Friday, September 30, 2022

What’s the Difference Between Hard Copy and Soft Copy

Join us, as we explore the difference between hardcopy and softcopy in detail.

The terms, hard copy and soft copy are a regular fixture in professional and personal conversations. Guess what? Both serve the same purpose – to present, store and share information, which can be in form of text, image, photograph, infographic or a combination of them all. Despite the similarity, they are two different things with varying characteristics and use cases. If that has piqued your interest, let’s elaborate on the difference between hardcopy and softcopy. Being aware of the differences won’t change the way you look at these terms, it will nonetheless satisfy your curiosity.

Difference between Hardcopy and Softcopy 

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 is version, 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 continues to stay relevant in certain scenarios and applications. 

Let’s take a look at both formats before we get on with the 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? Well, the answer is any device other than a printer, plotter and 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. When it comes to examples of hard copy, think resumes, appointment letter, attested degrees, paperback editions of books, journals and comics, alongside property ownership and identity documents. It follows that every document written or printed on paper or any visible medium qualifies to be a hard copy.

Difference Between Hard Copy & Soft Copy: Benefits of Hard Copy 

Even in the onslaught of 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 comprehensive 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 wake of a system breakdown. Mind you, 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 when it comes to 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 touch, use, store or share it physically. There’s always an involvement of a power-driven (electronic) medium when it comes to dealing with a soft copy.

Examples of a soft copy 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).

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 are free to share a soft copy electronically, via emails, messaging apps, social media, and more. The sharing is super-quick, secure, and effortless across the globe, 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, which compromises its legal standing against a signed/attested hard copy. However, all key documents take shape as a soft copy and upon editing, modifications and approvals, they can be converted into hard copies. But why? Well, soft copies are easy to alter and share back and forth between concerned parties.

Difference Between Hard Copy & Soft Copy: Benefits of Soft Copy 

Soft copy is a product of the digital revolution that changed the way 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 a feasible communication mode.
  • 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 quickly access the required piece of info. Conversely, in a hard copy, you do it manually, which is an ordeal.
  • Easy to Edit: Soft copies are a breeze when it comes to 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.

Difference between Hard copy and Soft copy: Head to Head Comparison

By now, you know now what a hard copy and a soft copy are. Let’s summarize the difference between hard copy and soft copy 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 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 for sharing information. 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. Can be converted into a hard copy via printing.
Examples Advertisement papers, magazines, newspapers, posters, etc. PDF files, Word documents, XLS files, etc. 

Difference Between Hard Copy & Soft Copy: What to Choose

One peculiar thing about hard copy and a soft copy is the conversion. Just scan a handwritten or printed hard copy of a document, and you get a soft copy of it. 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, when it comes to 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.


By now, you must be having a clear understanding of all the key differences between hard copy and soft copy. Both the formats serve a common purpose, which is 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. What is 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 is for maintaining official records. Examples: Books, Journals, Tabloids or anything else that can be read directly.       

2. What is a soft copy?

A soft copy 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 soft copy is obtainable through scanning a hard copy or typing content directly on supporting applications. Examples: E-books, E-journals, PDF Files, Scanned docs or any virtually accessible document. 

3. What’s the difference between hardcopy and softcopy? 

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 a 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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