It’s almost impossible to use the Internet today without coming across the grainy, looping images known as animated GIFs. Made popular by such websites as Tumblr and Imgur, GIFs have become a widespread alternative to photos or videos for capturing a particular moment that you want to see over and over, such as frantic Toronto Mayor Rob Ford flattening an unlucky woman. The oddball medium has also spurred a beautiful new community of GIF artists.
A new project by former Stamen designers Sha Hwang and Rachel Binx aims to take GIFs out of the native digital habitat and into the real world. Gifpop!, a custom greeting-card tool, smashed its Kickstarter funding goal in a single day, and last week the designers announced that they will soon be ready to print animated GIFs. “We are really interested in making bits of the Internet physical,” says Hwang. The Gifpop founders shouldn’t have been surprised by how fast the concept caught on—it’s hard to think of anyone who wouldn’t want this pug pushing a stroller hanging from their fridge.
The duo collaborated on a previous project called Meshu that prints 3D location information as jewelry; users input ZIP codes or addresses to create a series of lines forming a polygon, choose the material, and order away for it to be 3D printed elsewhere. In a similar vein, Gifpop will allow users to upload their own GIFs (or a Vine or Instagram video) through a web interface and choose 10 frames to be printed through an old technology known as lenticular printing. Finding a manufacturer that could print 10 frames (or more) was the most technologically challenging part.
Like those glorious holograms that mesmerized you as a kid (or still do, if you’re us), Gifpop cards use a similar technique involving more than two images to give the impression of motion. At the printer, the 10 frames from the uploaded GIF are sliced up, much as a paper shredder might do, and interlaced together. The printer lines up the lenticular sheet with the interlaced images, which creates the illusion of depth and motion when the image is viewed at different angles. “The facets and ridges of [the] sheet allow you to view each slice individually,” explains Hwang.
Gifpop prints at 60 LPI—lenses per inch—which means that there are 60 different facets to view through. The process looks something like this:
Gifpop isn’t some breakthrough technology—it’s just combining the best low-tech part of the web with another low-tech printing process—but the end result is quite incredible. “It’s a relatively old and relatively straightforward technology,” says Binx. “But the magic for us is that we get to see these GIFs out in the real world.”
Once the Gifpop website is completed, users will be able to order one-off cards ranging in price from $10 to $18 or subscribe for a six-month collection for around $12 per month. As for pieces made by GIF artists, Gifpop will be implementing a similar model to the online art site 20×200 that splits revenue with its artists. In the future, the founders plan to make bulk orders available for wedding invitations or business cards. What could be better than holiday cards featuring awkward family photos in animated form?