The Lost Marketing Art of Ink on Paper

Time to temper our love affair with pixels on a screen?

In a pre-pixilated world in the not too distant past, Ink on Paper ruled the world of marketing.

Capabilities brochures, annual reports and other print collateral – complete with blind-embossing, foil-stamping, perfect binding, die-cutting and spot-varnished photos – served to explain, sell and educate. Graphic designers used drafting boards, rulers and glue. They understood the difference between a sheet-fed and web offset printing press, could distinguish between thermography and engraving, and spent hours studying paper stock samples, typefaces and PMS color charts.

In the days of Ink on Paper, marketers reviewed press proofs; they hand-delivered advance copies of newly printed materials to their CEOs, and measured ROI based on Business Reply Card volume. Printed words and images did not move on the page. Content stood on its own, linked to nothing. And the US Postal Service was profitable.

There’s no denying the time and cost efficiencies of our online world. We now communicate more broadly, more precisely, more rapidly and with greater marketing insight than we could ever have imagined 20 years ago.

But we’ve lost a few things in our exodus from Ink on Paper:

Visceral Impact – Pixels on a screen have no weight, no dimension, no texture, no smell. Ink on Paper places something physical into a person’s hands. They open the cover and turn its pages. They can scribble notes in the margin, or rip out a photo. It’s a sensory experience that communicates on human terms, and that cannot be replicated by a PDF downloaded and created on a laser copier.

Personality – The range of creative expression using pixels is limited by the fixed dimensions of a flat glass screen. Ink on Paper lives on a canvas of unlimited graphic possibilities, in terms of size, shape, color and physical features. No scrolling is required to appreciate the design. It provides an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, to express yourself more effectively, and to make an impression that’s likely to be remembered.

Permanence – People scroll through computer screens at hyper-speed. The volume of information is unlimited, and no intellectual commitment is required of viewers. Ink on Paper moves in slow motion, forcing readers to pay closer attention to its content. Print materials possess presence and permanence, suggesting that the people and company who produced them actually exist, have nothing to hide and can be trusted.

Craftsmen in any field are quick to embrace new tools and methods that enhance their results and professional satisfaction. They also understand the importance of sticking with tactics that work well. Seasoned marketers who have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in their rush to digital communications, as well as more recent arrivals to the marketing profession who have always lived in a paperless world, would be well served to reconsider Ink on Paper as a medium.

No marketing communications program is truly integrated without that capability.


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27 responses to “The Lost Marketing Art of Ink on Paper

  1. One thing to remember about using print today is that is has incredible cut-through compared with in the past. Getting paper is so rare now, you sit up and take notice when in the past it would have straight in the bin.

  2. In the “Great Minds Think Alike” department, we’ve clicked again, Gordon!

  3. Patti Schimpf

    Ahhh…some of the reasons I got into this crazy business in the first place! I could almost smell the ink as I was reading (if those white falling pixels “snowflakes” hadn’t kept interfering – that kept bringing the digital world back to reality.)

    • Patti, Thanks for your post. WordPress turns those damn pixel snowflakes on in December and off in January. There is a way to stop the effect, but I’m too lazy to learn how. I’m just happy that the snow doesn’t pile up at the bottom of the screen. Another reason to love Ink on Paper: there is no “code” underneath the content. What you see is what you get. Cheers!

  4. I love print – for all the reasons you cite. However, it’s about using the right tool for the job. The more tools we have in our toolbox, the better job we can do marketing and communicating – for our clients or for ourselves. That said, Adobe’s Creative Suite makes creating SO MUCH easier than rubber cementing galleys of type that needed to be perfectly copyfit (or reset countless times!). How often did we have to deal with reprints because type literally fell off the mechanicals?!

    • “Mechanicals”!!! Wow…there’s a term you don’t hear anymore. I agree that technology has made our lives easier. But I wonder if the next generation of marketers — who may not appreciate the power of print tools — may not include them in their tool boxes. Thanks for your comment, Melanie.

  5. Beautiful post, and it DOES make me long for the “good old days.” But, the world moves on, whether we like it or not. And, it is fascinating to watch the development of the world of communications! If you think of how far we have come in the last twenty years… can you imagine where we might be twenty years from now? Print might not have survived as well as it has in the midst of all these changes without those of us who love it so much and continue to tout its incredible ability to deliver a clear marketing message.

    • Well said, Carole. When my grandmother was born, there were no automobiles; people rode horses to go places. When she died, men had walked on the moon. That’s a lot of change in one lifetime. Perhaps our relationship with Ink on Paper will follow a path related to how we use horses now: they’re not required for transportation, but they’re still fun to ride once and a while. (If you don’t mind the smell.)

  6. Nigel Paul

    Where have the days gone when you would sit down with a tint chart and tab out endless amounts of colours, and retouching was done by a guy who new just how much to shrink a dot with a pot of ferri and a piece of cotton wool to achieve the correct colour, those were the days

    • Nigel — Admittedly, print publications require more time and labor to produce. A 3-D printer may be capable of producing a working violin, but technology will never create a violin that sounds like a Stradavarius or Amati.

  7. Jim Pattison

    Nicely done. I have espoused those views to numerous people. Print is permanent, digital is not. One can go to the library at RIT and see a page from Gutenberg’s Bible, 1455. One cannot go and retrieve files he stored on his first computer because they are incompatible. In today’s digital world, unscrupulous partisans can alter the content, meaning and facts in one keystroke, this bodes for a dangerous world when different political parties are trying to bend the publics view to their way of thinking. It is much more difficult to alter Print.

    • Jim, I had never considered the political implications, and that’s a good point. With respect to the shelf life of digital content, even the “experts” can not agree on how long they can be stored without corruption. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Linda Edwards

    I have been in the printing industry for 35 years. From the darkroom, stripping, cutting color, hand burning and developing plates in the 70s to supervising a crew of digital prepress operators and computer to plate output. I MISS the CRAFT!! I have evolved with the industry but I really miss the artistry of print!!! That being said, I have just lost my job of the last 15 years in cold web offset (newspapers/tabloids etc..) Is it worth it to try to stay in this industry??? I’ll say it again… I MISS the artistry and craft of print!!!

  9. I come from a newspaper family and a print background and have been in the industry for 35 years. I love print and have always felt that a magazine and a newspaper are the ultimate interactive document. I open it to read (turn it on)… I close it when I’m done (turn it off). It’s always been interactive. The best description for the relevance of print is your point about the tactile nature of it and the unlimited graphic possibilities we have for creativity.
    I love the feel of paper and the smell of ink.

    Mind if I post a link to your essay on my blog? I think there are a lot of us who feel the same way.

    • Jim, Thanks for your note. I’ve been surprised at the level of response and interest in this post. Apparently, you are correct in stating that there are many who share the love of Ink on Paper. And I would be honored to have you post a link on your blog. Take care. Gordon

  10. I was introduced to ink at age 16, in an awards shop, silk screening patches. Something clicked and I signed up for “Graphic Design” my senior year of High School. Admittedly, part of my decision was based on the fact that it was 4 hours a day, NO books and surely, an easy “A”. By December I was printing my own 4/c Christmas card on an AB Dick 360, having pressed on the type, separated the illustration with rubylith and done the dark room work. I was hooked and haven’t looked back. Like some others have stated, I can almost smell the ink and can feel the texture of the paper, or the emboss, or the soft touch varnish…

    Today I am a designer/AD type who must design for both the ink on paper and the digital world. While the challenge of digital can be engaging, I still prefer putting a book/magazine/brochure/catalog together over figuring out how to make that type move on screen.

    Great post!

  11. Sorry, folks, but this is a load of hooey. If you’ll pardon my language. I’ve been in print design and production for 40 years, starting with hand lettered and cut silk screen posters and moving through newspaper mechanical work, AB Dick 360 printing, graphic arts cameras operation, 35mm photography and finally design and mechanical work for the same technologies. Nowadays, I can beat all that by miles with a $500 computer, and $600 dollars worth of software. Well, a thousand bucks if you include a decent font library. And I can offer a product that beats print by a mile for a miniscule fraction of the price.

    Case in point: When I started producing it, a proferssional association newsletter I still produce four times a year was an eight or 12 page black and white one-fold. Now, it’s a 30 or forty page full color interactive PDF. With a budget one tenth what it used to be. If the original photo is good enough resolution, it can be seen in higher resolution than any print job ever presented, in a gamut of colors at least 50% greater than print.

    Click a bit of text and jump right from the ToC to the article. Beautiful typography with almost no effort on my part, at least once I get the standards set up and use a template from issue to issue.

    This cash strapped and very socially worthwhile organization can now distribute unlimited information to its membership in an attractive, engaging and useful format. Which they could not afford to do with print. I’m all for the future!

    • Bucky, No argument at this end regarding the cost efficiences of web-based collateral. But Ink versus Pexels is an apples to oranges comparison. The point of the post was simply that the art of print should not be pushed aside by electronic communication. Gordon

      • Dear Gordon,

        Thanks for your very thoughtful reply. I certainly agree that the “art” of printing should not, and don’t think it will, be pushed aside. However, that leaves the 99.99% of printing that has always been merely mechanical, and pixels will very deservedly push that.

        Which will enhance the worth of the artful printing that does survive!


  12. Hi,
    Like a lot of things in life, integration or the best of all worlds makes sense. I wrote an article in 2010 because I also felt the blanket exodus from print. See:
    Thanks for keeping the discussion alive.

    • Jerry, Thanks for your response, and for attaching your post, which I enjoyed greatly. With respect to your insights regarding sustainability, I recall that when I worked for Continental Group in the 1980s, one of their operating units was Continental Forest Products. In the course of producing the company’s annual report, I visited their woodlands and paper mills on several occasions. What I recall vividly is that the company, even 30 years ago, understood the importance of environmental responsibility. As an example, for every tree they harvested for paper, they planted and maintained many more new trees in its place. Although their motivation may have been driven more by economic return rather than moral responsibility to be “green,” the positive results were the same. Thanks again for your comment and your original post. Gordon

  13. Pingback: Ink On Paper: The Great Debate | aleciasportfolio

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