How to Design For The Web vs Print

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Designing for the web can be a totally different ball game to designing for print. I have worked with both areas of design for over 10 years and have never stopped learning how to better myself as a graphic designer.

It’s my intention to share what I have learned via this article, so I can help aspiring graphic designers with the basics and explain to businesses owners a few things to consider when selecting a graphic designer.

If you wish to become a serious graphic designer, then you must understand the difference between working on a website or print design. The same is true when selecting a designer to work with.

Consider the differences in various areas of design include the colour, the resolution, the file size, the measurement units and the ability to transfer files from one medium to the other.

Colour

The primary difference you need to know between web and print graphic design is the colour profile used for both media.

Basically, when working on the web you must use RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colour profile while for print you will use CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black).

Although there are some printing companies that will convert RGB colours on your behalf, it is best if you convert your files to CMYK yourself. Often when printers convert colours it doesn’t print as you would expect for example colours may appear washed out or muddy.

When designing for web, the fundamental thing you must keep an eye on is the appearance of your colours on various computer monitors. One colour can appear a multitude of ways on various monitors depending on if they are using an LCD or CRT screen, and the configuration of that monitor.

Unfortunately it’s not a perfect science so you just need to bear that in mind.

Resolution

The next big stumbling block graphic designers will experience if they are not familiar with both mediums is the resolution of your project. Ideally, you will use 300dpi for print, while 72dpi is the maximum resolution used for the web. That’s why printing a design made specifically for the web will print poorly.

If you are designing something for both media, design it for print quality first and then resize it for web. You can always downsize a file but trying to scale something up results in a loss of quality.

File Size

Although you need not worry about file size if you are primarily designing for print, this is a big concern if you are designing for the web.

As a web designer, you must make sure your design is free from excessive file sizes so it loads as quickly as possible. Most people are on fast broadband these days so you don’t need to compromise on quality however you should keep the file size to a minimum.

Measurement Unit

If you were to put a ruler up against a monitor and measure a website you would find the measurements vary according to the monitor being used. That’s because the size unit utilised for both web and print design differs.

A design for the web is measured using pixels, while any print design is measured using millimetres, centimetres or inches.

Medium Limitations

Print based design obviously has limitations and requirements based on the materials and the printing technique used. An understanding of the print process used for a particular project will be a great advantage when designing for print.

For example, if you were designing a project that will be screenprinted on t-shirts, you may need to ensure colours are ‘loose register’ meaning colours don’t touch. This allows for a little movement that may occur in some forms of printing. Meanwhile, if you are designing for the web, you need to consider the resolution, the interactivity and designing a layout suitable for various lengths of content.

This article really is only scratching the surface of what it means to design for print or for web.

The important thing for graphic designers is to understand the medium you are using. The important thing for business owners is to select a graphic designer with experience and expertise in the medium you are using.

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