Augmented Reality 101 for Designers

Apollo and the Treehouse Augmented Reality bookWe love seeing the ingenious ways designers find to bring their print campaigns to life. Bridging the tactile, impossible-to-deny reality of a beautifully done print piece with the digital realm — truly integrating it with digital channels — has become an art form. There are many ways to do it, but one of the most quickly evolving methods we’ve seen in the last few years is augmented reality (AR).

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a technology that is used to add a digital layer to the physical world. If you’ve used a face filter on your smartphone, you’ve used AR. 

There are two main types of AR: marker-based and markerless. Markerless AR can be launched from your mobile device and doesn’t need to have a “trigger” in the real world. Marker-based AR is launched from a real-world marker, which could be an object but is more often a print image. That image could be a QR code — a straightforward way to go since the general public has become more comfortable with scanning them over the last few years — but it doesn’t have to be. And this is the space where designers have room to play. 

What are some examples of augmented reality experiences?

AR experiences can include anything from audio and video to 3D models and virtual tours. If you want to really wow your audience, then the more interactive, the better. Our favorite augmented reality campaigns take a static printed piece and animate it to tell a story. (Check out this AR TV for an example.) 

But AR can also be informational. Our Sylvamo shadowbox, for example, is augmented with video content that expands upon the messaging that would fit on the printed piece.

How do I get started with augmented reality?

Before you start designing a marker-based AR experience, you need to make a few decisions, including:

  • Will you use an app? AR can be experienced within an owned channel, such as a branded mobile app, or it can be launched in a web browser. There are benefits to each approach. Using your own app, you can create a more complete brand experience. On the other hand, downloading an app may be a barrier to some users.
  • Which AR design platform will you use? There are many options and most are intuitive for trained designers. 
  • What do you want to augment? Will you create a new print piece or augment an existing print piece? This will help you determine what your marker should be. The best markers are easy for mobile device cameras to pick up — high contrast images with solid colors are best.

What kind of paper is best for marker-based augmented reality?

When choosing a paper for your augmented reality print campaign, look for the following characteristics, which will all help to create crisp, clear images that can be easily scanned by a mobile device:

  • Matte is best — light reflecting off high-gloss coatings can make it difficult for images to be scanned, so go with an uncoated paper for best results. 
  • High brightness is key — the brighter the paper, the easier it will be to create high-contrast images.
  • Heavier weights perform better — if users will be picking up your piece to scan it, you’ll want something heavy and stiff for easy scanning. 


Those are the basics for getting started with AR. Follow @AccentOpaque on Instagram for more print inspiration.