Whether you’re a freelance web designer looking to expand your client base, or work for a small business, as the sole person responsible for all things marketing, the fact is this: learning how to translate your web design skills onto paper can help you grow as an artist and as a business person.

As a web designer, you are used to creating eye-catching graphics and web page layouts that are inherently ever-evolving. Your designs are strong enough to catch the viewer’s eye, but fluid enough to be manipulated and used in various ways throughout a website. With web design, the idea is to lure the viewer further and further into a website with clickable snippets of information and enticements.

For print designers, curiosity tactics like these just won’t do. In designing for print, the content needs be clear, straightforward and to-the-point. The designer has one chance, one graphic, to get their message across.


Finding Common Ground

Though the roles of a web designer versus a print designer are certainly distinct, there are also some overlapping design goals that ease the transition from one medium to the other. Let’s look at three fundamental similarities between web design and designing for print that will provide a foundation for your growth as a graphic designer.

1. Simplicity

For both web and print media, clarity and efficiency are key to creating effective designs. Don’t be fooled into believing that simple is boring. Sure, it can be that. But simplicity can also be beautiful, unique, subtle or loud, wonderfully obnoxious or charmingly pure. This mouldable quality brings a succinctness to your designs that carries your message across to the viewer – both in print and on the web.

2. Direction

In print design and in designing for the web, direction is a crucial element in what makes a marketing graphic successful. Amongst the various aesthetic aims of design, directing the viewer to the desired next step is the central goal. After all, what good is a design, even a beautiful one, if it doesn’t invoke a real-life response from the viewer.

For web designers, directing your viewer to the next click is a consistent goal, as he or she wants to feel some overarching sense of direction throughout their experience on a given website. A lack of direction in this case can lead to frustration or loss of interest on behalf of the viewer: two feelings you certainly don’t want to inspire.

Similarly for print design, direction can make or break the effectiveness of a graphic. The difference, of course, is that when designing a print ad, you have one finite space on which to present your message. But the underlying element of direction is still key. Without direction, this already limited space is wasted as the viewer sees your design but takes no further action.

3. Appeal

Appealing to your audience mainly involves two things: (1) knowing them, and (2) meeting them where they’re at. This means developing an understanding of who will be viewing your design and adjusting your strategy to accommodate their position.

Web designers do this by considering the type of people who will be seeking out the content that their designs will present. Such understanding will (for a good web designer) influence their layout, style, choice of colours and imagery. They will highlight different aspects of the site depending on the supposed needs of the site’s viewers.

A print designer has similar objectives and strategies when it comes to appealing to an audience. For him, it is crucial to get to know the medium upon which his design will be printed. A national newspaper speaks to a different audience than a free local zine, for example. Similarly, the design will look different in a magazine than it will on a billboard, and so it will appeal to its audience differently, too.

Making the Transition

These fundamental similarities will help you make the creative transition from web design to print design. However, there are three critical technical elements to remember when you begin designing for print.

1. Resolution

Ensuring that your printed design turns out crisp is all about resolution. When you’re creating your graphic, make sure your PPI, or pixels per inch, is high enough for quality printing. On the web, 72 to 120 PPI is generally sufficient for good image resolution. For print, the standard necessary resolution is 300 PPI.

2. Bleed

During the printing process, most printers will require a bleed, usually ⅛ inch, to ensure that your design doesn’t get clipped off during printing, and to avoid the ugly white line that would otherwise appear on your design’s edge. Always confirm with your printer the necessary bleed.

3. Colours

Graphics intended for the web and designs meant for print will each require distinct colour systems. Web designers are used to working in RGB, the color spaces used for computer screens. When designing for digital or litho printing, you must adjust to CMYK, which stands for the four ink colours used by all printers: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. Though the Pantone Matching System will help you translate colours from one system to the other, keep in mind that CMYK colours on your screen will look different when translated to paper. This is why proofing processes are so useful when designing for print.


Experience Is the Key

As a web designer interested in print design, the most important advice is this: Practice. Practice maintaining simplicity with information-packed faux ads. Practice getting to the point and directing your viewer while working with limited space. Practice learning your audience by flipping through local papers and magazines, noticing what appeals to you as a viewer. Expand your talent and your portfolio by harnessing the skills you already possess in designing for print.