Abraxas’ enigma in a print ad

SAB Miller’s Abraxas print ad has created magic with simple means. The interactive ad created by Wunderman Phantasia Peru asks users to turn on the LED light of their smart phones and run it behind what looks like a solid black page in ‘Lima’ magazine.

SAB Miller’s Abraxas print ad has created magic with simple means. The interactive ad created by Wunderman Phantasia Peru asks users to turn on the LED light of their smart phones and run it behind what looks like a solid black page in ‘Lima’ magazine. Text and a logo that seem to be written in golden magic ink appear, inviting the viewer to solve life’s enigmas, including the one of the mysterious Abraxas print ad.

In keeping with the secretive mood, Wunderman Phantasia Peru didn’t respond to requests about more information regarding the printing process. Since the ad has been admired for its creativity as well as for its interactivity without requiring special apps or QR codes, we are going to describe a possible way the effect may have been achieved.

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It seems likely that the ad was printed with two different kinds of inks, one containing pigments and one containing dyes. Since pigments are solid opaque particles suspended in ink to provide color, they don’t let light shine through. The particles reflect the light, providing an effective barrier and thus creating the impression of a solid color surface or – in special cases, an impenetrable black page.

Dye-based inks consist of dyes solved in liquid. Other than the opaque pigments, dyes are translucent to a certain degree. The Abraxas ad could have taken advantage of the different properties of the inks using pigment-based ink for the solid black parts and dye-based ink for the text and logo that become visible when the smart phone’s LED light illuminates the page from behind. Even though I wasn’t able to obtain a copy of the magazine from Peru to verify my assumption, I would think that the page on the back of the ad was left blank so that the light would only make the text and logo visible without interference from other printed text.

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Using different inks is one way to create surprising effects in a print ad with the help of a smartphone’s LED light. A slightly different approach takes advantage of metamerism, even though it doesn’t seem likely that the Abraxas ad has used it in its ad. Metamarism describes the effect of colors that look the same to the human eye but have different spectral power distributions.

Since the human eye only contains three different color receptors, also known as cones, they create color perception by interpreting the cumulative effects from a broad range of wavelengths. To make matters more interesting, the perception of color can change when different sources of light illuminate a printed page with metameric color matches. One well-known effect is the difference in the appearance of color under fluorescent and natural light. While no example in advertising came to mind immediately, the effect is sometimes used in security printing.

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When metameric pairs of colors are printed in a logo, for example, only part of the logo is visible when viewed through a filter. This authenticates the logo. When the page is color copied, the effect is lost. This provides a clear mechanism to identify the original document and possible fraudulent copies.

Using different properties of inks and colors in creative ways has a long tradition in print advertising. Combined with mobile devices, stunning effects can be created and we can’t wait to see who is going to surprise us next.