Novelty printing


When you hear the term “novelty printing,” you probably think of corporate logos on pens and “World’s Best Boss” mugs. Yes, it is true that lots of promotional products are considered to be “novelty printing”, but this category can be so much more creative than that. I am pleased to set the record straight and show you examples of clever and innovative novelty printed products. Many of these products do not only cater to one’s sense of sight, but to all five senses: sight, touch, taste, smell and sound. Let’s explore five examples of novelty printed products that interact with each of the senses.

Novelty Printing Through the 5 Senses

novelty-sainsburSIGHT: Seed Paper

Seed paper, like varieties available at Botanical Paperworks (, is an innovative paper technology whereby seeds are embodied within handmade paper products. Once the paper is used for its intended purpose (business cards, promotional items, wedding initiations, etc.) it can be planted and watered to produce new life. The paper itself is handmade from post-consumer waste, and once its expected life as a printed product is over, all that remains are beautiful flowers, herbs or vegetables. It is a sustainable process that leaves behind no waste. The paper products sold by Botanical Paperworks can be passed through a home inkjet printer, increasing opportunities for consumer end use.

TOUCH: Personalized Flip Books

Personalized flipbooks are amazing little keepsakes that capture favourite memories. There are several online printers who provide this service and create customized, variable data flipbooks. Customers simply upload a short video they want to capture and image stills are extracted, printed and bound into book format. The price is right too, with some flipbooks selling for under $15 (like the ones at flipclips –


novelty-cakeTASTE: Edible Inks and Papers

Everyone loves a tasty piece of cake… even more so if they are eating a picture of their own face! Edible inks and papers are used mainly by the baking and confectionary industries for commercial use creating unique cake designs. The edible paper can be passed through an inkjet printer and it can be made of rice paper or, alternately, a sugar and starch combination. The ink consists of food colouring that dyes the edible paper in the same way that inkjet ink would be deposited onto a sheet of paper. Edible papers have very little flavour or texture, and are therefore perfect for this application as they almost “melt” into the icing on top of the cake. The resulting effect appears as though the image has been printed directly on the iced top of the cake. Any inkjet printer can be used to facilitate the printing of edible ink onto the edible paper, however the resolution of the output device must be taken into consideration when aiming for a high quality end product.

SMELL: Canadian Tire’s Scentvertising

Here’s a new take on an old process! In a series of full-page Canadian home magazine advertisements, Canadian Tire harnessed the power of “scentvertising”. They employed visually appealing ads, printed on traditional perfumed peel-back scent flaps, with aromas such as “freshly mowed grass” and “charcoal barbeque”. On the back of the advertisements were coupons for products to get ready for spring. This clever ad provides an innovative sensory experience to get consumers excited about spring-related products at Canadian Tire.


novelty-recordSOUND: The Paper Record Player

Kelli Anderson is a Brooklyn-based designer and artist who works with a variety of media including photography, digital design and print. (She even has her own letterpress from 1919 housed in her apartment!). One of her recent projects is “The Paper Record Player” and I had the pleasure of speaking with Kelli about this project.

“The Paper Record Player” is a feat of paper engineering that is not only functional, but also captivatingly beautiful. It was designed and created for a friend’s wedding invitation, where recipients received a neatly packaged booklet that, when opened, morphed into a self-contained record player made almost entirely of paper.

“Part of The Paper Record Player’s charm is the awkward, handmade feel. People feel like they can mess with it and use it with their hands.”

The record itself was a flexidisc (a thinner and cheaper alternative to vinyl records that were manufactured at Pirate Press in San Francisco), however the needle arm, turntable base and booklet structure are all comprised of paper. A simple set of three instructions guided invitees to fold the paper record arm so that the (sewing) needle could make contact with the record at a 90-degree angle. Once the needle makes contact, the user then spins the record manually at 45 rpm to hear the song play. There is no speaker or added amplifier contained within the record player. The folded, thin paper arm facilitates vibration allowing the sound to be naturally amplified through this crafty device. All pages of this piece were simply sewn onto the cover stock, binding all components together.

The project took a period of four months to complete from original concept to the accomplishment of 200 printed and assembled copies. Lots of prototyping took place during this time and a few paper engineering-specific issues cropped up. One issue involved unwanted friction produced from manually spinning the disc on the inside back cover, thereby creating excess noise. Kelli’s clever solution was to laminate the back cover to reduce friction and therefore reduce the noise.

When Kelli was asked if she would venture into another paper engineering project, her response was a resounding, “Yes, absolutely! But I have to recover from The Paper Record Player first.”

Check out the record player in motion: .

You can find Kelli on the web at

These and other innovations in novelty printing are exciting for the graphic communications industry and push the boundaries of how we understand print to exist in our everyday lives. Whether you see printed matter on a page, feel it in the form of a print-on-demand flipbook, taste it in your birthday cake, smell it in a magazine or hear it in a wedding invitation, there are so many interesting ways to interact with printed pieces.


Diana Varma is an Instructor at the School of Graphic Communications Management at Ryerson University and the Owner of ON-SITE First Aid & CPR Training Group, a health & safety company that provides training to the Graphic Arts Industry.