What is 3D Projection Mapping? - How It Works

What is 3D Projection Mapping? – How It Works

3D projection mapping, which is also known as video mapping or simply “projection mapping”, is the art and science of using physical spaces and objects as the surface for a projection, instead of a conventional screen. The end results is a visually striking, almost been “magical” effect that has to be seen to be fully experienced. Though the projection mapping has been popular in Europe many years now, it has only recently gained momentum in America, in part to high-visibility events including the Grammy Awards, and for big-name brands like Coca-Cola and Volkswagen.

But what does projection mapping mean to you? If you’re reading this now, you’re one step closer than most – you’ve heard about the buzz, or you saw an enormous display on the side of a building, and you wanted to learn more. Maybe you’ve even been thinking about to bring 3D projection mapping to your own company or project! In any case, we’re excited to share our experience with you on this. This is a very simple guide for you to understand the creative and technical considerations behind projection mapping,What is 3D Projection Mapping? - How It Works

Projection mapping uses a combination of four factors working in unison to create this visual experience, which we refer to as CPSM.

The Content (the visuals that are projected) Projection Hardware (the equipment that is doing the projecting) Surface (the physical space projected onto) Mapping (some technical aspects of conforming the projection onto the surface) Or, as a one-sentence description;

The content is projected onto the surface area, then mapped to fit perfectly.

Content Unlike regular video, the content for projection mapping must be in custom-made to fit the surface – like a tailored suit, it really only looks “right” on the one it was designed for. That said, the content can be anything you can even imagine – animation, video, branding, abstract, technical, surreal, and beyond.


Projection It goes without saying that most projection mapping couldn’t be done with a conference room projector. As projection mapping needs lots of light to create its effects, most of the ‘hard’ expenses for projection mapping end up in hardware.

There are two rough groups for projectors the “standard” and “large venue”. “Standard” projectors are similar to what you will likely to see in a board room or educational setting and work well for smaller surfaces, like product displays or entertaining guests. “Large venue” projectors is too much bigger, brighter, and require special power consideration – they cannot be plugged into a standard wall outlet. Events that require large venue projectors are commonly expansive in scope, as due to the nature of the projectors, additional support hardware such as truss and electrical generators are required.

Here is a rough guide for setting your expectations for projection hardware work, though keep in mind that the needs of every surface are different.

  • 5ft by 5ft product display – 1 standard projector.
  • Corporate event staging – 1-2 large venue projectors.
  • 3000 square foot wall – 2-3 large venue projectors.
  • 15 story skyscraper – 10-40 large venue projectors OR 2 top-end large venue projectors.

The surface is Very simply, the surface is the physical space or object you’re projecting onto. Almost anything* can become the surface for projection mapping given the right planning, and your surface dictates what kind of content will be created. It is common for a projection mapping display to utilize the architecture and contours of the surface, and for good reason – the effect is made more powerful by playing on a viewer’s sense of space and provides the ability to create illusions and tricks of light.

Surfaces that typically work seamlessly are light-coloured buildings and walls, staging for corporate events, cars and semi-trucks, sculpture, art, and trade show booths. Less effective are blank white wall, as there isn’t much mapping or conforming involved, and therefore the effect is been lessened. Advances in projection technology also have opened up avenues for highly unconventional surfaces, and displays can be created on speciality smoke, treated glass and plastic, water curtains, and fountain surfaces.

* The darker the surface for projection, the less effective the illusion – however, there are techniques to make even “difficult” surfaces work for projection mapping. Call us for details!

3D Projection Mapping is the technical side of conforming the projection to the surface. This is arguably one of the most challenging parts of the projection mapping experience, as pixel-perfect corrections (often less than a quarter-inch) through specialized software is required to properly match the surface. Mapping is also one of the most time-sensitive aspects of projection mapping, as the mapping team needs at least an extra rehearsal day to set up and craft the map.


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