What is augmented reality, and how does it work in print?

AR-sample3Often, the perception of print is that it’s static – that it just gives you a single message – or maybe several messages – over a fixed media, and then, well, that’s it.  Oh, sure, you can liven up the message with personalized print, or images that can be selected based on a recipient’s tastes (BMW vs. Mercedes, large estate vs. cozy beach cottage), and that might get a recipient’s attention. But how do you really hold on to the recipient’s attention?

Several years ago, the Quick Reference, or QR Code, came into existence. It has not proven to be a great tool here in the USA, but in Japan, it’s a major source of imparting information to consumers. It does require users to load an app on their devices to read it, and usually it ends up taking the user to a website, landing page, or even just a simple v-card. Frankly, that’s not too exciting, and because QR Code reading apps are not pre-loaded on smartphones or tablets, it really hasn’t taken off.

Augmented Reality (AR) has become more common in the last few years, and rightly so. While a QR can be scanned and provide information, which is good in the retail or data sharing model, if you wish to stand out, or share a message, AR can provide a dynamic medium for that purpose. So, let’s take a look at how you can blend AR and print together.


maxresdefaultNow, before you think it’s a brand new show on The Bravo Channel to go along with the “Real Housewives” franchise, AR is defined as “a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view”, or in this case, print. With an AR app on your device, you can hover over a printed page, and it will fire up a video. Different than a QR code, which you can continue watching as you leave the printed page, AR will only play as the app continues to scan the given page. For a more detailed explanation, let’s look at this concise entery from whatis.techtarget.com:

Augmented reality (AR) is the integration of digital information with live video or the user’s environment in real time. Basically, AR takes an existing picture and blends new information into it. One of the first commercial applications of AR technology is the yellow first downline in televised football games. 

The key to augmented reality is the software. Augmented reality programs are written in special 3D augmented reality programs such as D’Fusion,  Unifye Viewer or FLARToolKit.  These programs allow the developer to tie animation or contextual digital information in the computer program to an augmented reality “marker” in the real world. 

The end user must download a software application or browser plug-in in order to experience augmented reality. Most AR applications are built in Flash or Shockwave and require a webcam program to deliver the information in the marker to the computer. The marker, which is sometimes called a target, might be a barcode or simple series of geometric shapes. When the computer’s AR app or browser plug-in receives the digital information contained in the marker, it begins to execute the code for the augmented reality program. 

So, now that we know what it is and basically how it works….


The application is simple, even if the execution is not. Let’s take a look at some of them:

  • Residential real estate – short video intro by the agent promoting the home as shownCentral-Fla.-Magazine-Augmented-Reality on the mailer or brochure.
  • Automotive – a short video giving the viewer highlights of the vehicle, or the model advertised.
  • Retail – a video highlighting limited time offers.
  • Med/Pharma – an introduction of the drug or medical-related product, such as a knee brace or new cholesterol prescription.
  • Movies, TV – a clip from an upcoming show or movie.
  • Casinos – brief video of various games with people winning.

As you can see, there are several uses for AR in print as a means of promoting products or services. For a very dynamic presentation of AR, check out this post from my print bud Christine Alexander at her blog, dreaming in cmyk.

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About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at www.ricreativemag.com
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