Designing For Print – What You Need To Know

Richard Stockdale - Rebus Design Richard Stockdale 22nd October 2020

Designing for print and designing for the web are two very different disciplines; and that is the golden rule you need to remember whichever of the two you are trying to master. A good web designer doesn’t necessarily make a good print designer, and vice versa. But it is possible to be an expert in both, as long as you grasp the basic differences between the two and then build on that technical knowledge. So those differences, and what makes a good print designer is what we are going to be looking at here.

Whilst you might be able to build a fantastic-looking design on your laptop in the office, there are some fundamental elements that you need to understand when trying to replicate that design on the printed page. This is because what you see on the screen isn’t necessarily going to be what you see when it is printed.

This can be down to colours, font sizes, images or the general page layout, or it could be down to how you have designed the page. Maybe you haven’t taken into account that there will be folds in the page, or the spine of the publication makes the pages curved, or just the fact that the reader is holding an object in their hands, and hence it may not be flat or straight when compared to a laptop, tablet or smartphone screen? These can all have an influence on how you design a printed page.

What are the differences between digital and print design?

So fundamentally, you need to know what your printed page is going to be for. Is it a magazine? A book? A flyer? A newspaper? Or maybe a leaflet? Will the paper be glossy? How thick will it be? These factors can all effect how you design certain elements and what font sizes you use. But there are some very important technical features that you need to understand also:


Digital designers use the ‘RGB’ format when looking at colours, so this is the fact that all colours are formed from the red, green or blue combination. In printed design, you need to be using ‘CMYK’, which makes colours from the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black combination. So you shouldn’t assume that colours you create in a digital format will appear the same on the printed page. Furthermore, even black can cause you issues when printing. You might think black is black, but when designing digitally, most packages default to an ‘almost black’ setting, so you need to change this to something that is usually ‘true black’ otherwise, the printed colour can appear like grey. In truth, unless you have a very good quality printer, it is possible that a number of colours created digitally won’t transfer to being as good in print, so you need to be very careful and choose colours and printing quality carefully.


When creating a design on a screen you are dealing with pixels, and hence your resolution is in pixels per inch (PPI), but printed design works in DPI, or dots per inch. So you need to make sure that the resolution you are using on your digital design will result in a suitable printed image. For this reason you should avoid using small fonts, because when they are printed out they may appear blurred and not sharp, even though they did on the screen.


This is a similar situation as faced with resolution, in that the file size of images used is very important when transferring from digital to print. We might not realise it, but an image copied off the internet or from social media is usually a fairly low file size, and if we used this same image for printing onto paper, there is a very good chance the resolution won’t be good enough, and it can look blurred or pixelated. You might get away with it for a thumbnail image or any small image, but generally speaking, the bigger the printed image, the bigger the file size you will need. On a website, a big file size isn’t needed, and it will slow down the speed in which the page loads anyway, but the image will look clear and sharp on a screen, but that isn’t necessarily how it will look printed out. A general rule is that images need to be about 300-400 DPI in resolution to be good enough for printing.


When designing a page for printing, you need to factor in what designers call a ‘bleed’. This is a border area around the entire edge of all four sides of the page, which a printer will automatically cut off. Most design packages default this to 3mm, but you need to check it, and effectively ensure there is an “extra” 3mm around the edge before you start the design you want to see printed out.

Don’t forget to proof-read!

These are the basic technical elements you need to understand before starting a digital design which you want to transfer to a printed object. Except of course, the most basic element of all; proof-reading. Make sure you check every last detail of your design before sending it to print, otherwise you might have 10,000 leaflets with the wrong address, wrong price or with an embarrassing spelling mistake. This could all be crucial to your business, so before you commit anything to print; check, check and check again.

Do you need an expert print designer? Call Rebus, the boutique design and branding agency, today. Click here to contact us.

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