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.

Published by

Anne Stewart

Design blogger and all-around copy hack for Cleveland-based printing house,

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