Print and web are both huge areas of design and mean a lot in today’s world. Print has been with us for more than 100 years and we know pretty much everything about it, while web is a new area of design that became mainstream about 10 years ago. Before this, web design was totally unknown and only experts and developers knew its potential and helped it grow to how we know it today. Both areas of design have advanced so much in the past 10-15 years that they started to cross each others paths and while this can be beneficial, it can also create problems. We will talk about the advantages and disadvantages in this article and also about how the two areas of design differ from a designer’s perspective.
The biggest and easiest difference to spot is the experience you get from them, which are quite different from each other. Reading a newspaper is totally different than browsing a website. Even reading a book is different than reading an ebook, although the process is the same.
While web design is usually made to be displayed on a screen, which can vary in size, print designs can be huge such as posters or ads. And while the user interacts with a website, it is impossible to interact with a newspaper or a poster. While web design creates an experience based on the user movements (clicks and scrolls) and can’t exist without user interaction, print design creates the experience through readers’ eyes moving around and searching for information.
Image by josephbradleycooper.
Canvas versus screen
Both mediums take into account the demographics of the audience, as they are very important while designing, creating, advertising and selling content. A detail worth mentioning is that designers use the same elements and concepts in both mediums: fonts and colors are the best example. While it is easier to play with them on a computer, therefore easier to use in web design, don’t forget that newspapers are also created on computers before being printed out. This means that pretty much everything you can do on a computer can also be done in a newspaper. Yes, to some extent.
- Monitors come in different sizes, therefore designs have to look good on all of them, or at least on most of them.
- Moreover, there are even more browsers and operating systems, all with their own rules which influence the way the code is interpreted.
While those issues exist and don’t seem like they’re about to disappear anytime soon, all web designers learn to work around them and just move on. Being able to provide cross-browser websites is actually an asset for a web designer today.
Regarding the things that need to be learned, both industries have their own standards. I would however say that it is much more demanding to be a web designer than a print designer. While typography, colors and concepts such as negative space are as important in web as in print, the second one doesn’t have technologies like HTML, CSS, PHP, ASP.Net and so on. Sure, there is some Quark, InDesign or Photoshop to learn, but the technical part is more demanding for web designers. This is probably the reason behind graphic designers who work on web not knowing how to code: it is not possible for everybody to know that much stuff without a hell of a lot of work. Being a complete designer is not an easy task.
When a print designer transitions to web he has some tough challenges to encounter.
- The first one is, as said before, learning to code.
- But wait, there are more. The canvas is fixed in print – each newspaper or publication has its own standards.
- It is quite different from the web, where experts debate for a long time what should the right width of a website be?
- Making things appear on a website like they did in Photoshop can also be a challenge.
- Doing this in InDesign is easy – you just move elements around with mouse.
- Web design doesn’t work the same way, so knowing code is crucial, as WYSIWYG editors usually add lots of junk and unnecessary code to your files.
Image by bcmng.
Moving the other way around might also be a challenge.
- There are no pixels anymore; print designers work in inches or centimeters, depending on the region or country standards. A new concept is introduced to them as well: bleed and margins, things that do not exist in web. Printing is also a challenge of its own and a job that needs to be mastered.
- Navigation is also a new concept for print designers, as flipping through a magazine doesn’t need such a concept. In web design it is totally different. Not having navigation is confusing and makes a website useless. And just having navigation is not enough. Designers need to make it stand out, while making sure the content is still more visible and important in hierarchy. The general web architecture is different than the one in print, therefore a print designer would need time to learn and adapt if switching careers from print to web.
- Typography is also huge in both disciplines. However, in print it has always been important, but it has been ignored in web design until five years ago. When typographers had a boost of inspiration and showed the whole web industry how well used type can change a website, then many web designers started to experiment and play with fonts.
- In print it is quite different. Once a publication sets some standard fonts, they are pretty much used all over the place and in each issue. Changing them doesn’t happen too often in print; it does, however, happen on the web. Since the introduction of Typekit, a web font service, and Google Fonts, the restriction to the fonts on the computers stopped.
- Although not difficult to get used to, size is also different in web and print. While a type of 10 or 11 is suitable for print, the web demands larger sizes such as 12 or even 14. But with so many designers out there, there is not really a standardized font size for the web. If the font looks good, the size doesn’t matter. The style is also important, as in print serif fonts are suitable for blocks of text, while sans-serifs are suitable for text on web.
- Images are an important part of design too. But there are some differences between how we handle images on the web and how we do it in print. The first difference is the color format. CMYK (for print) and RGB (for web) are the standards. CMKY stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (which is usually black) while RGB stands for Red, Green and Blue, which every monitor, TV or digital equipment uses to create color.
- Images need to be formatted and exported in CMYK if they will be printed out, otherwise the colors will not be shown exactly as on the computer screen. While this is not a difficult process, when moving from a domain to another it might take some time to get used to.
- Image compression is also something worth mentioning. There is no need to have an image with more than 72dpi (doth per inch) on web, with level 8 or 9 (which equals “high”) JPEG files or PNG. In print it is good to have images of up to 300dpi in order for them to look good and have high-quality.
Image by birdfarm.
Another disadvantage of the print industry is the lack of interactivity. The content on web is not only readable, but also interactive, which makes the experience better. While newspapers do not have any interaction at all, this can also be their advantage. Interactive elements are often not usable in all browsers; there is no such problem in print, where things are kept simple.
If something is clearly similar between the two industries, then the grid system is it. Now I know not all web designers use it, but it is something which is becoming more and more popular on today’s web. While in web design it is still not a standard, a grid system is crucial in print.
People usually throw the same question out there: is it possible to master both print and web? Well yes, I think it is. If you understand that both industries have their own standards and are quite different, then mastering both of them is definitely possible. However, mastering only one of them might be enough for a career as well, so if you are interested in both of them, go for it. Otherwise it will not be a big issue. The fact that you don’t know how the print industry works will not be an issue if you deliver your work for the web in time and your employer is happy with you.
Designing for print and web are two different things, although they are bound by the same concepts. If your background lies in one of them, I am sure you will have no problem in switching to the other one if needed. You just have to keep in mind that while the print industry stalls (or at least drives forward very slowly), the web develops itself a lot year by year and this will only make the whole industry more challenging. Both domains have their own advantages and limitations and understanding them will only make you a better designer.
Until next time… how do you see the web and the print industry? Do you see yourself working in both at some point in time, or one of them is just not for you? Why do you think that?
Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.