Designing Print Collateral For An Online Business

Im glad Anne decided to post an article about print design on design shard, she works at a print house called hotcards and they also have a really imformative print design blog for you to check out, enjoy her article.

Hello web designers, developers, and graphic artists of all sorts!

Greetings from the semi-arcane world of print design! Your concern over things like white space, usability, and sweet signature icon sets is strange to us, as our ways must be to you…

Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but print is a different world. From my perspective working at a printing house, I see more and more web-based companies beginning to invest in print collateral.

The challenge for those with a background in web business is to figure out how to create compelling, effective print design to advertise their online presence.

Print Design Philosophy

One of the great things about designing for print is that you can create the most bold, colorful designs you can imagine. The crucial bit is to recognize the difference between creating a busy design, and a complex design.

A print design can have a lot of color and depth and interesting stuff for the eye to absorb, but it has to focus on one central message.

Print designs can’t be laid out like a web page, with a bunch of different elements to look at, because viewers simply aren’t going to browse around your printed piece. The goal in print is to suck the viewer in for five seconds, get your point across, then release.

Choosing Your Weapons

Print design often begins with choosing what type of print collateral you’re going to develop. Obviously, some forms of print advertising are going to work better for web companies than others. Lucky for those with small budgets, web business can generate a lot of traffic using inexpensive forms of printing like business cards, flyers, and postcards.

These smaller items work because you want people to actually have something they can carry with them, get your URL from, and check it out, without having to write it down themselves off a poster or billboard.

A perfect example of this is direct mail. Call it ‘junk,’ but mail that advertises a website can turn over an unbelievably strong ROI because it asks almost nothing from a recipient but that they sit at their computer, like they always do, and check out a new site.

How The Environment Affects A Print Job

One of the major differences between web design and print design is that your finished print job is going to be out there working and competing for attention in the great outdoors. Before you begin designing, think about:

  1. Where you printing is going to be displayed, and,
  2. How it’s going to be perceived by your target audience.

Location Factor #1 – Weather

By now, you’ve heard about choosing paper and coating that best fits your design. Maybe you’re thinking of choosing a matte finish because it traps ink differently than a high gloss. But wait! A high gloss also stands up to adverse weather conditions better than a matte.

Will your print design be in direct sunlight? Will it be exposed to rain? Choosing UV and water-resistant materials will help to weatherproof your printing, but it will also change the way your design looks. Be aware of the variables that comes when working with diverse materials.

Location Factor #2 – Lighting and Landscapes

Also think about how your print designs will look under different types of lighting, and in different landscapes. Don’t choose colors that will fade into a concrete urban background, even if they do look great online or in Photoshop. Also remember that most reds look brilliant during the day, but they fade into shades of grey at night or in low lighting situations. This is called The Purkinje Effect.

Perception Factor #1 – Limited Access To The Viewer

Print is almost the web’s opposite when it comes to how is viewed. Online, viewers seek you out, and you offer an interactive viewing and listening experience that will hopefully engage people for an extended period of time.

In print, your goal is to grab attention away from whatever else someone is focusing on, and control their experience so that they almost helplessly absorb your message before moving on.

When it comes to large pieces displayed in public areas, you have approximately 2-4 seconds to grab attention and deliver your message. And in general – take a poster, for example – they will be standing about 3 feet away from your work.

If they have to move in closer to read, they’ll walk away. If design elements are too big and overwhelming, they’ll also walk away, because the eye simply won’t register what’s right in front of it as significant.

Perception Factor #2 – Functionality

Although the impulse with print can be to really let that think-outside-the-box-i-ness run wild, the trick is to always combine visual and tactile appeal with functionality. Most printing is a particular size and shape for a reason.

For example, designing a crazy business card that stands out from the pack is great, but if it’s too large, fat, or heavily textured to fit in a wallet, it probably won’t get included in to that special place people go for important names and numbers.

The same applies to club cards, brochures, and other printing that can be displayed in shops and restaurants and the like. If printing doesn’t fit into display fixtures, it will frustrate the middle-person who’s supposed to be putting it into the appropriate slot.

Much as is the case with a graphic artist handing off web designs to a programmer – frustrate that middle-person, and waste your investment.

Common Ground

In print design, as in web design, the functionality of a printed piece, or an entire campaign, rules the day. If it disintegrates in the rain, disappears in low light, baffles with its complexity, or annoys your waitress, it’s dead in the water.

Create print designs with an awareness of the environmental and human factors that come into play, and you’ll be amazed at the power of print to drive web traffic.

Top 5 Design Trends for T-Shirts

With the abundance of t-shirt design sites such as Threadless and Design By Humans, it’s easy to trendspot themes that are popular. Each site and its community has their own taste and it makes gaming the vote a lot easier. Here is a list of our top 5 design trends that are sure to give you a few extra votes in t-shirt competitions:


T-Shirts with skull designs are arguably the most popular theme on the internet and in retail. Something about death just gets designers and t-shirt lovers united.

Skull T-Shirts


Trees are one of the most symbolic pieces of design and probably the reason for their popularity. They can equate to life, growth, green living, reunion, and much more.

Tree T-Shirts


Birds definitely win the versatility award for having the ability to range from cute to scary and from large to small. They can be the focal point and make the whole design or just be an accessory and play a small part in the big picture.

Bird T-Shirts


Splatter is a pretty simple effect that can be useful for the majority of t-shirt design concepts. There are many resources on the internet for photoshop brushes and vectored image packs with splatter to add to a t-shirt designer’s toolbox.

Splatter T-Shirts


Floral artwork is another wildy popular component of t-shirt design because of its all-purpose usability. It usually sits in the background and can act as polish for the featured portion of the artwork.

Floral T-Shirts

As with anything else, what is hot today can be cold tomorrow but these 5 design elements and concepts have been in high demand for some time now. Our guess is that with the increasing amount of platforms for t-shirt design, these design elements will reach saturation at a faster rate than ever before.

Hopefully these designs are inspiring, because custom t-shirts can be a great and fun form of promotion, whether it’s for a business, band, freelancer, etc. Aside from that, they’re awesome to come up with just for the sake of creativity and design.

Designer Tees! Wear your art on your sleeve

Who doesn’t like a little Tees action? Personally, original t-shirt designs catch my eye more than most graphic art that I see. Mainly because I can wear it. Functional art, oh baby! Another reason I take such staunch note of Tees, is due to the nature of print design. It’s an underrated source of artistic expression, probably due to it’s small scale presentation, whereas the grandiose display that most graphic art seems to get cast it in a more ‘respectable’ light. And for that, I call shenanigans!

It’s so much more than just a t-shirt, or a flyer, or whatever else the belittling label of choice that’s applied wants to call it. It’s art. And it’s a design field that restricts it’s artists in many ways. Size being one, that again, may get the piece a less than respectable branding, is another way that the print designers have been limited. They must capture their idea and encapsulate all their meaning in a much more compact piece. In a lot of graphic design, the large scale of the creation itself allows for all the intricacies that are weaved throughout the work to shine and convey their part. However, print designs must be able to work fully on a smaller scale that would cause most graphic designs to lose too much of their subtly for their piece to still be effective. So that’s a limitation that print designers deal with regularly and brilliantly.

Another problem they face, is the restricted use of colors. Large scale graphic designers love their gradients as they breathe such life and depth into an image, furthering the transmission of it’s message. But print designers have to step it up to tell everything in a much more succinct manner. The shading and depth must be crafted with a three color palette, on average, and that’s an accomplishment in my book. So why all the dismissal of designs made for tees and other print outlets? It doesn’t seem right that work that takes more skill and preparation than most, gets more ridicule than participation. Perhaps it’s a bit of jealousy rearing it’s ugly head from those who can’t, so they just critique!

Some examples of great t-shirt designs! Respect!

Irate Monkey

Artist: Dave who is really into whales and their bones a full time graphic designer and illustrator

Prom Night

Artist: Jeff Finley a graphic designer and part owner of Go Media


Artist: Filter017 was created by Enzo, Wen, and Nick since 2004. you can see there Flickr and blog

Ape Vs Monkey

Artist: Illustrator Nik Holmes has been in the picture making business since 2004 and in that time has racked up clients including Virgin, Microsoft, Orange and Mastercard. visit his blog and portfolio

Royal Blood

Chris Rushing graphic designer see his flickr for more cool designs.

Refraction Retraction

Artist: FullBleed, Since 2004 fullbleed has been a one man t-shirt army, printing over 70 tees.

Poetry Of Demise

Artist: Herman Lee, a 22 year old guy who just relocated back to Hong Kong from Toronto, Canada.

Oddica Octopus

Artist: Ray Frenden an illustrator from Greater Chicago “I Draw things” you can see his flickr

Design Vocabulary – Color Terms – Week 2

Arrons third post, this time color terminology, you may have seen some of these terms used in some of your graphic applications so now you can learn alittle bit more about what they mean, feel free to contribute a color term in the comments to add to this post.

Gamut (GAM-ut):

Gamut is the range of available color on an output device. Each device has its own gamut capabilities. If the gamut fall out of that particular devices range, it is shown inaccurately on the display or cannot be printed. We then say a color is “out of gamut”.


The basis of a color and usually refers to the name of the color (red, purple, yellow, etc.)


Saturation is the color intensity of an image. A color with high saturation will appear brighter and more vibrant than the same color with low saturation. Colors in gray scale images have no saturation.


The lightness or darkness of a gray or a color. The darkest level or value of gray is black and the lightest level of gray is white.


A variation of a color obtained by adding white


A variation of a color obtained by adding black.

Know More?

I know there are many more terms when it comes to color, but I like to keep these short. If you have more please add them in your comments.

Tips on Pre-flight before sending to the printers

Arron Lock has kindly agreed to write some articles for design shard, you can check out his web site and follow him on Twitter

He’s compiled some tips that should be taken in to consideration before presenting your files to the printer for printing. Expect to see more posts from him in the coming weeks as well as other authors.

Define Page Size and/or Bleeds correctly

Page elements that bleed should extend 1/8″ past the page boundary. The page dimensions should be exactly the same as your final trim size of the piece. DO NOT build your page elements in the middle of a bigger page and manually add crop or registration marks. They will probably get printed and your piece will suck.

Provide bitmap images at adequate minimum resolution

NEVER, EVER, EVER use image you copied from a website in your print job. Not only will this violate some copyright laws, it will also render a very ugly result. Web images are almost always 72dpi. You want to use images that are at least 300dpi.

Provide import source files

If you are using an image editing program like Photoshop, you may want to include the layered PSD file so that if any minor adjustments could be made by the printer. THIS IS NOT AN EXCUSE FOR THINGS TO BE INCORRECT TO BEGIN WITH.

Supply image files in CMYK mode

Things are printed in CMYK. Things on screen are viewed in RGB. It is much easier to work on files in an RGB profile as it allows for the most flexibility in image editing. However, make sure you flatten and convert these files to CMYK before they are used in the final work. If sent to press while still in RGB mode, chances are good that the printing software will kick up all sorts of errors.

Define spot and/or process colors correctly

Speaking of colors, it is a good idea to define all spot and process colors so the printer has either a PMS number or a CMYK formula to use. You should really be doing this any way to keep everything consistent.

Provide proofs

You should always provide a proof to the printer so they know what the job should look like when it’s finished. I like to use a PDF because they are pretty much universally utilized.

Include all imports…ALL imports

This is one of the most critical steps that some, ahem, “designers” forget about. Anytime you use an image, logo or graphic in a file to be printed it isn’t actually copying that image. It is linking it to the original files location.

So if you don’t include these with your packaged file set when it goes to the printer guess what, you aren’t gonna have any of those linked images in the final work. Lucky for you most current page layout software like Adobe InDesign, Quark and Pagemaker (do people still use Pagemaker?) can do this for you by running a “Preflight” or “Package” command.

Include all fonts…ALL fonts

Sending all the fonts used in a job is VERY important. If you use a font that your printer doesn’t have then one of two things will happen.

  1. Your job will be printed with the closest match the software can find
    (if you are using a reputable printer this should really never be the case)
  2. The printer will contact you to get the appropriate font from you.

Communicate with your printer

Talk to the people who will be handling your job. Let them know exactly what you want to accomplish with your printed work and they will be able to guide you in making sure everything is correct.

Some definitions:

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black), the four process color inks. These are the inks used to print full color images.

Bleed: When an image or printed color extends beyond the trimmed edge of a page. Bleeding ensures that the print extends to the edges of the paper. The paper is usually trimmed to the desired size after printing.

Spot Color: An ink formula resulting in a specific color. Each spot color will need its own film/plate. Referred to as PMS (Pantone) colors sometimes.

Process Color: One of the 4 colors in CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black

Proof: A rendering of what the final printed result will look like.