Signs of Things to Come in Display Technology

“The history of signs is a mini-history of technology,” Tod Swormstedt, founder of the American Sign Museum, told the gathered audience. He then provided an overview of sign materials, from plain housepaint and lettering enamel to lightbulbs and neon — “the one technology targeted to the sign industry,” as Swormstedt described it. The “plastic era” of the late 1940s to early 1980s gave way to the CAD/CAM (computer-aided design and manufacturing) era and finally the inkjet technology of the 1990s. Not since neon, though, had an innovation been so specialized for the sign and design industry as what was about to be unveiled.

University of Cincinnati Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering Jason Heikenfeld described the inspiration for what he and fellow researcher Andrew Steckl called “Light Wave Coupling” — through working with what they termed ‘lumophores,’ they looked at ways to create more color using clear platforms of plastic, glass or vinyl and pumping “a bunch of light into it,” Heikenfeld explained.

Jason Heikenfeld presents his sign technology at the sign museum at the essex studios

Assistant Professor Jason Heikenfeld.

“What we got was 10 times more efficient than a liquid crystal display,” Heikenfeld said, demonstrating an early two-screen prototype. “We looked at the cost for something that could be applied inexpensively and in the ‘off’ state could go transparent.”

“Then, like all good technology, you have to tech transfer to industry,” he added, “so I’m going to transfer this part of the presentation to Transitions Digital Graphics.”

Erick Couch, president and technology director of Transitions Digital Graphics then unveiled the “Transitions Effect,™” a novel transparent and emissive signage technology/product, a major innovation and entirely new medium for architectural design. The Transitions Effect™ Display System is a patented edge-lit technology that uses invisible ink to achieve bright multi-layer full color images.

Jason Heikenfeld presents his sign technology at the sign museum at the essex studios

Transitions President Couch unveils Nippert Stadium panel.

Couch demonstrated many sign panels, each containing three screens that alternated, including two curved displays, “what really differentiates us from the flat-panel display market,” Couch noted.

“With controlled electronics, you can also turn more than one panel on at once,” Couch added.

Couch thanked the University of Cincinnati for its development of and collaboration on the technology, noting also that Heikenfeld’s research lab, as well as UC’s Intellectual Property Office, had been an incredible asset for Transitions Digital Graphics.

Both Couch and Transitions Digital Graphics founder Andrew Bakaysza, as well as Jason Heikenfeld, entertained many questions after the grand unveiling.

Although James and Sharon Weinel, owners of Gemini, Inc., the largest producer of dimensional letters and logos in the world, were not able to attend the event, their presence was clearly felt. The Weinels were honored at the opening of the American Sign Museum with the "Founding Partner Award" for their substantial financial support that had enabled the design and construction of the exhibits and displays at the museum's Essex Studios site. The Weinels' generosity also endowed the James S. Womack/Gemini Chair of Signage and Visual Marketing in UC's College of Business and the Terence M. Fruth/Gemini Chair of Signage Design and Community Planning in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) at the University of Cincinnati. And as Transitions Digital Graphics and UC faculty from DAAP and the Colleges of Business and Engineering talked with industry representatives from around the country, it was clear that this demonstration was another sign of the Weinels' success. 

Technical Details
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.

Jason Heikenfeld presents his sign technology at the sign museum at the essex studios

Transitions Digital Graphics and University of Cincinnati make a great team.


  • >

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

  • Watch the Fox19 video of the unveiling.

    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 Dept. 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, 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. Transitions introduced the Transitions Effect™ Advertising Display System, a patented edge-lit technology using invisible ink to achieve bright, multi-layer, full-color images. Transitions authorizes, trains and supplies a select number of producers while growing the Transitions Effect™ brand and evolving the product line. 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. The museum is open regular hours on Saturdays from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.  For all other times, call for an appointment.

    Related News
    3/18/2009 Dynamic See-Through Display Technology Sheds Light on Sign Industry
    UC and Transitions Digital Graphics introduce a novel transparent and emissive signage technology/product, a major innovation and entirely new medium for architectural design.

    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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