April 13, 2022
If your business uses print marketing–brochures, postcards, booklets, catalogs— to promote its goods and services, you need to understand how putting together these pieces for print differs from designing digital marketing.
Having a basic knowledge of print design will pay off for you in several ways. First, you will know just what a graphic designer needs from you to create the best-printed materials and why they need them. And second, you’ll be better able to decide if a graphic designer has the right skills to do a good job for you.
There are major differences between print and digital graphic design and because of the shift toward online marketing, not all graphic designers are adept at both.
Principles are similar; approaches are different.
The principles of print and web design are much the same, but the way you get there is different. Although many differences are technical and invisible to the end-user, a graphic designer who does not understand the ins and outs of designing for print can cause a lot of problems with the end product.
Here are just a few of the ways a print project can go wrong if it is not designed properly:
- Insufficient bleed could cause copy or photos to be chopped off the edge of a page.
- The use of low-resolution photos could mean that the color photos that looked great on the computer screen as the graphic designer created the piece will be grainy and fuzzy on the printed page.
- If the designer — and your staff –don’t thoroughly review a final proof, a major error that will require a reprint could slip through.
In other words, when a graphic designer isn’t up to speed on print design or working with printers, their lack of knowledge can cost you in terms of time, money and quality of your print marketing.
Before you choose a graphic designer for your print projects, it’s good to vet them. Here are a couple of ways to do it:
- Ask how much of their work is for print projects and how long they have been designing for print.
- Ask current or previous clients about the designer’s work and whether there were glitches in production.
- Ask printers who’ve worked with a designer about the designer’s work. Have they had problems with the files a designer sent them? Were corrections needed? Did design problems slip through that required reprints?
Here are some of the things you need to understand as you work with a graphic designer on your print marketing projects.
1. High-resolution photography is required
Digital photography and improvements in smartphone cameras have made it possible for non-professional photographers to take fairly good photos. Depending on your print project, you might want to use some of these images. However, while the quality of these photos is fine for web use, often they won’t reproduce well for print, where high-resolution photography works best.
When photos are shot at a low resolution, for example, 72 dpi (dots per inch), they have fewer dots of ink so that when they are enlarged or printed, they become fuzzy and blurry. For print purposes, photos need to be 300 dpi at a minimum and sometimes higher if they are to be used in a large format. Clients often supply photos in low-resolution format because they aren't aware of how this could ruin their project. If you’ve sent a designer an image from your website or off your phone, they should get back to you and let you know that unless there is a high-resolution version of the image somewhere, they won’t be able to use it in your printed piece.
For marketing pieces where photos are essential to the message and design, it is good to invest in high-resolution images either by buying stock photos or hiring a professional photographer for a photo shoot.
2. In graphic design, bleeding is a good thing.
Because printing and trimming printed pages are inexact sciences, graphic designers build in what amounts to a margin for error. It’s called a bleed. As they design layouts using computer software programs, they include blank space around the design marks at the top and sides of the page showing the printer where to trim the page. The amount of bleed needed can vary from printer to printer, so your graphic designer needs to know enough to ask questions and not assume that the bleed they used with one printer will work with another. Another formatting issue that skilled print designers understand is how to design pages to keep paper waste to a minimum.
3. Colorful language: Computers speak one language; printers another
There’s a language barrier between computers and the printing process when it comes to colors. Computers talk in RGB; printers in CMYK. While RGB is correct for a computer screen, CMYK is required for print because it is a process that creates richer, deeper colors on the page. Your graphic artist must check to make sure all images are converted to CMYK. Typically, printers will check files and kick back any that include RGB images, but issues like this obviously slow a project down, as changes must be made before a job is placed on the press.
4. Pick the right paper stock for the particular project
Every day, you touch different types of paper: bond, used for letterhead or printed reports; cardstock, used for postcards or business cards; newsprint, the lightweight and often recycled paper used for newspapers or other publications with a short shelf life. You definitely benefit from having a seasoned graphic designer who understands the importance of choosing a paper with the right brightness and weight for your project. They will understand, and hopefully explain to you, why using a coated paper might be advisable for one project, but unnecessary for another, or how the brightness of a paper will affect the photography and typography in a printed piece. A graphic designer who works closely with professional printing companies will also be up to speed on what papers are high quality and have good values. Printers often have “house” papers that they buy in large quantities so that they can pass on the savings to their customers. The house paper may be fine and worth the savings or maybe you need something nicer than their bargain sheet for a particular project and it is worth it to your client to pay a bit more for better paper stock. A reputable printer should take your direction in this instance.
5. Pay attention to the final proof or you’ll pay the consequences
Your graphic designer should supply a final proof of your project before it goes to the printer. It is your last chance to catch a mistake. Your graphic designer should review it to make sure that all the instructions embedded in the file have worked or that they didn’t forget to mark a trim or fix a photo that was RGB. They should also be looking for issues like bad line breaks and copy that is inadvertently obscured by art or art obscured by copy. As a client, you should also review the proof, using multiple readers and reviewers if possible. This could be:
- A sharp-eyed staff member or a professional proofreader to catch any lingering typos
- Someone who has never seen the project and can look at it with fresh eyes and catch problems others might have overlooked
- The project manager, who has been involved with the project from start to finish and will notice any last-minute revisions that weren’t made or other problems.
Let us know if you have questions about designing your printed marketing pieces. Our staff has decades of experience in graphic design for print and can give you the advice and direction you need. Give us a call or comment below.