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The 4 Most Common Mistakes When Designing for Print

December 3, 2020 In Design

If you’re like most people, the first things you think about when starting a print design are the fun, creative elements. You may already be considering layouts, colors and attention-grabbing details before you even have the finalized content.

However, there is more to exceptional graphic design than creativity and beautiful aesthetics. If you’re designing for a print piece, there are quite a few technical elements you must take into account to produce a clean and professional-looking design. As you create your own print designs, be sure to watch out for these four common mistakes.

Color Conversions

Unfortunately for designers, print colors are typically not as diverse and vibrant as screen colors. If you’re creating a print piece, this means you need to be mindful of the color mode you use in your design. To make the printing process as easy as possible, we recommend setting up your document with the CMYK coloring system if possible. CMYK represents the four different ink colors used in the printing process: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. The RGB coloring system is great for digital-only artwork, but CMYK cannot replicate many of the bright and neon colors available in RGB. If you don’t use CMYK colors yourself, the printing software will choose the closest color match on its own, which can result in prints that don’t quite match your intended design.

Low Pixilation

For print designs, it’s important to make sure your images will come across clearly and crisply. If you’re trying to stretch a small image to fill a larger space of the print piece, the PPI (or pixels per inch) will reduce, and the graphic will appear more pixelated. The ideal pixel density for printed projects is 300 PPI, but if you aren’t able to reach that level, the bare minimum PPI is at least 150.  A lower PPI will look grainier and more pixelated, while a PPI higher than 300 is indistinguishable to the human eye and therefore unnecessary. If you are editing photos as you design, remember to double check that your images still have a high PPI after you finish cropping or resizing. You should also make a note to check the settings of your design program before you begin, because many services will export the file with a lower PPI to decrease the file size. Your design may already look great on screen, but a simple setting change will help it look even better on paper.

Ignoring Bleed

If you want your print design to take up the entire page with no margins, designing for full bleed printing is essential. In the printing world, “bleed” refers to the space allowed for visuals to spill over past the intended edge of the page. Your design will always be printed on a larger piece of paper than the artwork size. When printers start cutting down your piece to the right size, it is nearly impossible to cut exactly on the intended edge with every single cut. Bleed allows for your design to fill up the entire page, even with slight changes in the cut. To design for full bleed, you’ll want to extend your graphic elements by at least an eighth of an inch on all sides of the document. Including bleed in every design is crucial in order to hit print deadlines. According to Prinitivty, improper usage of bleed is the leading cause of printing delays.

Text Placement

Though the background design should bleed across the edge, the same principle does not apply to text elements. When creating print pieces, all text should be placed with plenty of distance from the end of the page. If text runs too close to the edge, it may be cut off, disrupting the message you’re trying to give your readers. Instead, choose left, center, right or justified alignment, and leave a wide margin around the text. For small blocks of text, center or right alignment is usually most appropriate. If you’re working with longer paragraphs, stick to left alignment, or try justified for a more formal look.