Augmented Reality: Extending the Value of Print

Marketers are always looking for ways to get more from their print budgets. Historically, printers have responded through the use of customized print and, more recently, with quick response (QR) codes. But what if there were a way to actually interact with print using 3-D modeling, video and audio clips, or virtually any kind of multimedia experience you can dream of? The technology exists today, and it’s called augmented reality.

Augmented reality (AR) overlays real life with relevant, computer-generated information. An example of augmented reality we are all familiar with is how it is used when watching a football game on television. Current game information (yards to first down, player information, time remaining, etc.) is superimposed over the actual live game play, providing up-to-the-second information. Using this example, we can see how AR is used to enhance a person’s understanding of what they are currently viewing.

When AR is integrated with print, it can link the consumer to online, relevant content or offers. Combining print with an AR scene is typically accomplished by using a marker. A marker is a specialized barcode that is mapped and linked to the digital AR scene. The marker is the “trigger” that is placed in front of a smartphone camera or webcam where an AR software application is installed. It is this marker that retrieves the data via an application or Internet connection and becomes the reference point for the AR scene that is displayed on the monitor or smartphone. Print can also be mapped to an AR scene without the use of a marker; referred to as markerless tracking. Markerless tracking uses the unique shapes of the printed content on a page as the reference point in an AR scene.


Creating an engaging AR experience

There are a few key points to creating a successful AR campaign. First, the AR experience must be easy to use—not just from an interactive standpoint, but also from a technology standpoint. AR generally requires an additional software application or plug-in. If it’s not easy to find and install, it won’t be used. Second, the experience has to be stimulating. This is the “wow” factor associated with AR. Both visually and physically, AR is an opportunity to connect deeply with the emotions of the consumer. It’s the connection that helps sell the product or service.

Finally, an AR experience should have a social aspect. This is where the users can share the experience with others easily.



All of this discussion begs the question: Will augmented reality continue to gain momentum? With real-life applications, it absolutely will. This is already a reality (no pun intended) with our smartphones. For example, applications such as Yelp superimpose digital information using GPS markers to display reviews and help us find local restaurants.

Will it gain momentum in print? With some markets, it probably will. There are limitations with practicality of the technology. You wouldn’t hold a magazine up to a webcam for very long periods of time, unless it’s a nifty advertisement.

Just as with QR codes, the key to augmented reality is our smartphones. We always have them with us or close by. Using them with printed material to create an experience is where AR is useful and really extends the value of the printed page. And for marketers and publishers, it’s a real bonus if they can get potential customers to participate in the advertisements or purchase a publication.

Excerpted from the May 2011 issue of Printing Industries of America The Magazine.