Augmented Reality: ready to be unleashed on the online print industry?


It provides more information and specific access to relevant content – does the link between print and digital using Augmented Reality also harbor potential for the online print industry?

Augmented Reality also works in conjunction with print, as has already been demonstrated by the use of AR in periodicals and other areas. Here possible applications range from specifically accessible further information via easier web searches using AR to direct ordering options. It’s just that I have not yet come across a workable digital enhancement in the online print sector. So my team and I went in search of current AR applications that provide meaningful linkups with online print products and that therefore harbor future potential. On delving deeper we found a couple of existing options, which I should now like to share with interested beyond-print readers.

What does my (print) product look like in situ? Inkjet has made printing customized interior decor and fashion plain sailing, and there is now a range of options for design-it-yourself-online print products from this segment. So why not try out the AR link and view the shower curtain you designed yourself on the basis of photos in a bathroom setting. Ikea has been successfully doing that for years by projecting items of furniture as shown in its print catalogs into the desired environment – but only within the framework of given configuration options. So it does work – and there is demand for such as service, in fact demand is huge. Paris-based start-up Smartpixels, which was established in 2015, has gone down a similar route. Technology specialist Smartpixels already provides product presentation solutions, based on video mapping and Augmented Reality in a bricks-and-mortar retail environment, to several well-known companies enabling them to deliver a mass customization experience prior to actual production.

Hologram-based product customization in the Nike Store on the Champs-Elysées; Source:

The example of the Nike Store on the Champs-Élysées illustrates the benefits of AR in customizable product terms. The customer gets the opportunity to design the shoe they require (laces, logo color, tongue color etc.) on a tablet at an easy-to use terminal. The design is projected holographically on to the white shoe in realtime. The customer immediately experiences what their own specifications look like on the “real” product. If the customer likes the design, they can place the order there and then via the tablet – and if not, they can try out other designs. That’s all well and good, but where does print enter into the scheme of things? The use of hologram technology in connection with product customization is not absolutely new, but greater attention should be paid to this issue, particularly in textile print. Possible application sites include, for example, the local stores operated by online print providers that offer 3D and premium-price print products, and above all in single-item batches. Local advice, ordering and collection are therefore becoming more attractive options alongside ever improving 3D visualization in providers’ own online editors, because customers can undertake product design themselves.

From the book to the heart of the game with the aid of Augmented Reality; Source: Wawa Technologies

I recently demonstrated in this blog that customizable print products really do appeal to younger readers and observers, using print-on-demand children’s books as an example. And in this regard AR definitely provides promising print enhancement potential. The Ecuadorian start-up The Wawa won several national and international awards in 2015 and 2016 for its technology innovations and it takes children’s books to another level using AR. The key to this is interactivity and the ability to experience based on a premium-quality children’s book. Every double page in the print template forms a large tracking master with integrated games and exercises – it has everything from having fun learning math to “identifying vegetables”. What’s also special about this is that the digital content is matched to the age of the child, which is selected via an app.  If this was applied to existing print offerings from the European market, a digital enhancement of this kind would create more customization options, if the print template is initially designed and usage then allows for further customization.

“If applied properly, print can definitely take advantage of this means of enhancement by applying digital and interactive elements. But – as is so often the case – the following applies: don’t overload things, otherwise the appeal is gone.” – Bernd Zipper

Behind the name of the Australian AR provider EyeJack is an app as well as a platform that curates modern, augmented art. This involves printed works of art provided by more than 40 affiliated international artists and augmented with digital content. You can (still) tell from the website that the portfolio is not yet complete. In my opinion the low quantity of product does not diminish the concept in any way. That’s because the design of the platform is very appealing, which makes it eminently suitable not just for online retailing but also for “genuine” exhibitions. In addition to posters, EyeJack also currently provides this augmentation service for two loose-leaf binders and a bound book that allows animations to be generated on every printed page via the app.

A small selection from Eyejack’s portfolio of print/AR artists; Source:

At roughly the equivalent of 20 Euros, not including shipping, these “augmented” posters are reasonably priced, which definitely makes this an interesting proposition for print applications in the European online print market. So products don’t have to be so much more expensive merely because they have had AR added to them, although that also depends on development costs, of course. What is also interesting to note is that the company wants to add stickers and t-shirts to its selection of available products – all very familiar to the online print industry.

My take: my intention here is not to extol Augmented Reality as the Holy Grail of the print-digital combo. And Augmented Reality is certainly not going to fuel the bread-and-butter business of every online print provider. Augmented Reality – assuming adequate product maturity and reasonable costs – definitely gives some print providers another and to some extent thoroughly valuable string to their personalization bow. But the “simulation” of haptic effects, which as we all know is always an issue with virtual products, could be backed up by AR. And even in terms of cross-media, digital enhancement of digital products, regularly thinking outside the box can make sense, especially if print-on-demand products are involved. But nobody yet knows exactly what effects AR can trigger in customers’ minds, when “their own” products are involved. The online print industry urgently requires a pioneer, who is willing to try this out.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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