Print – a sensory gateway

| 12 February 2020

Current print technology can evoke every one of our senses, taking content into almost limitless new realms

The content we consume through the media we are exposed to, enters our consciousness via our senses. Traditionally, print has been mainly a visual medium, but the possibilities of modern print technology allows us to transcend this former limitation.

This opens up a world of possibilities, using senses previously not central to the communications space. At the same time, as we use more of our ability to perceive, the psychological effect of media becomes increasingly important.

For the print medium to survive, it needs to embrace all these opportunities. Fortunately, there are some incredible innovations taking shape. Here are some of the amazing sensory possibilities that modern print enables…

“Go on! Tear this page!” – A Fortune magazine advert invited readers to tear the page, which was almost impossible, thanks to the material used. This call to action highlighted the strength of the paper, and emphasised the versatility of the print offering.

Impulse purchases – A study by John Peck and Terry Childers1 found that touching and feeling a product can make shoppers more likely to purchase it – especially if they have a higher Need For Touch (NFT). Textures or inlays that encourage touch can be a powerful selling tool.

It’s mine! – Studies have also found that touch influences our sense of ownership of an item, even if we do not actually own it. This also makes us more likely to purchase it on impulse2.

The smell of the product – Smell is a powerful, primal sense. Scratch-and-sniff functionality has long been used to market fragrances in print magazines. Misters, which send aromas into the air, are another great technique. With outdoor advertising one can combine the scent of a product – a cake or a plate of French fries – with an image, for almost irresistible impact. Unique, customised smells can also be developed to function as a kind of fragrance logo.

Peel ‘n’ taste – Taste strips can now be included with printed material to share pleasant tastes, for instance with a grape juice advert. Conversely, the anti-smoking lobby has used taste strips to mimic the taste of an ashtray and thus discourage smoking.

Print your food – It is possible to print on food as a security measure to track the provenance of meat or fruit, for example. A technology called Foodini, by Natural Machines, is a kitchen appliance that can 3D print food in any shape, using natural ingredients.

The Feel of quality – Haptics, or touch, is one of our main techniques for determining luxury in a product. As such, it is a useful way to convey sophistication in a printed product. This can be via the finish of a page – foil, varnish or spot coatings – or to resonate with the visual content depicted.

A visual hook – Most printed products are designed to appeal to the sense of sight. However, our vision is easily distracted. It thus becomes important to focus the reader’s attention using techniques like high-contrast colour schemes, provocative images, compelling finishes and strong typography. Holograms are always visually intriguing. Today, we can even incorporate video screens into printed material!

Soundscapes – As it becomes possible to manufacture batteries on an increasingly compact scale, the possibilities for sound-enabled printing become ever more exciting. Now, a page or a poster can be played like a musical instrument. It’s also now possible to generate sounds by connecting to the smartphones of readers using proximity technology. Wireless headphone technology offers other opportunities to connect with a viewer’s Apple airpods, for example.

Augment the reality – Augmented-reality technology allows us to create entire worlds that can be experienced through our smartphone screens, interacting with the printed images in ways limited only by the designer’s own imagination, thus “bringing print to life”.

Credit: Manny da Silva, industrial print manager and Edmund Jacobs commercial print manager for Konica Minolta South Africa, a division of Bidvest Office & Print.