Great Tips & Tricks When Designing For Print

Most of you reading this blog probably have some, or a lot of, experience with graphic and web design. But what about print? At some point or another you are going to want to print something you’ve crafted with your Illustrator and Photoshop skills.

Whether it’s a poster that you have been commissioned to make or possibly you want to print your own business cards, it can be tricky to get just right. Hopefully this article can help you and guide you towards printing perfectly.

How Printing Works

To start off, a basic knowledge of how different types of printing work, while not necessary, will help you understand what it is you are doing when clicking that ‘print’ button.

There are many types of printers: laser jet, bubble jet, thermal printers, inkjet, etc. Inkjet printing is probably what you will come across and use the most. Inkjet printers use liquid ink to form the images you print. Usually inkjet printer will contain either ink cartridges or ink tanks, the difference between the two being that ink cartridges have inbuilt print heads while ink tanks are simply a container.

The ink is “sprayed” or dropped onto the page drop by prop by the printheads, building up the image you are printing


CMYK color

One of the most important things to understand is how colours work when printing. Your basic inkjet printer usually will use 4 cartridges: one black, one cyan, one magenta and one yellow, CMYK. Using the CMYK colour model, the printer can lay down a combination of cyan, magenta, yellow or black creating pretty much any colour you would need. White is not needed and in a way is simulated by a lack of dots of colour, showing the white paper behind it, creating either white or a light colour.

When designing for print it can be best to make sure you either design or convert to CMYK before printing as colours will appear differently than when using RGB, but we’ll talk more about that later.


Another important factor is resolution and DPI. What resolution you design and print at really depends on how high quality you want the image to be and what sort of limitations your printer has. Due to printers having the limitation of only using 4 colour cartridges, the DPI has to be considerably higher than when displayed on a monitor to be able to replicate the more complex colours. When designing for print, for example the minimum DPI (dots per inch) for a magazine or leaflet will usually be 300, all though the higher the resolution the better the image will look.

Designing For Print

Designing specifically for print is not the same as designing for digital and web use, in fact it can be a little complicated.

As mentioned before, traditionally, when designing for print you should use CMYK, and this is still the case when using top end printers. The complicated part is that a lot of modern day inkjet printers don’t actually accept CMYK data, even if you send a file to print from photoshop with a CMYK colour mode, the printer will convert any data sent over into and RGB colour mode. So it’s hard for me to tell you what mode you should be designing in as it will be different with each printer you use.


Personally when starting a new document for print, I would recommend going with RGB anyway in the first stages of design. The reasons behind this being: RGB file sizes are smaller, some filters and effects don’t work when in CMYK and RGB has a larger colour range. Then once you are ready to print, convert to CMYK if your printer specifies that it can receive CMYK data, the only down side to this being a slight colour loss/change which you will be able to correct.

Now when it comes to DPI settings it is pretty simple. 300 DPI will almost always be as high as you need to go when designing for print. At this resolution, the human eye cannot distinguish between the dots from a regular reading distance, having a higher resolution would usually be pointless.

If printing something that will not be viewed up close, such as a poster or banner, the resolution can be lower, usually around 150 – 200 DPI is good. When designing for something much larger that will be viewed from further away, for example a large billboard, it is common for the resolution to be as low as 12 – 15 DPI.

With some of the larger prints you are probably not printing it yourself, so it’s always good to ask what sort of resolution and colour mode the printer requires.

About The Author: Kyle Prior

Kyle is a content writer and web designer for the cartridge site, He has written articles on a multitude of topics but specializes in print and design.