7 Tips for Designing for Print

You’ve spent your career designing for the web and suddenly you’re asked to design a print brochure. Now what? Good design is good design, but when it comes to print, there are critical differences that you need to know. Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your print project.

  1. Know what press and substrate will be used.

To optimize any print job, you need to know whether it will be output on offset or digital, and if digital, whether it will be toner or inkjet. Coated vs. uncoated paper, and the brightness, shade, and hue of that paper, will also impact how the final results will appear. Be aware of these variables going in and work with your print partner whose knowledge can be used to maximize the appearance of the final output.

  1. RGB vs. CMYK.

In the digital world, color is displayed in RGB. In print, it is reproduced in CMYK. Any colors created in RGB will need to be converted to CMYK before they go to press. If you choose for this conversion to occur during the prepress process, you may end up with subtle differences in how your colors appear once the job is printed. To minimize surprises, it’s best to design in CMYK from the outset or convert from RGB to CMYK and do any necessary tweaking yourself before submitting the file.

  1. Addition vs. subtraction.

Another difference between RGB and CMYK is that RGB is an additive process, while CMYK is a subtractive one. With RGB, the more color you add, the brighter things get. With CMYK, the more color you add, the darker things get. This is why some colors can turn out darker and muddier in print than they do online. It’s another reason to convert from RGB to CMYK yourself and make any tweaks before you submit the job.

  1. Watch your saturation.

As mentioned above when using the CMYK process, using too much color (i.e., too much ink) can end up giving you a muddy looking print. It can also cause set off, which is when the ink doesn’t fully dry during the rotation of the blanket, allowing the color to transfer from one print to another. It’s always best to keep the total ink coverage to a maximum of 300% for coated stock.

  1. Resolution.

Image resolution is critical in print. If your resolution is too low, your images will appear pixelated. Most printers want images to be 300 dpi. For large format (such as billboards or trade show signage), you may want the resolution to be slightly lower because the image will be viewed at a distance. If you are unsure of the right resolution to use in your print jobs, talk to your print partner before submitting the file.

  1. Avoid large areas of 100% black.

Sometimes 100% black looks fine in print. Other times, especially when there are large areas of solid color, it can be problematic. To ensure that your blacks always look their best, we recommend designing them as a blend, such as 30C, 20M, 10Y, and 100K. Or you can create rich blacks out of 100 K, 60 C, 30 M and 20Y.

  1. Design backwards.

Design with the end use in mind. If the document is going to fold, for example, make sure your project folds with the grain rather than against it. Anticipate how closures, seals, and the placement of additional elements such as mailing stickers will impact the design. Especially if you are new to print, talk to your print partner about all of the elements of the final job, including binding, finishing, coating, and mailing, before you start the design in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth 10 pounds of cure!

Want to learn more about great print design? Contact us and talk to one of our experts before the first mouse click!

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