Top Trends (in Print) for 2021

In a Zoom webinar earlier this week, Sabine Lunz, the paper and printing guru behind PaperSpecs—an innovative resource for creatives who love the tactile experience provided by paper and print—unveiled their top seven design trends in print for 2021. Below is a synopsis of each trend so, you too, can think about incorporating any one of them (or more!) into your company or organization’s next branding project.

Trend 1: Sustainability
The sustainability awareness bar was raised in 2020 (probably by all of us being at home more and receiving all those delivery boxes day after day). Sustainability is seen as more achievable now, and consumers like brands that are aware of their environmental impact. There are several ways to be more sustainable with printing and paper.

1) Right-sizing – no more oversized packages for products (ie: the tiny tube of lotion in a giant box with nothing else)

2) Printing on demand – less waste in printing, storage of materials, and disposing of leftover materials

3) Overall waste reduction – A printer might recommend reducing the size of a brochure you are designing by an eighth of an inch because it will save you from using thousands of extra sheets of paper, more ink, and more energy.

4) Reuse – More people are using well-constructed containers/packages to fulfill the same or a different function (ie: refillable food containers at grocery stores; turning cool packaging into storage containers for household items).

5) Recycling – Post-consumer waste in paper production is higher than before. Paper companies are finding ways to use all sorts of materials to make paper like recycled cotton (t-shirts, blue jeans), disposable coffee cups, and alternative fibers like hemp and wheat straw.

Trend 2: Swiss Binding
While exposed thread binding (called smythe binding) is not new, using it as an integral part of your brand’s design is currently hot. Multiple signatures of a printed piece are stitched together with colorful, exposed thread binding. But, what’s different about Swiss binding is that the sewn text block is then glued to the back cover, NOT to the spine, showing off the thread binding when the piece is opened.

Trend 3: Bright Optimism
The pandemic is still here as we are all aware, but there are glimmers of hope and optimism. Various vaccines against COVID-19 are being rolled out and we have a new president along with a history-making vice president and cabinet. This hope and optimism are reflected in the use of brighter, more optimistic colors in printed pieces.

Designers incorporating fluorescent inks, neon inks, custom match inks, and touch plates into their creative concepts. Both offset and digital printing are also using the Extended Gamut. That means using CMYK inks plus Orange, Green, and Violet (OGV). By adding three additional base inks into the process, solid colors that have traditionally been difficult to achieve can now match closer. For example, orange colors will look truer and cleaner when orange ink is introduced to a print process instead of trying to achieve a suitable match by mixing yellow and magenta inks together. The introduction of orange/green/violet inks helps create brighter colors and photos. Plus, now 99% of PMS colors can be reproduced digitally with the extended gamut and fluorescent inks.

Trend 4: Haptics
Tactile effects in printing are extremely popular. They spark the senses and create a connection between the brand and consumers through touch. Substrates like linen, felt, cork, wood veneer, wood grain are being printed on. Finishing techniques like embossing, UV coatings for offset and polymer coatings for digital, laminates (like soft touch), specialty coatings that create well-known textures (ie: sandpaper, leather) will be widely used.

Trend 5: Gold
Metallics are more popular than ever. You see them on all sorts of pieces and packages. They help create a sense of luxury, expense, and uniqueness.

Old favorite processes, as well as new technologies, are making it easier to produce metallics across a broader spectrum of print pieces and audiences.

1) Hot foil metallics
This tactile technique which can be done on coated and uncoated papers works well for medium size print runs. It is done offline (meaning after the sheets of paper come off the printing press, but before they are trimmed on a separate piece of equipment). There are thousands of colors to choose from to add some shimmer and shine to a brochure or package.

2) Cold foil metallics
This too is a tactile technique and can be done on coated and uncoated papers.
What’s unique about it is that it can be added inline with offset printing (on the printing press) and it can overprint CMYK inks which creates infinite color possibilities.
It’s good for medium to large print runs, but currently, this process is only available at ten printers through the US, so designers have to seek them out to work with.

3) Digital foil metallics
There are now ways to print metallics digitally which is very cool and makes adding metallics to a piece a bit more affordable. Two options currently exist for doing it: using Digital TONER or Digital POLYMER. Digital toner works on coated and uncoated paper,
is good for short to medium runs, can overprint CMYK creating lots of unique colors, and it’s great for use with variable data designs. Digital Polymer is essentially a layer of glue laid down that foil adheres to the top of. It is also good for short to medium print runs and great for use with variable data, but there are a limited number of colors to choose from as the foil comes in pre-colored sheets.

Trend 6: Snowflakes (or Customization/Personalization)
Personalization is creating a tailored experience based on consumers’ previous behaviors while customization modifies something to suit a particular individual or task. These two processes allow individuality to shine through and make customers feel special which connects them more closely to a brand.

“Snowflakes” refers to a print project where Field Notes, a notebook company, crafted an algorithm that produced and rendered 99,999 lovely snowflake illustrations to create a unique cover of each notebook they sold to customers in a limited edition run. This sort of customization and personalization has become more feasible for companies to do thanks to processing codes, algorithms, and proprietary software like HP’s SmartStream Mosaic. In order for it to work well, companies must create good customer data analytics and ensure customer privacy.

Trend 7: AR (Augmented [Current] Reality)
Augmented Reality (AR) enhances a user’s experience of the real world.

It is added to printed pieces with image markers that an app or website recognizes upon scanning. This technology can be great to use, but it is very hard to do well. It should be used mindfully and purposefully. It tends to work best to enhance a teaching/education experience or a try-before-you-buy experience. One often successful application of it is with packaging labels and containers.
Adding AR allows the consumer to learn more about a process that won’t fix on label or package (ie: liquor packaging—how whiskey is made) or extra notes on a product that won’t fix on label or package (ie: wine label—how to serve, where its made, how its made).

Originally, consumers had to download various AR apps to use with products enhance with AR, but now WebAR makes it more accessible to all. All you need is an internet connection to take part in the AR experience of a brand.

Taylor Design Blog