From the Browser to the Page: Resources for Web Designers Dabbling in Print

I would guess that, today, more people are entering the broader world of design through web design than any other facet of the larger spectrum. In large part, this is likely due to the accessibility of the web. It’s right there in front of us, and most of us probably spend at least a few minutes (if not hours) on it every single day.

It’s also relatively easy to get started with designing for the web (which is not to say that it’s easy). I started creating my first sites with Windows Notepad and a freeware copy of Paint Shop Pro. It’s certainly not the most ideal setup, and if I was starting again, I would probably be using Gimp and some sort of freeware coding app. Regardless, web design is relatively immediate, and while there are many different areas that need to be considered, there is still the sense that we are very much in control of what we are doing.

Designing for print is a bit of a different story. First, while we can do a lot of work in Photoshop (and probably Gimp too), somehow this kind of design feels somewhat more inaccessible. That’s not to say that it’s difficult or complicated, but rather that it’s probably not something that as many people would just sit down and start doing because they’re bored and sitting at their computer one evening. Designing for print is generally much more intentional and purposeful.

It’s also at least somewhat out of our hands. While web seems to offer us complete control over our work (this, of course, is debatable), when designing for print you must invariably trust your artwork in the hands of someone else—unless, of course, you’re a printer yourself—and there are a wide range of different things that need to be considered.

All that being said, however, it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility that, as a web designer, you may be asked to try your hand at print design from time to time. Well have no fear, this post is here to help prepare you for that eventuality. Below, you will find a collection of articles specifically chosen to help web designers who are making their first venture into the world of printed matter.

CMYK printing

Covering the Basics

If you’re just getting started, the best place to start is probably to cover the basics of designing for print. This includes understanding DPI, bleeds, CMYK colour, the difference between plain black and rich (true) black and a variety of other important concepts. Here are a few articles to help cover the basics here:

Is Your Artwork Ready for Print?

A short little piece that covers some of the most basic elements of getting your artwork ready for print, such as colour space, resolution and bleed/trim areas. Works great as a simple introduction to designing for print.

How To Set Up Files For Printing

This is a similar article to the previous, with just a bit of a different perspective. It also briefly touches on a few extra areas, such as the importance of deadlines and packaging files. Just be aware that the discussion of black focuses primarily on text, not on larger areas of black.

Design Guide for Print

Here is yet another brief article to help you prepare your artwork for print. Again, some of the same ideas are repeated, but this one has a very nice discussion about the importance of plain black for text rather than four colour, processed black.

Getting to Know RGB and CMYK

This article focuses on some of the key important concepts surround both the RGB and CMYK colour spaces, and covers some things that you need to consider when converting and image from RGB to CMYK.

More Than Just Black

This article will help explain the critical difference between plain, single colour black and rich, processed black, helping you avoid the disappointment of getting your printed piece back and finding faded, dark grey where you expected a deep black.


Mastering InDesign

If you have one of the recent Adobe suites that includes Photoshop and Illustrator, there is a pretty good chance that you may also have InDesign sitting somewhere on your harddrive too. Perhaps you’ve never opened it, or perhaps you have and were simply unable to make an real sense of it.

Well, while it shares some similarities with Illustrator, it is not a native vector application. It is a page layout application—exactly the kind of software package that we need for creating beautiful books, magazines, leaflets and other printed matter. And, while it is certainly not the only application of its kind (its main competition is Quark), it remains my application of choice, primarily because it comes bundled with my other Adobe products.

The thing that I like about InDesign over another application, like Photoshop, is that it is specifically engineered to help designers create work for the printed page. As such, it allows you to create multi-page documents, and set options for bleeds, slugs, crop marks and so on. It also contains a huge and versatile set of typographic tools that make Photoshop’s character and paragraph palettes very limited in comparison.

So, for many web designers, InDesign may be the natural page layout application to turn to. To help in this area, SpyreStudios has an extensive seven part series called “Getting To Grips With In Design,” which covers most of the key areas of the application. Reading through these will offer a very solid foundation for InDesign:

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 1: Document Basics & Master Pages

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 2: Working With Text And Graphic Frames

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 3: Importing Text and Playing With Typography

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 4: Working With Color

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 5: Playing With Styles

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 6: Importing Images

Getting To Grips With InDesign Part 7: Working With Book Files

Magazine Cover Design in InDesign

After having come to grips with InDesign with the SpyreStudios series, here is an awesome tutorial about how to create a simple magazine cover in InDesign. this is a perfect opportunity to put what you’ve learned to use. It’s also written by Terry White, a really great Adobe instructor (I’ve personally attended one of his seminars).


Pre Press

Now that we’ve covered the basics of setting up your artwork for print and started down the path to learning page layout, we can start looking at some tips and requirements for going through the prepress stage, and actually getting designed artwork ready to send off to the printer.

Printing & Prepress Basics

This is a nice little article that covers some of the things that you need to do to prepare your artwork in the prepress stage. By this point, some of the content will be familiar to you, but there is a nice little discussion of the concept of trapping, along with the uses of registration marks and colour bars for the printing process.

Preparing InDesign Files for your Print Service

This is just a short little piece about how to actually prepare your InDesign files in a single package that you can send off to the printer, using the application’s Package functionality. It’s a nice little time saver that is definitely worth knowing and this article functions a simple and straightforward introduction.

Prepress tips for graphic designers

Even if you’ve covered all the basics that you would have learned from many of the previous cited articles, there are still some tiny but important details that will need to be considered before actually going to press. This article works as a kind of checklist of a number of other things that you will want to address or consider before going to press. The topics here are directed more at a somewhat experienced print designer, so its probably not the best article to start with, but is definitely a valuable resource that you might want to bookmark.

Minimizing Annoying Font Problems During Print

Here’s an article that I wrote a few weeks ago, dealing specifically with font issues and print. It covers some basic things that you can do to help minimize font issues when sending artwork off to the printer. If you check this one out, also be sure to read the comments, as there is some helpful discussion there too.


I’m certainly not going to try and make any claims that would suggest that this collection of articles is in any way comprehensive or that by reading all of the material included here you will somehow be guaranteed to become a master print designer. Like anything, that will come with time, practice and experience.

Instead, with this article I’ve simply tried to offer a collection of resources that I felt would be specifically valuable to web designers who are just starting to get their feet in the world of print design (intentionally or otherwise). So, while these articles will not turn you into a print master, reading through them should get you comfortable with the basics!

  1. January 4, 2011

    Looking forward to delving right into reading all the articles you have suggested.
    I have been experimenting with Print work for a while now, so covered the basics, although will still give it all a good read!

  2. January 4, 2011

    How often do You see people complaining about the print quality although they didn’t prepare the picture to any print-standards.

    Verry good article.

  3. Marvin Goldstein
    January 4, 2011

    I am a retired printing business owner; 36 years and I miss it —
    My firm, 25 employees, worked with small to Fortune 50 Multi-International accounts —

    Your article brings vivid (nightmares) memories working with artists and advertising agencies

    Though they, artists and agencies, are a necessary part of the visual (print) industry, they are (artists and advertising executive reps) the biggest “pain in the ass” prima -donas to deal with —

    Their lack of understanding print processes and “personal” hands on need to be
    present for press-proofs before finalizing a client’s project, blows the printing cost out
    of proportion —

    It is imperative, and important for designers to represent their clients, but, for the goodness and sake of the client, get off your “high” horse and understand printers have many clients, too, and they need to maintain printing schedules (and I’m not talking about “on demand/ in time” delivery —

    I am writing about a single shit print business maintaining employees’ 40 hours and 100s of monthly print buying clients, while waiting for an artist to arrive at a scheduled time, at the same time holding a printing press off-limits to other clients, when the artist and ad agency reps refuse to pay “down time” while enjoying their coffee clutches every where but where they should be at the appointed hour !!!

    I see all kinds of what you describe as “neat” “great” “outstanding” “lavish” “magnificent” artwork which to me is nothing more than an art layout classified as damn good and others nothing more than hype crap !!!

    One of the many problems I find with the Internet and Web Sites: overloaded crap on a single page, web site companies hiding “contact” information and surfing the internet at 70 miles an hour you can’t possible read all the junk on a single web site page —

  4. Marvin Goldstein
    January 4, 2011

    … and by the way, if you “wanna” get into the print buying arena, you don’t need 50 competing bids
    If you don’t know how to purchase print media, find someone who can assist —

  5. January 6, 2011

    Interesting spin on this post about applying web design to print design. It’s interesting that there are many designers that have not been exposed to print design, since only 10 years ago the opposite was true. Many designers then had to be force fed web tips. It’s likely that good print designers will become harder to find.

  6. Marvin Goldstein
    January 6, 2011

    … “print” quality has to do with how responsible is the print shop owner and the pre-press department (color separations; registered film-assembly; qualify of ink pigment colors and inks as well as using a color corrected densitometer during the final printing stage —

    … additionally, a responsible print shop owner and crew will be alert and always aware of how ink in the trough changes as the steel ink roller distributes ink (which requires constant stirring using wide ink knives) —

    … it is neither impossible or terribly difficult for a good print shop operation team to handle and improve a bad image, bad layout, poorly written text — with today’s technology — good, bad or indifferent artists and photographers can be the heroes when their client receives their marketable materials !!!

    … as long as you pay the printer in 30-days, you can be the hero your entire life; the printer could care less till the next job arrives as an emergency ‘cuz you didn’t do your “artistic” work on time —

  7. January 7, 2011

    My advice as a Print Designer, who has done the opposite of being almost 100% in print and taking amateur stabs at web design, is as follows:

    — Know your limits.

    Once in gray territory, even the most well-intentioned designer will find themselves feeling lost. There aren’t enough blogs and quick crash courses that can prepare you for all the nightmares of printing. Even if you had all your facts in the right places, it still takes all of the punishing trial and error (definitely the error) to get in good practice and output your files 100% flaw-free. Until you’re at that level of experience, there will be flaws. Just like how my web pages always go wonky, when a real web professional would find my issue laughable. They are different specializations, after all, and they should be.

    That being said, if you’re doing something small, short-run, sure take a shot. It’s good to try. There’s no end to experimentation. But if you have a lot at stake for your client or your company, do the right thing and outsource a professional freelance print designer. You will save yourself headache and risk. Printing is VERY costly.

  8. Marvin Goldstein
    January 7, 2011

    Printing is very costly; especially short runs less than 1,000 copies —
    — your first price break will usually be 2,500 copies whether one or two sided
    — this has nothing to do with black and white or color reproduction
    — it has to do with press set up runs getting the sheet to print square and straight;
    it has to do with getting ink distributed properly across the sheet;
    it has to do with work/turn, work/tumble and work/flop sheet/Image registration
    — your first price break for black + one (spot) color is about 2,500 to 3,000 copies
    — your first price break for CMYK one side printing will be around 3,500 to 4,000 copies
    — your first price break for CMYK two side printing will be at 4,000 to 5,000 copies

    Everything hinges on your paper selection:
    50# offset (equivalent to 30# sulphite bond — what you desktop printers use @ home
    60# offset (equivalent to 24# sulphite bond — what you desktop printers use @ home

    You always want marketing literature, for folding, to be with the paper grain; you “gotta” be careful, and work with your printer about finished size BEFORE you get involved with four side edge bleeds — unless your printing source has a special folder “knife” adapter for crisp folds against the grain, be careful …

    Offset white opague stock weighs more than 60# white gloss enamel; but, gloss enamel stock is a bear to lift in quantities of 100 sheets or more — whereas a good guillotine operator will lift 500 sheets 17″x22″ offset versus 100 sheets 60# gloss enamel stock !!!

    When you design a job, talk with your printer and your job, the material size, and ask the printer where you’ll get the best cut — for example, you’ll get four 8.5x11s from 19×24 sheet with bleeds — our presses handled 24″ x 36″ stock; made life easy for all clients …

    Here’s something I developed when printing for clients who wanted to protect their artwork from being copied by anyone, using any type copy machine: we printed client’s material on special German Stock Paper Type which had a tremendous high gloss reflection —

    There were no copy machines capable of duplicating images from this stock because the reflection bounced back into, blowing fuses and other internal parts due to the strength of the reflection …

    When you add overlay spot color (to four color process work) or add gloss varnishing to your job (whether offset or gloss enamel) be aware of the fact your job will increase because the printer has to prep spreads, chokes and dupes of images — and this is darkroom work; I don’t know nor would I trust even today’s computer technology (Adobe Software or other) to do these special requirements ???

    Something I forgot to mention the other day: the quality of your work rests on the shoulders of your printer and the crew and the lead press operator better be pulling a delivery sheet every 100 sheets during the “ENTIRE” press run because ink heats and ink changes and the need to control the alcohol and ink mixture must be accurate at all times during the press run —

    I believe there’s far greater satisfaction than seeing a finished printed job (offset, silk screen, letterpress, gravure, or, like Nat’l Geographic Magazine [combination letterpress and offset]) — because it appears nearly every artist attempts to be another Michaelangelo, sculptor, rather than keeping their work down, dirty and simple — you know what I mean >>> KISS <<<
    — and why not ??? It doesn't cost as much as putting your life on the line paying a printer to do what you can do so cheaply at home and on the Net …

    Marvin / retired print shop owner

  9. Marvin Goldstein
    January 7, 2011

    50# offset (equivalent to 30# sulphite bond — what you desktop printers use @ home

    50# offset (equivalent to 20# sulphite bond — what you desktop printers use @ home

  10. January 10, 2011

    Interesting collection of tutorials… I’m another that’s worked in the Print Design world first and gone on to learn about Web Design. When I started out as a Typesetter, the number of companies and skilled people that needed to be involved to get a printed brochure out was ridiculous in todays terms. People that have grown up using the apps in Adobe CS can’t imagine the skilled jobs they’ve replaced (ie using Photoshop for a 10 minute job that might have cost something like £500 at a traditional repro house).

    Thanks for posting.

  11. January 21, 2011

    Great article I am sure web designers will find it useful.

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