Difference between Hard Copy and Soft Copy

January 13, 2016 by Editorial Team

In the business and digital world, we often hear the terms hard copy and soft copy. Both actually have one common purpose and that’s presenting or storing written material and data. Knowing these differences may not change much on your view of these terms, but it will surely clear up some questions you might have.


Hard Copy

A sample hard copy of the UNIX programmer’s manual vol. 1

A hard copy is a physical permanent reproduction of any media suitable for direct use through printouts. Taking the term ‘hard copy’ itself provides us a little description of being touchable, viewable, and tangible. In other words, it is a printed data which one can hold and read. Its main purpose is to have a record of your data in physical form that you can store for safe keeping in case your storage device in some way crashes or is corrupted.

Examples of hard copy are printed books, magazines, newspapers, comics, and other documents.

Soft Copy

Soft Copy
MS Word program used to open, edit, and manipulate soft copy documents

A soft copy, in contrast to a hard copy, is the unprinted digital document file. It is usually viewed by certain pieces of software like word processing programs, database programs, presentation software, or any other program that can open your document’s extension file. One of its purposes is to provide an easier file transfer even through long distances by use of email and other file transfer-supported websites. USB drives can also be used to transfer these files in case there’s no available network (internet or local) near you.

One benefit of having a soft copy is the elimination of one’s need of paper, ink, and printer. Also, copying is an easy task with just a few seconds in which you can have 10 identical copies of your original data.


The main difference is actually their appearance and how they are presented. With a hard copy, you can literally touch and hold the reproduction of your data file, while with a soft copy, you can only edit the data file (presuming the file is editable) and view it through a monitor or screen display.

Each one does have their advantages, but unfortunately some disadvantages too, including the cost. Having a hard copy of say 20 pages of biography will cost you more simply because you have used ink and paper, while having soft copies of the document file will only cost you storage space. Portability also comes into play when talking about 1,000 pages of documents being carried around. Imagine carrying both a printed 1,000 word document file and a small USB stick. Although most of the advantages may come from your soft copy, you should also consider the benefits of being able to actually read a book while holding it and flipping it page by page.

So to sum up, a hard copy is a printed or physical copy of a document, while a soft copy is virtually a copy of the document that is stored on your hard drives or other storage devices.

Comparison Chart

Hard CopySoft Copy
More expensiveLess expensive
Portability issuesNo portability issues
Less chance of being preserved for a very long timeCan be preserved for a very long time
Physical in natureLogical in nature
Editing/Manipulating is harderEditing/Manipulating is easier