will be open regular hours on Saturday from 10:00 am - 4:00 pm.  For all other times, call for an appointment.

    Directions to the American Sign Museum from the University of Cincinnati:
    From Martin Luther King Boulevard, go south on Reading Road.
    Turn left on Minnesota and right on Essex (which is a one-way street).
    Parking is available in the lots on either side of the street.

    Related News
    3/23/2009 Signs of Things to Come
    In the home of the history of signs, the University of Cincinnati and Transitions Digital Graphics unveiled the future of sign technology.

    2/23/2009 UC’s Strength Draws the Generosity of Business Owners
    Minnesota couple with no previous relationship to UC decides to donate $4 million to endow chairs in two colleges.

    2/20/2009  Statehouse Showcase: UC Displays Research Aimed at Helping Ohio’s Economy
    State leaders took a hands-on approach to learning about UC research during a Feb. 18 showcase of university projects that have already proven – or hold strong promise for – helping Ohio’s economy.

    12/10/2007 Signs Point to a Major Gift for UC
    UC College of Business receives $2 million gift to establish a professorship of signage and visual marketing.

    4/2/2007 UC Engineering Research Widens Possibilities for Electronic Devices
    NSF-funded engineering research on microfluidics at the University of Cincinnati widens the possibilities on the horizon for electronic devices.


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