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So You Want to Start Printing: Everything You Need to Know About Printing for Design and the Printing Process

Plotter head printing CMYK test on white paper. Large digital inkjet machine work.

Did you know that the average adult reads around 300 words per minute?

They retain less than half of the information.

When you design for the web, you are looking to maximize minutes spent on the site. Video, audio, movement, and clever design mean more time and more retention.

When you design for the printing process, you are looking to maximize information retention and reading time. One-sheets, flyers, brochures and more need a different treatment than web design.

The writing is more formal, for example. The page conventions are different. The colors on the screen don’t correspond with Pantone print colors.

Wait, what’s a Pantone color?

Read on for answers.

Understand Web Design But Not the Printing Process?

Start by knowing your media. Designing for the web is fast. If something doesn’t work, change it and the new design goes out in minutes, not days or weeks.

When you’re new to the print process, the time slowdown can seem a little overwhelming. Take your time and your print materials will come back looking as good as your online marketing materials.

Create Copy for Print

Writing for the web can look abrupt and inconsistent when translated to a print project. Print sometimes requires you to put MORE information on a page than a website.  Watch out for “fine print” or legal disclaimers.

On the opposite side, some print work requires LESS copy. A billboard versus a webpage, for example.

Proofread your work. Look for material errors, spelling, punctuation, etc. Check company names, grammar, and spacing. Once your work goes to print, it is expensive to change.

Get to Scale

Your onscreen design may be perfect, but the proportions of a printed page are very different. Different elements of your design can become ugly or unreadable at different sizes.

Logos and typography are good examples. Light and thin font elements are difficult to read when reduced to a clothing label, for instance. Onscreen, they might be a lovely enhancement, but at certain print size, they disappear.

Another problem with scaling comes from images printed at very large sizes. Screen images tend to be low-resolution raster images. For print, you need higher resolution. 300dpi (dots per inch) is the minimum.

A pixel at billboard size is about the size of a large handprint. To solve the problem of scale, use vector images. Another challenge of scaling large or small is the kerning (space between letters). Check it at the correct print size!

Make Your RGB to CMYK Conversion

The color systems for digital design and the printing process are different. Screens use RGB (red, green, blue) to display color. Red, green and blue light combine to create millions of possible color combinations.

Contrast this with the 4-color print process. CMYK stands for the four colors of ink, Cyan (blue-green), Magenta, Yellow, and Black. It’s one of the most economical print forms. RGB colors translate to CMYK colors, but it’s hard to capture super-saturated screen colors in this process.

Get the best results by designing directly in CMYK for print. Certain RGB colors don’t replicate well in CMYK. Artwork created in RGB can look dull or flat when converted to CMYK.

Consider Your Print Process

For more exact color matches without shifts, the Pantone Matching System (PMS) offers more shades of the same colors. Instead of creating colors with a mixture of cyan, magenta, yellow and black, PMS colors are a single ink used in the offset process.

CMYK colors vary from printer to printer. PMS colors are the standard in color matching for designers. The difference between Pantone and CMYK is the number of screens used for the final result.

For the closest match to your onscreen design, send the specific color number from the swatch of uncoated Pantone Colors. Be aware that even Pantone colors vary with the coatings on the paper and the quality of the printing.

Ask About the Bleed

The print process needs space at the edge of designs to allow for paper cuts or binding. The size of this margin varies. 3mm is the industry standard, but different presses have different creeps.

For example, some artwork may go all the way to the edge of the paper and into the binding. This is to allow the artwork to look seamless.

Some paper stock is more “slippery” than others and you may find ink acts differently. Your graphic design software can help you set the appropriate margins.

Think About Extras

In website design, think about audio, video, and other enhancements to draw interest. In print, think about the feel of the paper. Do you want a glossy magazine page or a heavy invitation card?

Think about adding a three-dimensional aspect through die-cuts, embossing, folds, or foil-stamping. A business card with an interesting cut or stamp is likely to make an impact.

Modern print shops include lots of automatic machinery to make these services cost-competitive. Ask your printer if they offer die-cuts, embossing or foil-stamping machines.

Things to Remember in the Move From Digital to Print

Design for desktop, mobile, or TV focuses on time spent on a site. Print for labels, magazines, and billboards differs.  You can use elements from your digital design for your printing process but your content can substantially differ.

It’s best to create your print files from scratch with the right content in the correct format. Use your digital files as a reference. Your graphics program can help you make the conversion from RGB and raster images to CMYK and vector images.

For more exact color matches, you may choose to use single ink Pantone colors and offset printing. Check with your printer for their exact capacity for bleeds and binding margins. Ask your printer about extras, too.

Good design for print maximizes information and time spent absorbing the information. For more design hints, keep reading this blog!

Written by CrazyLeaf Editorial

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