Designing for Print vs. Web


The way we consume media has changed drastically over the last twenty years. Screens have become omnipresent in our lives, and we can be prone to making design decisions that keep screen consumption in mind. It’s important to remember when designing items for print that some of the common standards of web design don’t apply in the same way; your aesthetic and style are what got you here, but you’ll need to adjust a bit in order to have your ideas translate to print.


The first thing to keep in mind is that how we consume print and web media is drastically different. The information hierarchy on a printed document will be different than online, because there are no links to click, no windows to expand; what you see is what you get, so how you place text and images is going to be vitally important. Equally important is the size of the document you’ll be printing; if you’re making business cards, you’ll have to resist the temptation to pile them full of all but the most vital information. While you will have to adjust how you display information, print has the advantage of being completely standardized; there will be no problems with monitors displaying the wrong colours, and no need to test your documents for responsiveness like you would for a webpage.


In light of this, it’s worth mentioning that a lot of the technical elements differ from print to web, especially in how things are measured. In web design, things are often measured in pixels per inch (PPI). The more pixels you have per inch, the sharper and more detailed the image can be. Many computer displays have relatively low PPI, from about 70 to 120, though smartphones have higher PPI, in part because of the need for high-quality displays for smartphone photographers. The human eye, however, can see about 300 PPI when looking at a document close-up; this means the printed standard for PPI is somewhat higher than the display screen standard.


It’s important here to make a distinction between PPI and DPI, dots per inch. Printers don’t print using pixels; they are a digital unit of measurement, which is translated to a printing standard. Printers use dots, and the number of dots you can have per inch is based on how high quality your printing equipment is; the higher the quality, the more dots can be printed per inch. All this to say, if you want your document to be high quality, you’re looking for 300 PPI; don’t worry about DPI unless you have a special need.


Another distinct difference between screens and paper is how colours are used; in printing, CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) is used, while screens used RGB (Red, Green, Blue). There can be a translation done between the two, but it can be a bit tricky, because each screen displays colours differently; send a website to three different people with three different setups, and you get three different looks. The same can’t be said for printed media, so standardized systems like the Pantone Matching System® are used; we’ll address colours and printing further in another blog.


You’ll want to be mindful of what file types you are using for print as well; know that JPEG, EPS, PDF and PNG are considered print industry standards, and that GIF, SVG and other file types may not give results that are as accurate. Should you have any questions about file types, colours, formatting, or anything else about the printing world, get in touch with your Winnipeg printing company.