In a Digital Era, Don’t Lose Sight of Print Design

“Print is dead.”

You’ve probably heard many people reiterate the phrase above before but may not have known where it originated. David Carson declared that print was dead in his 1995 book The End Of Print—a bold statement for the time. If you know anything about Mr. Carson then you know he was a forward-thinking, rule-breaking designer back in the day. In the 90s, I highly admired Carson’s design and thinking; but now, I see that he was just a really talented collage-maker. Regardless, today we know his anti-pulp manifesto was wrong. Yes, print has diminished a bit but even with all the capabilities of digital, this fact will always remain: We are, and always will be, tactile creatures with a full five senses. That being the case, print is not dead; rather, it is evolving into something new.


Did you know that your phone only displays in three colors? Red, green and blue (RGB). The RGB on your phone screen can reach a pretty large color spectrum—but not as far or as accurate as Pantone spot colors. The term “spot color” refers to unique inks that achieve a specific color and are a print-industry standard. You’ll see some spectrum maps out there that include RGB with a larger space than Pantone spot colors but their creators are only using base Pantone colors. Most people forget about the real sensory champions: fluorescent and metallic spot colors. 

Want to garner the attention of a generation that has their faces in their phones? Place a message in a fluorescent orange spot color they probably have never seen in their lives in the same room—like moths to a flame. What about Metallics? One only needs to say two words: Rose Gold. This metallic color has been a phenomenon since Apple released their phones in this color in 2015. But what is rose gold in the land of RGB? Nothing more than a weak salmon or a warm beige. The movement is powered by the metallic sheen. As time goes on, you will see smart companies using spot colors from the outer edges of the visible spectrum to attract, memorize, and unify their customers to their brand.


While phones typically come in a glossy surface, paper comes in a wide range of textures. From rough to smooth textures, print offers users a wide range of choices. Varying weights of paper—and even varying types of “paper” which are not really paper at all)—can also give a printed piece a unique feel. Besides the stock itself, there are additional clear varnishes that can add texture or gloss to certain areas. These varnishes heighten the reader’s tactile experience. Imagine a picture of skin with goosebumps you can feel raised, a pancake with reflective syrup that actually feels somewhat sticky when you run your fingers over it, a lakeshore with glossy water and bumper matte sand. 

You will find that international companies often use these small but significant techniques to bring their brand to a higher level of quality in the audience’s mind that comes into contact with these well-crafted brand materials. If the company is really spot-on, these materials will work in tandem with their existing digital brand presence. The goal is to unify a user’s brand experience from their eyes to their fingers.  


We live in a three-dimensional world and, while virtual and augmented reality is trying to finally land, they still remain clunky and lack elegance. VR gives users headaches during too much use, whereas print can take many forms while remaining elegant and memorable. From 3D embossing, specialized packaging, large illuminated signs, and branded apparel, there are so many physical forms that your brand can be printed upon. Digitally, your brand can never truly be held, lifted, used, or worn. With the advent of 3D printing, the limits of “print” are constantly being pushed while becoming a more affordable option every year.

It’s likely you will see companies giving more high-end branded items away—especially to those customers who are big influencers of their social strata. For example, I recently saw a video from a popular video-gamer on YouTube who was wearing a Kellogg’s t-shirt. That shirt will receive over 1 million views in less than a week. While I can’t tell you what brand of VR goggles he was wearing, I can guess his favorite brand of cereal.


The internet has become a very small place, but not in the way you may be thinking. We started out with large monitors and now we primarily browse our favorite sites through nothing larger than a 4×8-inch plate of glass. That’s so impactful. For one, it’s not only cumbersome to one’s field of vision, but it also lacks the ability for much negative space to allow the eye to rest and focus. Meanwhile, our friend Print can be large and in charge—it can be the poster at the door or the whole side of a building. Print pieces can truly command their presence in space.


Graffiti is a counter-cultural form of human expression unlike any other. It takes a space intended for something “normal” and turns it on its head. Print, like graffiti, is typically public-facing and can transform a space—both with positive and controversial messages. It can also be very effective in a way that digital cannot. Whether it’s a protest or fundraising event, print has a presence that can unify people to action. Signs and posters will always have their place in a good campaign, whether political or corporate. Print design is especially useful for garnering trust from an audience to get behind a certain cause since print feels much more personal than digital advertising.

The Future of Print Design

I believe as long as we haven’t entirely immersed ourselves in a digital world, print design will always have a place in advertising and marketing. The only limits to print are our imaginations. Challenge your team to think outside of the print-design box—add unique color to a business card, incorporate a special texture to a brochure, create a special die-cut or unique fold to a self-mailer, emboss your holiday cards. The future is unique… why shouldn’t your brand be, as well?