Augmented Reality Can’t Touch This…or Can It?

There is a lot of talk about Augmented Reality (AR) and the opportunity it can be for printing firms. I happen to agree with it’s potential and feel it is worthwhile to look into. For those unfamiliar with Augmented Reality, I suggest you read its definition on Wikipedia.

It is important to note that AR has many applications and print is just one way it can be used. Other ways such as using the camera on your phone to view the areas around you with something akin to an overlying grid of data about the buildings and places being seen. Another could be distance meeting spaces where people from all over the world meet in a real and virtual space. Imagine, if you will, three people in a room and six seats. Occupying the other three seats are people from various locations such as the next town over or the other side of the world. These three people are sitting at their desks with their computer camera capturing their image and displaying it in 3D on the seats at the conference table. This happens already in Virtual Worlds and AR is a similar technology in many ways.

To start your mind working on how printing and AR can be blended I invite you to view this video made in 2007. It describes how books and AR can be blended into an interactive experience

Barb Pellow ( has been writing some outstanding articles about AR that shares many insights into how printing and AR are already being used. Google this phrase ( “Barb Pellow” “Augmented Reality” ) to find the articles.

A recent example of AR and print being blended is found in the latest edition of Esquire magazine. Please mind my limited video creation abilities. As you can tell, print is the distribution process and the interactive elements were created using computer graphics and video. I think Esquire produced a very good example of the capabilities in blending AR and print.

Looking at print as the distribution and awareness vehicle for a moment, it is very compelling to me. An area where it can be helpful is finding specific data. I am the proud owner of an iPhone and love the applications that I have. One of the biggest drawbacks is the sheer quantity of applications to choose from. In fact, it limits my ability to enjoy them as searching through the growing list and finding quality ones takes a lot of time.

Printing has a strong opportunity with firms sending direct mail pieces that announce specific applications to their targeted databases. Adding clever AR to the printed pieces can not just alert, but help explain and demonstrate the application. So in this case, it helps bring awareness and credibility to the application in a sea of noise and confusion.

Per the first video in this post, books—and especially children’s books—will be one of the first areas where we see things start to happen. I happen to have an 18-month-old son and 4-year-old daughter and they made great test subjects for this post. The following video shows my daughter and friends watching “Story Time,” a book-reading event during a local Winter Fest we attended.

This is an area that AR could have an amazing effect upon the children. Image if the books all sprang to life and the woman reading the story grew from being just the reader to the conductor of the experience. However, there is a solid argument here, that books are not needed at all and you can produce the same effect with computers and LCD monitors. This is very similar to the changes happening to your local Libraries. Here is a recent article from the Boston Globe about a school changing its library. There are merits to the argument and ones we all need to understand very well as we navigate through the changing media landscape.

Now before you all find and kill me for suggesting the bookless library has merit, let me share what I think is a key element to printing and AR. The concept brings in more of the human senses and those are touch and feel. To date I have only seen print and AR interact with sight and sound, which are exactly what computers do. This leads me to my last video, one with my 18 month old son. It shows how he interacts with a book.

As you can see, he has a printed book without an AR element. What it does have are things to interact with—to move, to uncover, to feel. Having these elements built into books teaches children things like how the physical world works and what a lions fur feels like without having a live and potential fatal encounter with said lion.

Imagine how a book like the one in the video could behave when it has AR elements. When the child opens a panel, the scene changes as if a door were open. When they see a scene where tires are being made, they feel what rubber feels like. They experience things and have additional context to build their understanding of what it is to do that action or be in that situation. It is a very powerful and compelling combination that I do not see matched with just a computer or just a book.

To wrap this up, yes, there is opportunity for printers here. The opportunities are still being uncovered, but it is easy to see the book market taking advantage of AR. But, as you look deeper you see magazines, advertising, selling apps, trade show displays, cereal boxes and more all have strong potential for this technology. Bringing in the power of the physical world, like the ability to touch and feel, gives print a very powerful place in this emerging market.

Brian Regan, President of Semper International, was born with ink in his veins, running everything in his family’s small printing company from prepress to finishing. Brian helped finance his degree from the Musicians Institute in Los Angeles and his struggling music career by running a printing press, ultimately becoming a pressroom supervisor.  In 1996, he joined PressTemps (Then PrintStaff now Semper International, the leading placement firm for temporary, temp-to-hire and direct hire help in the graphic arts and printing industry), overseeing West Coast operations. Brian moved to Boston as Chief Operating Officer managing the recruitment process, overseeing hiring and training, skills testing, and conducting statistical analyses to measure success. He also helps manage the company’s sister company,, the industry’s leading job board. Brian has been a speaker and contributor on the subject of staffing challenges facing the graphic arts industry. Parlaying his interest and intuitive learning skills developed from video games, he is also a member of the Video Game Association, actively consulting firms in the business merits of using the Virtual Worlds for business and training as well as other Social Media tools such as Twitter and FaceBook.
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  • http://KeithDawson Keith Dawson

    Has any information been made public about how much it cost to produce that Esquire issue? Even the mockup demo for the Sports Illustrated tablet ( must have run into the hundreds of thousands. Great for publicity while the AR field is nascent, but such productions couldn’t possibly be profitable on an ongoing basis.

  • http://DonCarli Don Carli

    It will be interesting to see how this application space develops over time. In the meantime printers should be also focus on how they deal with the reality climate change and the impact of misleading “tree-wash” marketing claims being made by purveyors of digital alternatives to print,

  • http://BrianRegan Brian Regan


    I have not seen a report on the costs. However, things like this are likely less expensive than you would think. And as the technology gains a main stream status the cost to produce goes down.

    If I were to take a guess I would say the most expensive item on the Esquire AR project was paying Robert Downey JR to star in it.

  • http://MichaelJosefowicz Michael Josefowicz

    Nice article (especially the vids) of where this is going. But I think there are many steps from here to there.

    The Esquire piece makes “sense” as a buzz builder. As Keith points out it doesn’t scale unless the cost comes out fo the marketing budget.

    However, a very realistic and ready for prime time technology that is an important step is 2D codes.

    Now that Google has announced distributing 100,000 QR labels to tie the Droid together with local commerce, I have to believe that 2D codes will tip in the States very quickly.

    The new power is to connect the strength of print in the real world to the content on the web. Even more important from a biz point of view, rich clickstreams can be harvested from Print media.

    Once CMOs can generate spreadsheets showing what works and what doesn’t, I think Print medium comes back into the game, in a very big and new way.

  • http://BrianRegan Brian Regan


    Yes, I have been looking at QR codes for awhile. If you think about it, AR and QR can actually be blended easily.

    I do agree QR codes have a larger mass appeal. AR will be a niche product at first.

  • http://VishalHardikar Vishal Hardikar

    Dear Mr. Regan,

    This is a very interesting article focusing on the new ventures/ideas in the print media. The supplementary videos clarify what exactly the term AR means and how it can be blended into printing products.

    It will certainly change the whole world of imagination and will merge towards the reality, especially, the applications in book and magazine area.

    I would like to know more about the technological challenges from the point of a printer, incurred in adopting such advanced technology. I will be glad to read more information about current trends regarding the same.

    Thank you for sharing such a nice article.