Ever since the smartphone era began, companies have looked for ways to quickly get information from the offline product world onto the phone. Barcode scanning and QR codes work, but what if we could just use a printed solution readable by our phone’s touchscreen?


Ever since the smartphone era began, companies have looked for ways to quickly get information from the offline product world onto the phone. Barcode scanning is a popular approach while QR codes and proprietary tags, such as those from Microsoft, are other less-used solutions. These all require cameras and specifically printed codes; what if we could just use what looks like a standard ink solution and the touchscreen on our phones?

That’s exactly the idea behind Printechnologic’s Touchcode; the German company has developed an electronic print product with interactivity. Printed material using Touchcode technology looks no different than a standard print product, is recyclable and can be used on a range of products, such as tickets, food items, business cards, or nearly anything that you can put ink on. A customizable electronic code embedded in the print process interacts with a phone’s capacitive screen, much like your fingers do, giving the handset a web address or file download, for example. Here’s how the company describes it:

“Touchcode is an invisible electronic code printed on paper, cardboard, film or labels. Just put the product on the display of your smartphone/tablet/multitouch device to read the data – no matter if you’d like to confirm the authenticity of your brand product or make your card game come to life. With Touchcode, you add interactivity to just about any product.”

It’s a simply elegant solution and takes advantage of the growing number of touchscreen devices in the mobile market. DisplaySearch estimates that 2011 saw 566 million touch screen shipments for mobile phones, with rapid expansion going forward. Here’s an interactive video demo showing how Touchcode works and explaining the many possibilities for the product:

I think Touchcode is ingenious because it directly bridges the physical and digital worlds with a medium that’s been used for thousands of years: Ink. The products looks no different than any printed medium today. And they gain the extra characteristic of working with a capacitive touch screen.

Imagine tapping a printed card in Starbucks to your handset for a direct download of the tune currently playing. Maybe a printed concert ticket can open up a web page with the artist’s bio or an advance listen to an upcoming but unpublished song. Or instead of manually logging your food with a barcode, the food packaging itself contains a link to the nutritional values and can log the entry for you while also providing relevant recipes.

The idea behind these interactive codes has really never been the problem in adoption. Instead, the implementations haven’t been quite as universal as they need to be. Near-field communications, or NFC, tags could help, but they require both the tag and a phone with an NFC reader. Barcodes are probably the next best thing up until now, but are an electronic-only solution; unless you’ve learned to “read” a barcode yourself, they add little value alone.

Printed materials with Touchcode technology offer two solutions, however. The printed information itself is understandable by anyone who can read while extra information or links to other data works with a touch-capable smartphone. I’d call that a win all around if Touchcode can get clients to start using its codes during the print process.

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  1. Howard Liptzin Tuesday, March 27, 2012

    but you still need to have downloaded and fire up the proprietary app, no?

  2. Hmm, isn’t this solution much better?

    Either a visible code, or just visual recognition seem to be useful. Invisible codes seem to be the worst of both worlds quite frankly.

  3. I don’t want anything rubbing against my phone screen if I can help it. It can smudge, scrape or scratch and i don’t see people putting their expensive phones screens on some public surface that could damage it.

  4. “These all require cameras”…. I guess any smartphone with touchscreen has a camaray right?

  5. But QR Codes are very diverse, easy to use and free.

  6. Also, what’s the cost of printing these special codes on paper VS using regular, non-interactive ink? QR codes have the advantage of being cheaply printable

  7. What’s the cost difference of this technology VS regular printing? At least you can print QR codes cheaply…

  8. Dean Collins Tuesday, April 3, 2012

    dumb dumb dumb.

    i cant stress how poor image recognition works with real world use.

    the reason this is a fail comes down to door knobs. yep thats right door knobs.

    when was the last time someone showed you “how to use” a door you hadn’t seen used before? that’s right you don’t, you see a door knob and you know what the UX will be.

    The issue with image recognition is unless you can guarantee every print/object/surface in the world is linked to your database when people pull out their scanner and it doesn’t work a few times they are going to feel like idiots.

    People understand the “practice” of using QR codes, pull out phone/scan/get result – same as door knobs.


  9. Intresting… I wonder if the surface comes too close to an electrical or magnetic source does it scramble, much like a putting your hotel key card in the same pocket as your cell phone. Plus, how does a user know that the image has this embedded technology.

    QR Codes are getting closer to universal adoption — still somewhat clunky, but they are coming along. I regularly see people of all ages scanning and discussing. The biggest problem for QR Codes is the crummy landing pages / user experience they too often lead to. Come on marketers, get your act together here!

    1. Gina, Blaming clunky landing pages on QR codes would be like blaming the internet for Geocities….

      Its not a fault of the technology….

  10. This doesn’t require any of those things. It only uses your capacitive screen (touchscreen), which interacts with the ink on the paper/packaging. The ink is like your finger interacting with your touchscreen. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capacitive_sensing

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