How Augmented Reality brings paper to life

Paper is alive! Augmented Reality – or AR – allows makers of stationery to enrich a variety of different paper products by the whole world of all things digital. AR aims to sensibly expand reality by a virtual component. This allows customers to experience the best of both worlds. They continue to be rooted in the real world while experiencing digital magic. More and more enterprises are becoming aware of this, which is why they are incorporating Augmented Reality as a fixed element into their products or strategy. 

The technology on its own does not guarantee success: It is important for AR to add value with the help of applications that make sense. To achieve this, the users' needs should take centre stage. Such added value may be entertaining, informative, or useful. Next to business cards and greeting cards, this technology is used to bring stickers, flyers, and magazines to life in a flash. A smartphone or a tablet is all it takes.

Business cards and greeting cards: personalising a message with AR

Despite digitalisation and paperless offices, business cards are still very much in demand. However, they must stand out in terms of quality and design. AR helps with the latter. Scanning a business card not only auto-saves contact information, but a digital portfolio could offer insight into the work of one’s counterpart. 

The very traditional Thurgauer Kantonalbank surprised its customers with a unique look behind the scenes. The bank has a 140-year-old history in Switzerland: AR greeting cards helped the bank to virtually celebrate together with its 180,000 customers. When scanning the card that arrived in the mail with a smartphone camera, the recipients found themselves for a few moments right in the midst of a party which had been pre-recorded by video. 

And even perennial Christmas cards become a memorable event thanks to creative ideas, such as when they open the recipient's heart with the smartphone's camera. Once the camera recognises the motif on the Christmas card it will, for example, auto-play a personal video message. Especially in times overshadowed by physical distancing, this gesture creates nearness and emotion. 

Breathing digital life into stickers, trading cards, and colouring books

The principle remains the same: with the help of an AR app on a smartphone or tablet, the camera recognises the printed product and activates a digital experience on the screen. Mardles' AR Christmas stickers have polar bears do breakdance or snowmen throwing snowballs.

Such an extra is ultra-cool for today's kids, as the Canadian toy maker Spin Master Ltd. knows: Its Dragamonz figures come to life by scanning the trading card, only to see them engage in a virtual trial of strength. 

Once kids have finished colouring images in the Popix 3D colouring book, they can see their coloured figures walk, swim, or fly past on the screen with the right app. 

School books and workbooks: easy learning with Augmented Reality

Technology like AR can prove extremely valuable especially when it comes to learning. Listening and the playful interaction with the right content at the right time makes practicing a new language, for example, easy and supports the student’s learning progress. Numerous coursebooks by the Hueber Verlag publishing house have been given an AR app extension. 

Creative instructions: support from Augmented Reality

Nora Baum und Markus Uhlig came up with yet another way to use AR: They developed an app called Pattarina, known from television's "Lion's Den". AR is used here to transfer sewing patterns directly from the smartphone screen onto fabric – the tiresome copying and cutting is now a thing of the past. 

Sketch AR – an app which helps hobby artists reach new horizons – takes a similar approach: With the help of AR, themes are projected onto paper or a wall where they can be retraced step by step. 

Marketing materials or point of sale: test virtually before you buy

Even in advertising and in marketing, the benefits offered by Augmented Reality are often used: So-called Try-before-you applications are becoming increasingly popular at the point of sale. Dobi Professional, Switzerland's largest cosmetics and beauty retailer, boost sales in this way. Displays in shops or pages in their own beauty magazine offer useful tips there and then, give inspiration or forward exclusive, changing offers onto the mobile phone.

And it makes sense: When products become almost palpable, buying decisions are easier to make. Especially in difficult times like these it is becoming increasingly important to find alternative ways to communicate with one's own customers. Electrolux therefore visualised appliances like its Gastro dishwasher and washing machines for prospective buyers. Their 3D models can be viewed from all sides using the AR app, and their functionalities can even be virtually trialled.

First the idea, then the technology. 


Digital devices have become a part of reality for all of us. It is therefore time to consider how to draw on the benefits a virtual world has to offer to you. The following consideration comes first: What idea will provide an added benefit to your customers? Only then should you think about the technical implementation. The good news is: You do not need to be an AR expert yourself. The technology that brings printed products to life has been on the market for many years. What used to be seen as complex and extensive is now conveniently trialled with tools like, for example. And for those leaning towards things more unusual, there are many seasoned AR experts who are happy to help. 

About the author:

Martin Herdina, CEO Wikitude GmbH, is a successful tech entrepreneur and has been a pioneer in the field of Augmented Reality since 2008. Prior to working for Wikitude, he helped to build fatfoogoo, a payment services provider for online games, which he sold to Digital River (DRIV). Before that, he played different strategic roles in Europe and USA at, for example, Qpass Inc., UCP or T Mobile.

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