Print vs Pixel

In these heady days of information technology you could be forgiven for thinking printed marketing communications such as newsletters, flyers and brochures is dying. While it’s true the popularity of pixel power is growing while paper power is, well, less powerful, there is still a place for the printing of promotional materials.


Part of the reason why printed material isn’t irrelevant, or even close to it, is that people still generally like printed material and, in some cases, they prefer it over online material. This was certainly the case in the early part of the 21st century, with studies showing people still preferred to read most information in printed format. However, with the advent of new technology, such as larger computer screens and devices such as the iPad, plus a greater acceptance of online reading, this is slowly changing.

Reading patterns

Another important aspect to look at when studying print vs pixel is the way people read. Website usability expert Jakob Nielsen is one who has studied this aspect. In fact, he’s found that 79% of web readers scan pages rather than read them; with printed material people are more thorough. People’s eyes even take in information on a website in a different pattern compared with printed material.


Demographics is another factor worth looking at. Not surprisingly, young people are more likely to turn to the Internet compared with older people. In fact, studies have shown that the older you are the more likely you are to print emails to read them – so much for the paper-less office!


Another important element when weighing up whether to print or publish online, or a combination of both, is what medium you are producing. In general people prefer to read newspapers, books, magazines and newsletters (i.e. longer documents) in paper format, while personal messages and direct mail (i.e. shorter documents) are preferred online.

Similarly, people prefer to read higher detailed information in printed format, while communication that requires low involvement such as announcements and lighter news is preferred digitally.

So what does all this tell us?

Like any aspect of marketing, when you are considering whether to print or publish online, knowing your target customer is vital. If your target is a young audience and the material requires low involvement, online is your best choice. Older audience and higher involvement, lean towards print.

Of course the best choice may a combination of online and print. Again, technology can help if you’d prefer not to revert to printing material commercially. Including links to pdf files or printable documents on your website and in emails to customers is a clever solution. In this way, individuals can make up their own mind which method to use.

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