The case for print: it’s personal, beautiful and useful

Carolyn McMaster | July 1, 2014


It may be heresy in sustainability circles, but I’d like to make the case for printed materials. Specifically, well-designed, lovingly crafted pieces. Digital has many plusses, but printed marketing collateral has its own advantages.

With so much marketing being done online, printed materials can make your brand stand out—and if they’re useful and attractive, rather than vanishing into a digital folder, they may be kept on a desk or table in plain sight.

Print material will reach a portion of your audience that online promotions won’t tap—the people you encounter in face-to-face situations. The most obvious example of this is handing out a postcard at a conference or trade show. In these situations printed materials can give vital support to online campaigns, sending people to a website or app via a QR code or URL.

Print gives you better control over design (think color and fonts). And it conveys brand attributes in subtle ways via choice of paper (rough texture or glossy, heavy weight or thin), use of techniques such as die cuts and letterpress, and format (standard-size bound report or small booklet).

And print is not just postcards, sales sheets or reports. Examples of unusual printed collateral from the last Print magazine Regional Design Annual include posters, wrapping paper, matchboxes, boxes, beer mats, notecards and blank books. Items like these will keep your brand in sight for a long time. If you’ve invested in designing a beautiful infographic, why not print it as a small poster? It might even make lovely wrapping paper, if that’s appropriate for your brand. And because such items are useful, they are not likely to be perceived as wasteful to the environmentally conscious crowd.

People typically assume that paper has a bigger environmental impact than pixels, but that may not always be the case (see this study). And there are lots of ways to reduce the impact of print pieces. You can get very nice paper composed of 100 percent post-consumer waste (PCW), and there are many more options that use recycled paper made from waste scraps, alone or in combination with PCW or virgin paper. Vegetable-based inks and papermaking processes that don’t use harmful chemicals or bleach are now commonplace.

Yes, digital media are more sharable than print (at least, in an online, Facebook-and-Twitter sort of way). And printing does add to cost. But don’t rule out print for those reasons alone—there are many advantages to brand materials that exist in a physical form.

PS – If anyone has seen credible research on which is less bad, print or digital, I’m dying to know.


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