Bringing 360-Degree Photography to Life
Brian Lukis and Matt Hartloff, friends from St. Louis Park, Minn., knew they were on to something. While working together at an injection molding company, Hartloff had developed a spherical structure that could be easily assembled and disassembled. Lukis, who is also a 360-degree photographer, said, “what if we printed a 360-degree photo on there?”
In 2017, they founded Snapspheres.com, offering spheres custom printed with 360-degree photos. “People have really responded to our product. If you can print on the entire surface of a sphere, you can create a tangible experience of a 360-degree image,” he says. “It’s been really fun to see the reactions.”
To bring their spheres to life, the duo invested in a Roland (Booth 4616) VersaUV LEF benchtop UV flatbed printer. “We needed to be able to print accurately on a domed surface,” says Hartloff. “The LEF is perfect for our production. It accommodates the curve of the tiles, and the bed fits all of the 32 tiles required for one sphere. Plus, the print quality is fantastic.”
Snapsphere’s design is created from injection molded polycarbonate tiles that are individually printed, then assembled with magnets to form a seven-inch sphere. “Polycarbonate is one of the more durable plastics, so it’s safe and doesn’t shatter,” says Lukis. “The first thing kids want to do with the spheres is play egg toss, so it’s fortunate that Roland’s UV inks can take a beating.”
To create the images, Snapspheres first lays down white ink, then prints the image, then adds a thick layer of gloss. “The gloss brings out the vibrancy of the colors — the images really pop,” says Lukis.
When composing a 360-degree image, “it’s important to remember to fill the vertical space so your sphere isn’t half blue sky,” notes Lukis. “As the cost of 360-degree cameras have come down, we’ve seen some great images from both amateur and professional photographers.” Customers can upload an image, preview it on the sphere, and order using the Snapsphere 360 Previewer app.
Among Lukis’ favorite spheres is one created by having the members of a volleyball team stand in a circle with arms in the air in their volleyball poses. “It’s a unique gift and allows people to hold the image and see it, literally, from all sides,” he says.
Eventually, the pair will begin manufacturing other designs, like planets. “With the LEF, we can stack up the gloss layers to create a relief map of features like mountains,” says Hartloff.
“The finished sphere is a real head-turner. People who take 360-degree photos are amazed that they have a way to hold them and look at them over and over again,” says Lukis.