Tuesday, February 7, 2023

What’s the Difference Between Hard Copy and Soft Copy

Join us, as we explore the difference between hard copy and soft copy in detail.

The terms, hard copy and soft copy are a regular fixture in professional and personal conversations. Both serve the same purpose – to present, store and share information in the form of text, photograph, image, infographic, or a combination of them all. Despite the similarity, they are two different things with varying characteristics and a purpose to solve. And, that makes each of them invaluable.

If that has piqued your interest, let’s elaborate on the difference between a hard copy and a soft copy. Being aware of the differences won’t change the way you look at these terms, it will nonetheless satisfy your curiosity.

Difference between Hard Copy and Soft Copy

A document can exist either as a hard copy or a soft copy or both. Let’s approach it this way. Imagine purchasing a copy of a novel from a local bookstore or accessing its digital version from Kindle or PDF platforms. From content and design to usage, everything about the book remains the same but what changes is the medium. One has a physical form while the other exists digitally. The physical book is your hard copy and its digital version is, a soft copy. The same applies to other documents.

Hard copy comes across as a tactile method of collecting and exchanging data. On the other hand, the soft copy surfaced with the development of digital technology and revolutionized the source of obtaining and disseminating information. Virtually all information these days is in the soft copy format. That said, the hard copy remains relevant in certain scenarios and applications.

Let’s take a look at both formats before we get on with hard copy vs. soft copy.

What is Hard Copy?

What is Hard CopyWhat is a hard copy? Well, to address the question, let’s revisit the novel analogy. You can hold the novel’s printed copy and use it directly, minus the requirement of an electronic medium. Simply put, a hard copy is something tangible that you can view, read, touch, hold, carry around and share in a physical form. You either write it manually or get it through printouts from your PC and gadgets.

However, you require a “hard copy output device” to obtain a hard copy of a document, which exists as a soft copy on the PC or online. Wondering which device is not an example of hard copy output? The answer is any device other than a printer, plotter, or microfiche. As a side note, hard copy meaning in Hindi is कागज़ी प्रति (Kaagazee Prati), where Kaagaz means paper and Prati denotes copy.

“Durable copy,” “physical document,” and “hard copy” – all mean the same. Regarding examples of hard copy, think resumes, appointment letters, attested degrees, paperback editions of books, journals, and comics, alongside property ownership and identity documents. Every document written or printed on paper or any visible medium qualifies to be a hard copy.

Benefits of Hard Copy

Even in the onslaught of the digital revolution, hard copies still find takers. Rather, they are irreplaceable in certain scenarios and use cases. Knowing the benefits of hard copy gives you a better perspective on the difference between hardcopy and softcopy. So, here’s your rundown.

  • Establish Authenticity:

Suppose you apply for a job. In all likelihood, the recruiter will ask you to produce hard copies of attested documents to establish your qualifications, personal details, credentials, and more. On the other hand, soft copies aren’t as trustworthy in this scenario.

  • Backup, Backup & Backup:

In the corporate world, hard copies serve as a backup for digital versions of key documents. When you have a backup, your data won’t be lost forever in the wake of a system breakdown. Data is the lifeblood, and no business can afford to lose it.

  • Safe Storage:

Electronic data is prone to hacking as it stays on PCs, drives, or clouds. On the contrary, printed copies stored in a document storage facility or an office safe aren’t easily accessible. With safety assured, hard copies are your best bet regarding safe storage.

  • Permanent Elimination:

Let’s face it. A skilled hacker can retrieve the deleted soft copies as they linger in the PC in some form. Conversely, you can get rid of unwanted hard copies for good. Just pass them through a micro-cut shredder, and you are sorted. Burning is also an option.

  • Convenient to Reproduce & Share:

Just present a document and the recipient can go through it without requiring electronic media. You can store them to create sharable physical records. Do we need to say that it is a major difference between hard copy and soft copy?

  • Easily Convertible:

Breathe easy if you want a soft copy of a physical document. Just scan the document, and it’s ready for sharing and storing. However, scan carefully to keep flaws at bay.

Now that hard copy is out of the way; it’s time to shift focus to what is a soft copy.

What is a Soft copy?

What is a Soft copyA Soft Copy’s entire existence is in the virtual world. You create, display, alter and preserve it as a file on desktops, cloud, smartphones, USB sticks, memory cards, or any hard disc (PATA, SATA, SCSI, and SSD). Unlike a hard copy, you cannot physically touch, use, store, or share it. A power-driven (electronic) medium is always involved when dealing with a soft copy.

Subject to the nature of the document, you may open and modify a soft copy with MS Word, Google Docs, MS PowerPoint, PDF readers, and other specialized applications. Alongside the non-tangible form, the other prime difference between hardcopy and softcopy is their shareability. You can share a soft copy electronically via emails, messaging apps, social media, and more. The sharing is super-quick, secure, and effortless globally, which is why soft copies stay significant.

The transfers can also happen over a network or via USB drives, eliminating the need for couriers and fax machines. On the downside, a soft copy is prone to altercations, compromising its legal standing against a signed/attested hard copy. However, all key documents take shape as soft copies. After editing, modifications, and approvals, they can be converted into hard copies. But why? Soft copies are easy to alter and share back and forth between concerned parties.

Soft Copy: Etymology

Examples of a softcopy include MS Word Docs, XLX files, PDF files, Presentation files, and any e-copy of a printed document achieved through scanning. It follows that any non-printed document (text, image, and/or video) with a virtual presence is a soft copy. Speaking of etymology, they credit Ted Nelson for coining the term. As a side note, soft copy meaning in Hindi is साफ्ट प्रति (Soft Prati) or इलैक्ट्रिक प्रति (Electronic Prati). Likewise, soft copy meaning in Tamil is மென்மையான நகல் (Meṉmaiyāṉa Nakal) and soft copy meaning in Telugu is సాఫ్ట్ కాపీ (Sāphṭ Kāpī).

Benefits of Soft Copy

Soft copy is a product of the digital revolution that changed how we work and communicate. Let’s understand why soft copies are the norm for personal and professional communications, which, in turn, helps you get a handle on hard copy vs soft copy and the meaning of soft copy.

  • Easy and economical storage: A soft copy fares better when it comes to storage. One GB can accommodate over 19200 pages of MS Word files, proving to be way more economical. Think of it as a major difference between hardcopy and softcopy, driving the popularity of soft copies.
  • Free sharing: Feel free to email soft copies without incurring mailing expenses. Also, file sharing via messaging apps and social media is free, making soft copy feasible.
  • Immune to destruction: Soft copies are less vulnerable and more durable in the long run. A soft copy stays immune to destruction if you create multiple backups and store them securely.
  • Sustainability: Soft copies are environmentally friendly. That’s in contrast to hard copies printed on paper. Paper, as we know, accounts for trees, thereby depleting our fragile ecology.
  • Control: The soft copy applications feature the “search” function, allowing you to access the required information quickly. Conversely, you do it manually in a hard copy, which is an ordeal.
  • Easy to Edit: Soft copies are a breeze regarding editing and formatting. Hard copies cannot offer this luxury, as any changes in the document are easily recognizable.
  • Presentation-savvy: You can rely on soft copies for presentations in meetings, seminars, and more. Feel free to distribute the doc digitally to attendees, allowing them to go through it.

Hard Copy Vs. Soft Copy: Head-to-Head Comparison

You now know what a hard copy and a soft copy are. Let’s summarize the difference between hard and soft copies in a table format. The classifications cover all parameters that matter.

Parameters   Hard Copy Soft Copy
Nature Available in physical form and can be touched, read, carried around, and shared physically. Available in virtual form and can be viewed on a desktop or any electronic gadget. You can’t touch it.
Storage A hard copy is stored by handwritten notes or printed on a sheet. A soft copy is stored virtually in a computer drive or a USB device.
Electricity It can be used without electricity Needs electricity to use
Portability Can be carried physically but not in large quantities Can be carried easily in large quantities via USB drives or SD cards
Sharing A photocopy is the best way to share information. It can be shared via emails, external drives, or the cloud.
Interface Does not require any interface to view or read any information. Requires an interface like a desktop, tablet, or phone to view or read.
Costing Printing and publishing hard copies can be expensive. Comparatively, it is cost-effective as no printing is required.
Conversion Scanning is a mode of converting a hard copy to a soft copy. It can be converted into a hard copy via printing.
Examples Advertisement papers, magazines, newspapers, posters, etc. PDF files, Word documents, XLS files, etc. 

How to Protect Soft Copies?

Soft copies can disappear quickly if you aren’t careful enough. You can lose them in the event of a hard drive crash, fire, flood, and other “acts of god.” Laptops and gadgets getting stolen are also a common way to lose vital e-documents. Plus, they are vulnerable to human error and malevolent software. Even hackers can break into the system and steal your sensitive documents.

However, a few simple yet effective measures can keep your soft copies away from harm’s way.

  • Use Password Protection:

This is the most basic of all protection measures. A password-protected file will discourage any unauthorized access to your sensitive documents. The process is quick and easy too, whether it’s an MS Word or a PDF file. You are better off with strong passwords using numbers and special characters. Also, use both uppercase and lowercase letters to strengthen the password.

  • Implement Two-Factor Authentication:

The two-factor authentication (2FA) is an effective safeguard for your soft copies. It works on the principle of two-step verification to grant access to sensitive documents. The first factor is your username and password. The second factor is the OTP. The software will generate and send to your mobile device when you attempt to access the file. So, even if someone hacks your username & password, the software will deny him/her access without a valid OTP. It’s complicated but effective.

  • File Encryption:

It is another highly-recommended method to deter unauthorized access to vital e-documents. The encryption process involves converting plaintext into ciphertext, making it difficult for the hacker to make sense of the information. However, when an authorized person accesses the information with a password, it is converted back into plaintext. Think of it as a method of disguising information. You can rely on encryption software or activate the in-built system in Apple and Windows devices.

  • Backup, Back & Backup:

It’s the most practical strategy to preserve your important e-documents. Imagine having a single copy of an important document on your system’s hard drive. You’ll lose it forever if the drive crashes or the system is stolen, destroyed, or corrupted. You could save a lot of trouble by having a backup in the cloud or the internet. The cloud not only stores backup files but also encrypts them.

What to Choose?

One peculiar thing about hard and soft copy is the conversion. Just scan a handwritten or printed hard copy of a document, and you get a soft copy. Likewise, a printout of a soft copy is your hard copy of the document. While both formats have their share of pros and cons, the difference between hardcopy and softcopy is just too profound. And, regarding the suitability, it depends on the nature of the document and your individual requirements. Let’s elaborate on how.

As a business, you are better off maintaining a physical record of a few key documents like:

  • Company registration and partnership documents
  • Real estate ownership and rental agreements
  • All business contracts, licenses, and permits
  • Corporate and government correspondence
  • Insurance documents & Promissory notes
  • Sensitive Employee and Customer information

Mind you; governments require you to maintain hard copies of certain documents for regulatory compliance. That’s because hard copies have legal standing, which their virtual counterparts lack. When stakes are this high, it makes sense to store sensitive hard copies in filing cabinets designed to deter fire, heat, moisture, and unauthorized access. If your office lacks proper storage space, you should rely on an off-site facility that meets your expectations, specifications, and budget.

What Should You Read? Hardcopy vs. Softcopy

You might find it challenging to decide whether to fetch a hard copy of your favorite novel or go for its soft version. Both variants bring different benefits to the table. So, it boils down to your individual preferences. Based on readers’ feedback, here’s what each option offers.

Hardcopy:
  • Holding a book is an experience in itself. No book lover will trade it for anything. It’s that special. 
  • Just turn the pages of an old book. The dusty cellulose smell will overpower you, returning to the good old days when life was so perfect and carefree. Even new books smell great. 
  • Books do not involve many distractions, allowing you to focus. So you end up understanding the concept or situation better. Also, an immersive experience comes by default. 
  • Purchasing a hard copy makes sense if you aspire to build a massive library and impress visitors with your collection. Mind you; nobody is interested in knowing what you read on Kindle.  
  • The hard copy doesn’t stress your eyes, doesn’t involve charging hassles, and helps save energy.
Soft Copy:
  • Soft copies are convenient to carry around. A whole library of books can fit in your purse, ready to go where life takes you. That’s one big reason for the growing popularity of e-books.
  • Soft copies are cheap. Titles on e-readers like Kindle cost a fraction of their hardcopy versions. Guess what? PDF versions are available for free at e-libraries like Gutenberg Project.
  • The e-readers spoil you for choice with a stunning variety of books to read. Once bought, you can access them at the time and place of your choosing. How’s that for convenience?
  • There is no need to look for a dictionary whenever you encounter a difficult word. The e-readers have an in-built dictionary that can be accessed instantly. Even translation is possible.
  • Highlighting a given section of the text, taking notes and bookmarking pages are easier in a soft copy. One electronic marker can do all this and more and that too without messing up.
  • Bored of reading? Feel free to browse the internet or play your favorite tracks on your e-reader.
  • Searching for books in an E-reader is a breeze. Just type in the title and you are sorted.
  • Being paperless, E-books are sustainable, helping prevent deforestation.

Conclusion

By now, you must be having a clear understanding of all the key differences between hardcopy and softcopy. Both formats serve a common purpose: to create, store, communicate and present information. Simply put, you cannot imagine any form of official communication other than verbal without hard copies and soft copies. Besides the overlap, both formats have distinctive applications in distinctive settings. While you count on hard copies to maintain official records, soft copies come in handy in storing personal info. Interestingly, both are easily convertible.

Frequently Asked Questions 

1. How do you define a hard copy? 

A hard copy is loosely defined as a handwritten or printed copy of a document. Being tangible, it is touchable, readable, shareable, and transportable. A hard copy is creatable by writing and printing on paper or transparent. Though the use case is vast, you primarily use it for maintaining official records. Examples include Books, Journals, Tabloids, or anything else that can be held in hand and read directly.       

2. How do you define a softcopy?

A softcopy is an e-copy of a document, meaning it exists solely in the virtual world. Being virtual, it’s accessible with the help of a digital medium like PCs, tabs, and smartphones. A softcopy is obtainable by scanning a hardcopy or typing content directly on supporting applications. Examples: E-books, E-journals, PDF Files, Scanned docs, or any virtually accessible document. 

3. Hardcopy vs. softcopy, which is better? 

The prime difference between hardcopy and softcopy is the form. The former is physical while the latter is virtual. This difference manifests in different applications in different settings. While hard copies are typically relied on for maintaining official records, soft copies are the norm for storing personal information. Plus, hard copies have legal standing but are unsustainable, difficult to store, and costly to reproduce. On the other hand, soft copies are ideal for long-distance sharing and are cost-effective but prone to tampering and unauthorized access. If not properly secured, you can lose them for good.

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Mamoor Ahmad
Mamoor Ahmad
My name is Mamoor Ahmad, and I graduated as a Mechanical Engineer. My passion for researching and writing about technological breakthroughs, tourist destinations, traveling, and new innovations allows me to provide enterprises, websites, and startups with the boost they need to grow their business.

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