Design To Print

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that the print press is merciless,  we’ve heard it time and time again garbage-in-garbage-out.  We’ve all had the painful experience before, the anticipation, hours of work, years of experience, how could anything go wrong, i’m a designer!.  Those final moments when that brochure your so proud of arrives at your doorstep, only to find you’ve dropped the ball, how could it be!

Even the best of us still feel that slight skip in the beat of our heart every time we submit a file to print.   Here’s a few things to think about before you submit any  file for production.


I know, I know, you just gotta that Grilled Cheese BTN font on your next poster.  That’s great but unless your local printed has the same “beach side BBQ” taste in design, they probably don’t have the same font. Don’t believe it’s a problem, next time you have some free time on your hands, mosey on over to your font folder and hit delete, then start going through all your favorite text files, not a pretty picture.

Before you save the files your submitting to print, don’t forget to first flatten or turn your text to outlines.

In Photoshop you would flatten your layers, in Illustrator you would create outlines.


To flatten image layers:

  1. Open your image in Photoshop
  2. Click “Layer” in your upper menu bar and choose “Flatten” from the drop-down options.
  3. Re-save the image


To convert to outline:

  1. Select the type object.
  2. Choose Type > Create Outlines.


Now this isn’t a physics lesson on chromatics or color theory, but it is a lesson you’ll want to remember.  It’s important to note that your monitor doesn’t secrete ink to make the image you see before you, and that issue of seventeen magazine you just can’t seem to let go of, doesn’t have tiny light emitting diodes displaying your favorite teen hairstyle article.  When you design for ink, use the colors printers use: Cyan Magenta Yellow and Black, not the colors monitors use Red Green & Blue.

The Tale of RGB

Simply but RGB is an additive color mode, which means you add the Red, Green and Blue light into a black background ( like your monitor ) to get the colors you want.  The more light you add the brighter, or whiter, everything gets.  The problem is you can’t add colored lights to paper.

The tale of CMYK

CMYK is a subtractive color mode, which means you subtract light from your white piece of paper by adding more and more ink.  The more ink you add, the darker everything gets.

To help you visualize this a little better, think of the color black, if there is such a thing.  To make black in RGB, you would have to remove all colors, right.  To make black in CMYK you would add all the colors ( kind of, see our article on printing black ).

So basically RGB is for on screen colors, CMYK is for printing.  If you try and use RGB to print on paper, you’ll probably end up disappointed.


Designing for web and designing for print can sometimes get us into trouble.  Things that look good on screen don’t always look good on paper, and things that look good on paper are usually to big (in files size) to place online.  Printers mostly print at about 300dpi, that’s 300 dots per square inch.  Your monitor on the other hand has a resolution of 72ppi, that’s pixels per inch.

Ok now don’t go crazy trying to find the dpi setting on your favorite design program, there isn’t one,  monitors have pixels, ink makes dots .  Pixels are square and dots are… dots.  Printers will translate 1 dot per pixel, so it’s basically the same thing

For the most part when you are designing for print be sure to design at no less than 300ppi, more is ok, but never less.  Ask your printer what ppi to design your particular project before starting,  Once you start, trying to convert up to 300ppi will cause a loss of quality.

Print Blacks Right The First Time

That’s right, Black is a color, and It’s no just one color, when it comes to ink on paper, getting black right takes more than just, black.  Most printers use a 4 color process, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, & Black or Key. CMYK is based on a percentage value from 1 to 100.   The percentage value is what gives you the colors you see on paper.  So 0% Cyan, 100% Magenta, 66% Yellow, and 13% Black would give you RED.  It’s what printers use to determine how much of each ink to put on paper.  So i guess we could all assume when we we wan’t black we just ask for 100% K, right?



100% K actually produces a dark grey color, not a solid black, or what we like to call rich black.

The solution is simple, use a combination of all colors to darken the k value.  Everyone has their own opinion of what the right combination of CMYK is to makes the best black, but in general, experienced designers accept three variations when looking for a true black. designer black:  70, 50, 30 cool black: 60, 40, 40 warm black: 40, 60, 40. All of which are mixed with 100% k.

Hiring A Graphic Designer

There’s no doubt that with every new client we are blessed with, there have yet to be two equivalent stories of how it came to be that they selected us. However, regardless of how they got here, there’s a strange similarity between the question they ask in the selection process, or should i say lack there of questions. For this reason I’d like to take some time today to hand over some insider knowledge about the best way to approach hiring a freelance graphic designer or graphic design agency.


The most significant advantages of hiring a freelance graphic designer is going to be flexibility, cost, and communication. On the other hand the most significant advantages to design agency is it’s stability, broader range of experience, and ability to handle complex projects.

1. [FREELANCE] When you deal with a single designer, he will have a greater flexibility of arranging his interaction to accommodate the clients schedule instead of dealing within the limitations of business hours. The disadvantage with the freedom of the freelance is that everything is dependent on the health and availability of one person, possibly leaving a project half done or never finished do to illness or other situations out of the control of the designer.

1. [AGENCY] When you deal with an agency you will more than likely keep in contact within business hours, although some agencies will allow select clients to contact account managers outside of business hours. The structure and system of checks and balances that is evident in a agency is key to the stability of the company and therefore the stability of your project and it’s deadlines. You won’t be dependent on the well being or state on one person, you’ll know exactly when the company is available. This is optimal for clients who live within similar timezones but can be a difficult situation for international clients that live within significantly different timezones.

2. [FREELANCE] If the freelance designer works from home and doesn’t have pay wages to other employees, the low overhead costs could in turn help you realize significant savings. Nevertheless, these savings come at a cost. I’ve always believed creative design is one part skill and two parts inspiration. The power of group brainstorming has been proven through out time, a single designer won’t give you the benefit of ideas being bounced around multiple designers which bring with them a broader set of skills, experiences and perspectives.

2. [AGENCY] Design agencies in general employee a multitude of designers that collaborate on ideas which allows for a broad range of outcomes instead of relying on the design style of one person. Paying wages will in fact increase a companies overhead and therefore increase the overall cost.

3. [FREELANCE] In general dealing with a single designer is going to allow you to have direct communication with the person making every decision. Communication is key in delivering a relevant iconic design, having this direct contact can be a great benefit. The only downfall is that designers are exactly that, they don’t hire account managers that have the much needed communicate skills to ensure the clients ideas are conceptualized.

3. [AGENCY] An agency will be better equipped to handle large or complex projects requiring multiple skill-sets such as copywriters, developers, designers, illustrators, etc,. Although freelance designers can call upon other freelancers to assist with lacking skills, agencies will have the facilities, relationships and personnel already there to handle these jobs efficiently, this will in turn ensure the quality of work better matches the clients expectations. As with what i mentioned before about the collaboration of designers, this increases an agencies overhead therefore increasing cost.


What’s It Worth To You?

As much as we’d like to deny it, most of us will judge a book by its cover at one point or another, well maybe more than just books. It’s natural to be visually stimulated and many cases it just makes sense. Consider the hundreds of interactions we have with others every single day. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to “get to know” everyone that we come across that day. Nevertheless we have to make decisions and balance options with nothing more than our initial perception and instinct about others.

When you stand in front of the endless store isles or rummage through endless web links the same principles apply. You see it everyday, the good, the bad, and the ugly. The shocking thing is that people make purchases based on the perceived value not their actual value, mostly for the same reasons above, we’re too busy, too tired, and too overwhelmed by choices to systematically balance most of what we buy. Don’t believe me, go ahead list all the brands of toothpaste there are. Unless your list has somewhere close to 40 your way off. So guess how we choose our toothpaste, the same way we make decisions about people we don’t really know, through perception and instinct. Maybe for you it was through a recommendation but how do you think that person chose the product in the first place?

So, as the title of this article asks, what’s it worth to you? What’s it worth for you to be perceived the way you want to be perceived? What’s it worth to you to be recognized for the values your company holds by the people who will judge you by your cover? We call this perceptual reputation a brand. Each interaction your customers have with your brand will either strengthen or weaken that relationship. Whether you have 10 or 10,000 customers we all stand to gain or lose by the look of our cover.