Ask Cecily: Web vs. Print Design

Post originally appeared on the Iguana Inc blog.


Do the core design principles vary when it comes to web design vs. print design? When you sit down, do you approach the project differently if it's for print or for the web?

First, I think I should clarify that print design and web design are no longer two completely separate entities. Ok, back up… people use "web design" interchangeably when they mean designing a website AND when they mean something designed for use on the web. For the purposes of this question, we are going to assume that web design means designed for the web (because I HATE designing websites!).

All of the core design principles apply to both applications because at the end of the day, the majority of things designed for print will end up on the web and vice versa. It is, however, important to know all of the design specifications upfront so that you can create the document correctly the first time around. If it is for web, the resolution will likely be 72 ppi and for print it should be 300 dpi. A web document would use the RGB color mode and a print would use CMYK. For web, a design doesn't extend beyond the required dimensions, but print design often requires bleeds for the printer. Most designers have been through the headache of a project starting out being for web (thus it is designed at a low resolution) and then suddenly gets changed to a print design, forcing the designer to go back and rebuild the design at a higher resolution.

The design approach I take has much more to do with the type of project than print versus web, although that is still a factor. If I am sitting down to design a business card, I know that I have limited real estate, I have a variety of paper choices, I can print on one or both sides, and the end goal is to give out your contact info. On the flip side, a poster design would require a different approach because there is usually a larger end goal and it won't go home in someones pocket. For another example, when I recently sat down to design envelopes for a client's thank you cards, I knew that I had 2 sides to work with and I wanted the design to wrap around it, which isn't something you deal with when designing for the web.