Beginners Guide to Design for Print

design for print

Beginners Guide to Design for Print and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Design for print can seem pretty daunting if you are a beginner. When choosing a design for print vs web, not only do you have to create a design that looks perfect on the computer screen, you also have to ensure that it will come out just as good in print. For that, you need to have an in-depth knowledge and understanding of print design, color profiles, resolution, sizing, and image-editing software.

On your way to becoming an expert on graphic design for print, you will make many mistakes and learn from them. But here are the important things you must have a good grasp on from the beginning.


  • The difference between RGB and CMYK

Beginners often misuse RGB and CMYK color schemes because of their lack of understanding of the difference between the two. RGB (red, green, blue) is an additive color scheme in which light is used to mix pigments, which means the more light you add, the brighter the color gets. RGB looks great on the computer screen but not so good in print.

In contrast, CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and key (black)) is a subtractive color scheme in which a mix of inks are used to create different hues, which means the more ink you mix, the darker the color becomes. For this reason, CMYK is great for design to print. Creating your designs in RGB instead of in CMYK can result in awesome onscreen colors that can’t be printed.


  • Avoid using Photoshop’s default black values

Sometimes you have to use black as your background color. But the default Photoshop black consumes a lot of ink. Look at its CMYK value and you will see 75,68,67,90 which means 75 percent cyan, 68 percent magenta, 67 percent yellow and 90 percent black (300 percent total coverage). This is a huge waste of expensive ink. So, avoid using the default CMYK values for black for background color. Instead, set the values of your black manually. Do not set it to 0,0,0,100 either, because it appears more dark gray than black in print. A popular choice for a rich black is 50,40,40,100.


  • Do not set your CMYK color values too high

Apart from the primary colors, every other color is a mix of primary colors in the CMYK scheme. While adding CMYK values adds more color to the image, setting the values too high is not a good idea. Any image with a total coverage of more than 280% (for example 80, 75, 85, 60) may come out as an ugly muddy color on paper even though it may look great on the screen. This is because of the way colored inks are mixed in real life and also because of the way printing surfaces absorb ink. So do not set your CMYK values too high.


  • Do not make your font size too small

Texts that are too small often look illegible in print because printers use a lower density of dots in areas that do not need much coverage. As a general rule, any font size smaller than 6 points is not good for print. But it also depends on the font. Some fonts are fine with smaller sizes while others simply disappear due to their super fine lines.


  • Set the resolution for print and not for the screen

Resolution is one area which beginners often find confusing. On the computer screen, the resolution only determines how large an image looks, but in print, it determines how sharp and crisp the image will appear. An image of 72ppi may look fine on your website, but it will not look good in print. The standard resolution for print is 300ppi. Once you have set your resolution, you cannot upsize it, so make sure to set the correct resolution before saving your image.


Other things you need to do when learning how to design for print include bleed, kern, spell check and proofread.

For additional information about design for print vs web and your printing needs, feel free to contact Hawk Graphics, Inc. One of our representatives will be happy to assist you.

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