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Software developed in Heriot-Watt Texture Laboratory is vital to the production of over 200 million IKEA catalogues every year, for more than 40 countries worldwide.

When retailers create images for sales catalogues and web pages it is not always practical to use photographs of the final product. Where a product is available in many colours and finishes, it may not be cost-effective to produce photographs that show customers every possible variation. Using a virtual image featuring a three-dimensional (3D) model of a product solves this problem, while allowing catalogues to be put together well in advance, before new designs go into full production.

This is very important software for IKEA Communications... it has completely transformed the way in which we produce both traditional and digital content.
Anton Berg, 3D Specialist, Ikea Communications

A typical IKEA catalogue image of a lounge, for example, is a computer-generated image (CGI), created via access to a library of captured 3D textures. Producing a photorealistic version of each item requires precise attention to detail. Designers and artists must both generate an accurate 3D scale model and achieve a convincing surface finish in a wide variety of materials. Capturing 3D textures in a way that is fast and accurate is therefore essential.

IKEA investigated commercially available ways of achieving this (such as 3D laser scanners) but were unable to find a satisfactory solution. The company then approached Heriot-Watt’s Prof Mike Chantler of the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, an expert in the digitisation and presentation of surface textures. Long-term work led by Prof Chantler in Heriot-Watt’s Texture Laboratory on developing techniques to capture 3D surfaces via stereo scanning had achieved the capability IKEA was looking for.

In 2007 the Texture Laboratory installed its system at IKEA Communications, Sweden. Since then it has been used continually to amass a digital library of over 5,000 materials for generating sales imagery.

IKEA’s decision to seek Heriot-Watt expertise has helped put the company at the forefront of companies using CGI to optimise homeware marketing.