Why Print Materials and Design Are Here to Stay in the Digital Era

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Reasons Why We Still Need Print Design and Print Materials

Print Design Today: Why Print Materials Are Here to Stay

Learn why print is still not dead and why print design is relevant more than ever in the digital era.

Print design
June 22, 2021
15 minutes


Contrary the popular opinion, the numbers show that print is still not dead, and print design is more relevant than ever in the digital era.

As a type of graphic design, print design is ubiquitous. It is not just the obvious things like books, magazines, and newspapers. Print design is pretty much everywhere you look. The shopping bag you got the last time you went to a store, the bill you got in the mailbox, the pizza restaurant menu hanging from your doorknob. These are all just a few examples of things that fall under the broad umbrella of print design.

Before the digitalization and web-first world, almost every aspect of graphic design was exclusively focused on print design. Today things are very different.

Although they might look similar initially, there is a very distinctive difference between digital graphic design and print design. So what is print design today, and how does it fit in the predominantly digital world? The answers might surprise you.

The printing revolution

No invention in the history of humankind has changed the course of history more profoundly than the invention of the printing press. The moment the first page came out of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention in XV century Germany is when society and its structure changed forever. Monopolies over knowledge, education, and information started crumbling, and the world ushered into the modern age.

gutenberg-bible-britannica.jpg The first copy of Gutenberg’s Bible - source Encyclopedia Britannica

From producing only a few pages daily with the process of hand-copying, people were suddenly able to print some 3600 pages in a single day. By the end of the XV century, around 200 cities in Western Europe had printing presses that produced over twenty million books.

The result of the Printing Revolution was a sharp increase in literacy, liberalization of education, and access to information. New revolutionary ideas quickly transcended national borders. Scientific advancements were shared swiftly and efficiently. The invention of newspapers, pamphlets, posters, and magazines changed the way information was distributed.

It’s no wonder that his invention is considered the single most important invention of the millennium. Without the mass production of books, the world we live in wouldn’t exist. And despite the rapid digitalization that is happening right now, ink is still the blood of our civilization.

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Editorial design and publishing in an era of tablets

The first time the term “graphic design” was used was in 1922 by American artist William Addison Dwiggins. It is around that time that editorial design became essential for publishing companies. During the 1920s, newspapers were at the peak of their relevance, and magazines became increasingly popular.

Designing for publications such as books, newspapers, and magazines, regardless of whether the final product is intended for print or digital format, is called editorial design. Its primary purpose is to make the publication visually enticing and content easy to read and understand.

the-new-yorker-editorial-design.jpg The New Yorker print and digital edition

Publishing and print media industries were among the first that felt the consequences of mass digitalization. The number of newspaper and magazine readers dropped drastically once people started reading content online. In addition, the mass penetration of the Internet in the early 1990s caused severe erosion of the advertising income for publishers.

A decade after decade growing number of newspapers and magazines shut down. Between 2004 and 2014, some 126 daily newspapers ceased to exist in the United States. In 2007 the total income of magazines and other periodicals was 46 billion U.S. dollars, while in 2019, that number fell to just a little over 26 billion.

The sharp fall in profits was not due to the lack of audience. Only in the U.S. are there over 228 million magazine readers in 2020.

On the other hand, the book publishing industry didn’t suffer as the print media mainly because they could offer their products in diverse formats. Print books are available in audio and digital formats. Publishers can distribute them almost instantly through various platforms on a global scale. Also, self-publishing companies such as Kindle Direct Publishing, Barnes and Noble Press, Kobo, and Apple Books made the entire process far less challenging for aspiring authors from all over the world.

Newspapers and magazines today

Once the iPads and other tablets took over the world, magazines and newspapers finally got the opportunity to reinvent themselves. From individual magazine apps like Vogue and Wired to digital newsstands like Zinio, magazines got a unique chance of a fast global distribution which meant more readers.

The majority of magazines are still trying to find out the format that works best for them. Some are trying out interactive features and complete multimedia approaches like Vogue and National Geographic with their iPad apps. Some are combining a traditional look with a modern web design feel like The New Yorker. The magazines are also available as PDF versions of the print edition on digital newsstands like Zinio.

zinio-digital-stand.jpg Zinio Digital Newsstand

Newspapers also had trouble adjusting to the new reality. The decline in advertisements and personal ads sales, along with decreasing number of daily readers, put a lot of newspapers out of business. The remaining newspapers are still figuring out ways to find content formats that work best for the new devices and new audiences.

Both magazines and newspapers are exploring various options for seamless integration of the offline and online experience. For example, they include multiple multimedia formats such as podcasts, videos, and interactive elements in the print edition with the help of QR codes and AR. This way, they are slowly bridging the gap between print and digital.

Books and eBooks

The Book publishing industry didn’t suffer as print media mainly because the new technologies didn’t cannibalize any segment of the industry. The digital disruption didn’t affect publishers primarily because books are easily adaptable for a wide range of formats.

The already prepared manuscript can easily be converted into different ebook formats and distributed to the readers via the Internet with little to no cost. In addition, platforms like **Audible **and **Scribd **made audiobooks more practical and accessible to the global audience. Instead of carrying tapes or CDs, people today only need to download an app on their phone. They can download or stream almost any book imaginable.

audible.jpg Audible for iPad

The only thing book publishers nowadays need to worry about are cover designs. Unless you are looking for a specific book title or an author, you will likely judge a book by its cover when buying. And that is completely fine. Some 79% percent of people are doing it, which shows how effective a good design can be.

Why will print media and publishing be relevant in the following decade?

The future of publishing is far brighter than the future of print media. However, this doesn’t mean that the only one will survive in the future. Sales numbers show that the period of disruption is calming down and that there is great potential for both industries.

  • 33% of millennials have an active subscription to a newspaper or magazine, and this number is increasing every year since 2018
  • 8% increase in the number of digital magazine readers in 2020
  • revenue from ad sales in print media is expected to hit 30bn USD in 2021
  • book and ebook grossed over 12bn USD in 2020
  • print book sales rose over 8% in 2020

Commercial print design

Commercial print, just like print advertising, exists mainly for promotional purposes and is the driving force behind the print industry. As a result, businesses of every size and from every industry rely on commercial print design.

many-pixels-stationary-design.jpg Source: ManyPixels blog

If your business needs anything from business cards to for-sale signs, it needs some print design. This category covers a relatively broad spectrum of products. The type of product you might need depends on the industry, the final goal you want to achieve, and the kind of message you want to convey.

For example, if we talk about real-estate business, you might need business cards for your company or your agents. For promoting particular property, you might need flyers, custom floor plans as well as for-sale signs. And for people stopping by your office, you might want to have brochures or catalogs ready.

Among the first examples of commercial print design were stamps and trademarks. As the printing technology developed, so did the commercial printing design. During the 19 century, many artists started making packaging designs and posters for businesses, thus beginning the age of commercial design.

Brochures and catalogs

Every year millions of people all over the world are impatiently waiting for the new IKEA catalog. It is by far one of the most anticipated publications of this type. Some 180 million copies are distributed around the world every year. And there is an unconfirmed rumor that the catalog takes almost 70% of IKEA’s annual marketing budget.

ikea-2021.jpg Source: IKEA Taiwan

IKEA is just one of many examples that confirm that print marketing still plays a vital role today. Catalogs and brochures are significant when it comes to high-value or high-risk purchases. Today’s purpose is to reinforce a customer’s decision or help them decide in the final stage of buyers’ journey.

A catalog offers information on all the products or services the company has to offer. It contains all the items arranged systematically, accompanied by photos and short descriptions of the products or services. Catalogs are still an indispensable part of promotional activities in the hospitality, wellness, and luxury goods industries. You will see catalogs included in the marketing mix of businesses that do not require immediate action from a buyer.

A brochure, on the other hand, is more marketing-focused. It usually highlights particular products or services that are part of the promotional campaign. A brochure can be one page folded in half, or threefold or can consist of few pages stapled together.

Flyers and posters

As means for mass promotion of ideas, products, or events in public spaces, posters quickly became very popular. They started appearing between the 1840s and 1850s when the printers perfected color print. Visually striking, with bold colors, typography, and graphics, they’ve been designed to grab viewers’ attention.

Many famous French artists from the end of 19 century, like Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre Bonnard, Georges de Feure, and Jules Chéret, also did poster designs. However, Chéret was the most prolific poster designer of the time. He specialized in advertisement posters and will be remembered as the first graphic artist who used sexuality for promotional purposes.


Today we use posters for various purposes, from promotional to educational. The few types used most frequently are:

  • Advertising posters that brands use for various promotional purposes. They are usually designed with the “wow-factor” in mind, and if well designed, they won’t get unnoticed.
  • Political posters became an important channel for mass communication in the UK during the First World War. These posters were primarily used to boost national morale as well as for nationwide recruitment.
  • Movie posters are relatively self-explanatory. They are designed with the sole purpose of promoting a movie and inspiring the interest of the audience to go and see it in cinemas.
  • Event posters are used for promoting cultural and sports events or public meetings. The most notable in this category are concert posters which became popular collector items.
  • Educational posters have become a great way to present complex scientific subjects in a visually pleasing way.

Flyers are usually distributed by handing them out in the street or door to door. They focus on one particular product, service, or event, such as sales or discounts. Their size, paper, and print quality can vary drastically. Research shows that 79% of the recipients either keep them, pass them on to a friend, or take a quick look over them and toss them away.

Packaging design

If you are a fan of beauty brands, then you already know about Korean skincare products. They enjoy justified global cult status, and there are always a few of these products on every best product list. What sets them apart from most US and European brands, besides great ingredients, is their fantastic packaging design.

country chocolate packaging.jpg By Muhammed Sajid via Behance

Ever since famous Parisian artists made their first package designs in the 19th century, this subcategory of graphic design evolved into a proper art form. Today package designs need to be more than beautiful. They need to offer an unboxing experience as well. Product packages need to tell the story of the product and the brand, but at the same time, they need to relate to the customer.

Today, the packaging is almost as important as the product inside of it. According to the WestRock study, 81% of people have tried something new because of packaging, and 63% have repurchased the product because the packaging was visually pleasing.

Business cards and stationery

There is an ongoing debate that business cards are entirely outdated and unnecessary in our hyper-connected world. Yet everyone still has and uses them.

The proponents of digital will tell you that you can generate a simple QR code on your phone and share your contact details. Of course, you can share virtual cards via Bluetooth. Still, nothing beats the first impression that a good business card design can leave.

business card design.jpg Source: ManyPixels blog

As a material used for hand and print business communication, stationery helps amplify branding identity. The most commonly used stationery items in an office are letterheads, envelopes, notepads, binders, folders, stickers, and pens.

How digitalization affects print designers?

Graphic designers today need to have a much broader set of skills simply because the final design needs to be applicable for different use cases. For example, you might be working on a book cover design intended for print. Still, you need to make sure that the layout you are making can be adjusted easily for ebook and audiobook covers.

It’s not enough to know the rules of creating a good-looking book layout. Today an excellent graphic designer needs to learn coding and styling languages like **HTML5 **and CSS3. They are essential for correct formatting and styling of text in an ebook. A basic understanding of motion graphics is also necessary since posters can be displayed on digital screens and don’t have to be static anymore.

We have covered all the basic and advanced skills necessary for a designer to thrive in the ever-changing world of graphic design. One thing is positive, print design will continue to thrive in the upcoming decades parallel with the new digital formats.

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Djordje Djordjevic

June 22, 2021

Diplomat by education, marketer by profession. Currently living between Berlin and Skopje, still deciding where to settle permanently. Ghostwriter that is slowly crossing back into the land of the living writers. Always reading two books at the same time and follows at least 15 TV series. Used to dream about changing the world, now just patiently waits for the next Marvel movie.