How Web Designers Can Offer Print Design Services

From the outside they seem as two completely different worlds: One is static, traditional, tangible. The other is mercurial, modern, temporary.


And there’s a certain amount of envy from both sides. Print designers, although despairing at times with the baffling technology, are in awe of what’s achievable on the web. And web designers are covetousness of the permanence and immortality of the printed product.

So, here is some advice for web designers wanting to learn a bit about print. (And if you want to go the other way, read my article on how print designers should learn web design).


To start, file size habits of the web and the print designer are totally different. The web designer should strive to keep the file sizes and the amount of information necessary to display a web page to the absolute minimum. Print designers when preparing artwork, however, should find the highest resolution files and not worry, within reason, about the file size.

So, images should ideally be the same size as they will be printed and 300ppi – not 72ppi. Or more. So if your client has provided low resolution images, see if you can trace their source and find the original higher resolution, larger images. Phone the photographer, if necessary!

Break the habit of a lifetime and stop worrying about file size!


Resolution concerns bitmapped images and photography. But if you’re talking logos, diagrams, straight lines, shapes, etc., it’s vector all the way!

Don’t understand the difference between bitmapped images and vector? Shame on you! OK, you’re forgiven. Bitmapped images are files like JPGs and PNGs. These files represent a photograph by assigning a color to a dot or pixel. Vector images, on the other hand, are represented as mathematical formulas that define all the shapes in the image. The major difference between bitmapped and vector images is that vectors can be scaled indefinitely whereas bitmaps can’t.

OK. Got it? So, if you’re designing a logo for a client, you should always produce the logo in Illustrator so it exists as vectors (not a crummy, low resolution JPG).

The last thing you want to be doing is messing around with logos as Photoshop files when if they are reduced and then increased in size they start to lose quality. A vector (and remember when you import into Photoshop, always paste as a Vector Smart Object) will never lose quality.

And, a vector is perfect for print production.


For print we have a different color mode and a whole different way of thinking about color. The color mode for the web is RGB – a pixel is made out of varying degrees of red, green and blue light sources. The color mode for print is CMYK – offset printing creates tiny dots of varying degrees of cyan, magenta, yellow and black.

A bunch of tiny pixels together on screen and a bunch of tiny dots on paper work in similar ways. Seen from a distance they work together to create an illusion so that the screen or the paper presents an image or a design. It isn’t really there. Just like life is an illusion of consciousness but let’s not go down that rabbit hole!

So, when creating new documents for print in Photoshop and Illustrator, choose CMYK Color for the Color Mode. And, when creating a new document for print in InDesign, make sure the Intent is Print.

Black is black (I want my RGB back!)

And, if you’re changing a document from RGB to CMYK, make sure the black text is just 100K. RGB blacks converted to CMYK will add color to the other three plates (cyan, magenta and yellow) as well as the black one. This can cause havok in offset printing.


It’s much better to have printed text on one separation.

However, black color fills of large areas of paper can include the other colors, like C40 M30 Y30 K100, for example. More about black here: The Professional Designer’s Guide to using Black.

Providing files for the printer

The best format send to a printer is a high resolution PDF.

  • From Photoshop (not advised), make sure document is CMYK, 300 ppi and the correct size. Save As… Photoshop PDF, choose PDF/X-1a:2001
  • From Illustrator, make sure document is CMYK, 300 ppi and the correct size. Save As… Illustrator PDF, choose PDF/X-1a:2001
  • From InDesign, make sure Intent was Print and the document is the correct size. Export as Print PDF, choose PDF/X-1a:2001
  • From Word, OK, I’m joking!

A print-ready high-res PDF from either Illustrator or InDesign is best. If you’re unsure when to use Photoshop, when to use Illustrator and when to use InDesign read my article here.


Before you even think about sending a document to a printers, remember to get the finished document signed off by the client. That means, usually, you send the final PDF to the client and ask for their go-ahead before printing.

There’s a whole article that you can write about dealing with printers. You have to decide on paper stock, finishing, the number of print run, etc. This will depend on the brief from the client, what’s required and what’s available for the price.

You can do it!

I’m always talking about the need for web designers to diversify the services offered to clients. A web designer that doesn’t offer print services is simply leaving money on the table. The typographic and layout principles are the same in print and web design.

Offer business card, flyer, brochure services. Organise the printing and delivery of the collateral. Your clients will love you!

Did this help you? If so, please share!

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  1. says

    Very useful post. As a web designer I occasionally get asked to design something for print by a client and I always find myself referring back to Chris Spooner’s blog posts about designing for print. I’ll be adding this post to my arsenal as well Rob!

    • says

      Cool, Mark. Let me know if you want any more info on print the next time you get asked (I was doing print in the early nineties but I’m not that old!) I want to invite Chris Spooner onto the podcast but I’m waiting a bit. :)

  2. Julien Hofberg says

    Good article! I AM that old and have been working in print forever. The details that you cover are good ones and are a great start. One issue that you should bring up is that print requires bleeds and the details of crop and trim marks. That is probably the biggest problem that I have run into. The next problem is trying to print white. . . please avoid.

    • says

      That’s such a good point about bleed, Julien, that I should put it in. And “white” as well. You would be forgiven, if you were a web designer, of thinking that white ink existed!

      • Chris says

        Hey Rob, Great article. White ink really does exist. I was once asked by a restaurant to print a menu white ink on green board. Do-able, but not fun. You have to have your machine surgically clean. This was back in the eighties, using offset litho!

  3. Tim Solway says

    Great advice Rob. 90% of our work comes from graphic designers producing quality printing in London. We often have artwork issues from graphic designers who specialise in predominantly web design so your advice here would be welcome I am sure. I am delighted to see web designers spreading their skills into the emotion of the printed word after all FINE DESIGN requires quality print and paper.

  4. says

    Thanks for providing these useful tips for web designers in understanding the basics of print design. I didn’t know about the scalability of vector images. Cool article!!