When you create a design, more than likely you do so on your computer in an illustrating software environment, such as Photoshop. Even if it is a design that you plan to print once you complete it, you may not start from a place of considering the printing process – that is a mistake.

For designs that you plan on printing, it’s always smart to consider printing from the very beginning of the design process. A print designer must complete a different list of requirements than a web designer. If you take those elements into consideration from the beginning of the design process, then the finished product will be ready to send to the printer. Here are some things to consider:

1. Bleeds

When you’re designing online materials, you simply plan for the way the image will appear on the screen. You can go from edge to edge easily. When you’re designing for print, on the other hand, you have to take into consideration that most printers want a bleed, an area around the edge of the page that can be cropped out. 00.25 inches or 3 mm is a common bleed area, but measurements can vary.

Most design programs offer templates with the bleeds outlined in red so that you can see how far toward the edge your image can go before it is cropped out. Bleeds most often appear in print work such as books, posters and newspapers.

2. Color

When designing for the web, you might use RGB mode, but the standard color system for print is CMYK. Before you start creating, make sure you’re using the CMYK color palette. It’s important to pay attention to this because there are more limited colors for print. When creating on screen, you have a wider variety of choices. By creating your design in CMYK, you will ensure that the finished product looks the way you think it will.

Keep in mind that full-color printing also costs more than printing that uses black and white or a more limited color palette. If the printer will be using metallic colors, there really isn’t a way to create that within your design, so you’ll need to talk to the printer about the best way to represent the metallic part of the imagery.

3. Surroundings

One big mistake some designers make is not factoring in the surroundings where the printed design will appear. For example, if you are creating a poster and placing it up on a wall, what color is the wall? Will the poster stand out against its background or blend in?

If your material will be behind glass, you’ll want to avoid glossy paper, for example, because it can create a glare that makes it hard to see the printed marketing material. What is the lighting where the printed material will appear? How might that impact the colors, the glare and so on? Consider every aspect of the surroundings so that your design has maximum impact on those who see it.

4. Font Weights

When designing for print, font and line weights suddenly become much more critical because they have a lasting impact on the overall look of your marketing material. Some small text can be difficult to read because it’s printed in halftone. Six points is typically the very lowest you should go, but since it’s small, you may want to use a heavier weight font to make the text clear.

There are also some fonts that just don’t print well. You can test fonts by putting them in a document and printing them on a laser or inkjet printer. Is it clear and easy to read? If so, then you can proceed since a commercial printer will make it appear even sharper. Don’t be afraid to try different fonts and different weights within the same font.

5. Sending Files to the Printer

When it is time to send your files to the printer, you need to do more than just transfer the actual image. If you used any fonts in your design, you need to be sure they are in the attachment as well. You’ll also want to be sure any individual layered images make it into the upload.

Many designers choose to save the file as a PDF because you can upload fonts and images along with the file. However, you should check with the printer you’re working with to see if they prefer a different format and determine the best way for you to send the files they need to them.

6. Proofing The Product

Most printers will offer to provide a proof copy of the project before it goes to print. When you get the proof, be sure to review it thoroughly.

This is a good time to double check and make sure there aren’t any typos or misspelled words. Do the colors look the way you expected? If you view the item from a distance, is it easy to read? Consider every element and make any changes needed before having the printer complete the print run.


Designing for print does take a bit of adjustment. You need to carefully consider the colors and weight of the fonts you use. When you’re creating online-only materials, fixing a mistake related to the font type and size, color choices and typos is a relatively simple matter. However, when designing for print, you may have spent hundreds already printing a piece by the time you notice a mistake if you’re not careful. For this reason, it’s vital to take your time and get it right.

*Cover image by Ross Moody.