Designs for Print vs. the Web

Many design companies like offer design services for print as well as the web. To most people, a graphic represents something whether it’s used on a website or printed out as a poster. Actually, a lot more goes behind the scenes before a graphic can be used for print.  Here are some key differences between designs for print and designs for the web:


While digital printing is now reducing the problems caused by resolution, it has long been one of the key differences between designs created for print and web. Virtually all web graphics are created at 72 ppi (pixels per inch) – which is sufficient for optimal display across most browsers, operating systems and devices. However, the printing process requires graphics to have a resolution of 300 dpi (dots per inch) which means that the graphic has to be several times larger in its digital form than it is when it’s finally printed.  Using a lower print resolution may make the printed item print fuzzy, blurry or pixilated.


Web graphics use RGB (Red-Green-Blue) color mode.  These files are electronic graphics files and should not change unless edited or converted.  They may display slightly differently across devices and screens, but generally look identical.  Printers use four-color process printing using the CMYK (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black) color mode. RGB images should be converted to CMYK using graphics editing software such as Adobe Photoshop if you intend to print them.  If RBG colors are being printed, printers will try and give you the best possible color reproduction, but variation is inherent in the print process and it is understood and accepted as reasonable. Most printers  cannot guarantee an exact match in color between the electronic graphic file, previously printed matter and a recently print item.


With print designs, you can go crazy with your typeface. You can use whatever font you want to and it’s completely possible for your printed result to look exactly the way you designed it on your computer. However, font choices are much more limited for website designs. Because text appearance is handled by the browser at the user’s end, you need to use a font in your website design that your user’s browser can display. This restricts your font selection to a small list of standard choices that deprive you of the creative choices you get with print design. If you absolutely must display YOUR creative font on the web, the text will need to be exported as a graphic or produced through a paid service like Typekit.


Similar to the fonts dilemma, designs for the web are highly dependent on the conditions at the end user’s end. Depending on the user’s browser, operating system, screen resolution and computer, your web design might end up looking nothing like you want it to. Your best bet is to test your web designs across as many popular platforms and settings as possible and hope it doesn’t get ‘lost in translation’. With print design, you can take WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) pretty much for granted. However, you have to keep certain things in mind. The kind of paper your design will be printed on, the limited range of user-friendly sizes it can utilize and the color palette it has access to are all important considerations for print design.

To ensure your designs, for print or for the web, are fully optimized and effective, you should hire the services of a professional design company.