Over the decades, graphic design changed along with new technologies. Television influenced the way artists envision their projects. Digital ads require different methods than static ones. Probably one of the most significant factors in graphic design is printing.
The printing industry changed massively from its initial start with a press to today’s highly automated computer-generated printouts.
Is Printing Part of Graphic Design?
Graphic design for printing is unique. When one creates something for digital consumption, it has different requirements than that for print. Some of the differences include color palettes and resolution. The pixels for a web-only design are going to naturally be much lower than what’s needed for print.
IBISWorld estimates the United States’ printing industry is worth $79.7 billion, with a projected 1.8% growth. Although online advertising has taken some print business away, the slightly upward trajectory indicates people still use printing in marketing. Graphic designers will likely always have work in a physical medium.
What are some things you need to know to keep a competitive design edge when it comes to printing?
1. Understand True Black
One thing new designers sometimes forget is that choosing black isn’t true black. Even in CMYK, you’ll default to #000000. This is nearly black and appears so on a computer screen but doesn’t convert to black for print, creating muted prints.
To solve the issue, go to the color picker and set the CMYK values to C50, M40, Y40 and K100. Your printed material will now be a sharp, crisp black that is visually pleasing. You’ll have happier clients and your work will stand out.
2. Consider Tactile
Experts recommend adding in elements people can touch to your printed material such as a bit of texture. Research shows both millennials and seniors need tactile and visual if you want to grab their attention. Adding a little texture makes a huge difference.
You might also think of experiential displays. How can you create a story? Put the user into the experience and they’re much more likely to convert into buyers.
3. Remember the Bleed
When working with print, you have to allow for bleed. It really is trial and error figuring out what works best for different designs and even with various printers. Too much bleed and you’ll have a wide negative space around your design. Too little and portions get cut off.
Most printers offer some suggestions for how to design and what the bleed area should measure. Three millimeters is a standard bleed size. Most design software allows you to customize your bleed size.
4. Embrace Contrast
On a computer, users can turn up the brightness. On a mobile device, they can choose dark mode. In real life, they have to view the design the way it physically appears. Ensure your designs pop by focusing on contrast.
At the strongest point, black on a white background is going to pop as will white on black. However, most people want to add various hues to their designs. Focus on using opposites. If your background is light, use the darkest text and accents possible. For example, you might choose buttercup-yellow and navy-blue.
You don’t have to create boring designs. It’s okay to use color. Just be smart about the hues you choose.
5. Embrace Vintage
It’s been said there is nothing new under the sun. Many designs have been done before, even when people think they’ve come up with something fresh. Why not embrace the past and come up with some vintage designs? Gutenberg experimented with typeface as far back as the 1400s, so there are many fonts that look sharp and interesting in print.
Try both serif and sans serif fonts to see what fits the tone of your client best. A modern company may need something a bit edgier. Lose the serifs to create a sleek look. However, a more traditional brand, such as an antique store may want a script or soft serif swirls.
6. Test Distance
Another aspect you must consider with print is how far away users are likely to be when they view the material. With digital design, you can assume they are within a few feet of the viewing device.
However, with print, the user could be in their car, driving at a high speed down the interstate as they pass a billboard.
How much material can you effectively fit on the design considering distance and velocity? Will the person view a store sign or logo from across the road? Is the spacing right between letters for them to be read clearly? Not everyone has 20/20 vision, so keep that in mind as well.
7. Use the Right Format and DPI (Dots Per Inch)
You already know the resolution must be higher for print material to show up sharp and as intended. You’ll want to use 300 DPI so photos and images come through correctly and print without fuzzy parts.
Most printers want your designs in PDF because the spacing and everything will come through exactly as you see them on your screen. Another option is sending SVG files for large scale projects such as billboards. SVGs can scale up or down without losing their shape or sharpness.
Practice Print Work
You may find you have fewer occasions to create print work as the world becomes more and more digital. Even billboards are turning to digital displays. However, keeping your print prowess up to date allows you to jump in and work on designs for any medium you can imagine. Take on pro bono work for organizations you believe in. Create your own brochures for your agency. Find ways to practice print work until you’re more comfortable with it.
Eleanor is the editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the director at a marketing agency prior to becoming a freelance web designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and dog, Bear.