10 Key Differences in Designing for Print vs Digital Media

10 Key Differences in Designing for Print vs Digital Media

Creating marketing materials is more complicated than many designers realise at first. It’s essential to have a good understanding of the design elements of your chosen medium. 

There is a difference between the designs that work for digital media and those that do best in print.

We’ll be looking at the key differences that will affect the results of your designs and their effectiveness in marketing.

What Is Print Design? 

As the name suggests, the print design consists of designs that are meant to be printed. This can be in labels, business cards, brochures, posters, book covers, and more.

Although you will print it, these designs will most likely be created on a computer.

What Is Web Design? 

Web design is about the elements that go into creating a killer business (or personal) website. It’s about graphics, user experience, accessibility, and usability.

Much planning goes into digital design, and it is meant to be viewed on a computer, tablet, or smart device. If you want to know more about the ins and outs of designing awesome websites, check out this resourceful guide from WP Beginner.

These definitions might be quite simplistic but are essential to keep in mind when content.

The Key Differences to Know – Print vs Digital

What Is Prepress Printing

We will be looking at the key differences you need to be aware of when working on print vs digital media.

When you know all the distinctions, you’ll be able to create content that is appropriate and works well.

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

The User’s Approach and Perception  

How people view print and web design is one of the most significant differences between the two mediums. 

Holding something physical in your hand is not the same as viewing it on a screen. A brochure you can fold up and put away doesn’t give the same experience as reading an article in a digital magazine.

Knowing that the way people approach and perceive the two mediums will help you create better content.

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Designers who work in print and web need to know that digital experiences and physical ones are vastly different.

A design or idea that works for one medium might not translate well on the other. When you’ve read this article, you’ll know how to approach each of these two mediums with the best results.

Tips Designing For Print Magazine Adidas

This is a brilliant example of print design creativity. Source: Canva

The User’s Experience 

Print and web design can both engage the senses of users and in various ways. Print design can tap into the touching senses of users, while web design can use colour and visuals for brilliant results.

For example, many people like to feel the weight of a book in their hands and smell the pages. That isn’t something that designers can reproduce digitally. 

However, e-books can be brilliant as well. If you add moving images or audio, the book might give an even better experience to readers.

The two mediums have important visual quality – your content and designs need to make good impressions regardless of where people see it.

Printed content can be very immersive when shape, texture, and printing effects are used.

Digital content can pull people in just as well when good video and audio elements are offered to users.

As long as you are creative, both print and web design can have the desired marketing results.

Static Design vs Interactive Design  

Another key difference between designing for print vs digital media is how static or interactive it can be.

When you’ve designed something, and it heads to the printer, nothing about it is going to change. Of course, you can redesign and reprint the content, but there’s no way to alter what has been printed already.

On the other hand, web design is more relaxed. It can be changed, adjusted, or wholly redesigned at any point in time.

Many websites often change their appearance, and those with different content from one day to the next will constantly change.

A news website, for example, will have different images and text whenever it is updated with the latest news.

As such, print designers can say their job is done as soon as their work is shipped off to a printer. Web designers are constantly involved with the design of a project.

They can add many features to their created design later on, such as links, buttons, videos, and more. As long as they use the best graphic design software, designers can go all out in their creations.

How To Create Designs For Print

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was obviously the inspiration here. Source: 99Designs

Usability and Navigation 

No matter which of these two mediums you’re designing for, you need to keep your content user-friendly.

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Printed designs are physical, so using them (flipping, folding, unfolding, etc.) should be straightforward. 

Navigation is usually straightforward as well. Books are opened and paged through, brochures are flipped through, and pamphlets are flipped around.

On the web, though, things are a bit more complicated. There is a lot more to consider, such as layouts and menus. Making your websites personal has better results for any business.

Navigation must be accessible – visitors to a website must be able to move from one webpage to another with ease and without getting lost.


This is something that print designers don’t have to worry about all that much. As long as they know their designs look good in print, they’re happy.

Web designers, however, need to do much testing to ensure that their content is compatible with the browsers and operating systems that web visitors could be using. 

Whether they’re designing emails, websites, or newsletters, they need to know it will be readable and attractive wherever it’s viewed.

It can get a bit complicated since every platform has its limitations and its customisable settings.

For example, Apple’s iOS doesn’t render Flash-based designs. Older versions of Internet Explorer can’t show scalable vector graphics (SVGs), so designs using them won’t look as good as they should.

Layout, Arrangement, and Size 

How you layout your content is different for web and print design because it is viewed differently. With that said, both have several elements in common.

Color, typography, lines, shapes, images, etc., all matter for designers regardless of where they’re creating content.

As such, the best practices for layout, arrangement, and size applies to both mediums.

However, the way these elements are approached differ between print vs digital design.  

Print designs must have all the relevant and vital information presented within the medium’s constraints. Print is somewhat restricted by the printing surface used.

Web designs don’t have that problem, and content can be resized and moved more freely.  

Create Packaging Design For Printing

The design of this website is simple but also creative (and makes you crave chocolate!). Source: Hubspot

Printed content must consider parameter standards such as margins. Web content has to be consistent whether it’s viewed on a phone or a computer, so there are some restrictions to remember.

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Printed designs need to fit nicely on the surface it’s created. For example, the size of an image must be appropriate to look good on the printed surface.

Digital designs are not limited by ‘size’ exactly; more the size you will view them. As a designer, you need to ensure your designs look good when viewed on a computer monitor and a tiny phone screen. 

Resolution, DPI, and PPI  

Resolution plays a vital role in the quality of your images. If it’s not approached with care, you could end up with images that are visually displeasing.

Resolution is all about DPI (dots per inch) and PPI (pixels per inch). They are two different terms and should not be confused with each other.

DPI is essential during the printing process and is the density of dots of ink printed on a given inch of the printing surface.

When you’re printing at a higher DPI, your image quality will be a lot higher. DPI doesn’t consider the size of a print. It’s more about what the printing equipment can accomplish, and designers might not control it.

DPI doesn’t matter for web designers; they’re more concerned with PPI.

PPI refers to the number of pixels displayed on an inch of screen space. If you have more pixels displaying, the quality of your images is higher. When PPI isn’t sufficient, the images will distort and look blurry.

On the web, images with a PPI of 72 to 120 usually look good. However, this is bound to change as devices are being produced with better, more high-resolution displays.

Designing For Web Vs Print Media

Pixels make a difference. Source: Creative Bloq 

File Types 

There are many file types that designers have the luxury of choosing from. The ones chosen should be appropriate for the situation.

Some file types work well on both print and web designs, while others only work well on one or the other. 

JPG (also known as JPEG) is the most well-known image format. It’s the default format of most digital cameras. They need to be saved with the correct resolution and in a suitable colour space. 

You must save JPGs in RGB for web use, and for printed content, images must be in CMYK (more on this later).

PNG images are high quality and support opacity/transparency. You’ll sometimes see them used as transparent background images.

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PDFs are widely used and can preserve the original content as it was created to be viewed as intended no matter where it’s opened.

EPS is the format most used for saving vector graphics so that you can preserve their scalability. They are often unreadable on computers.

TIFF images are restricted to print designs. They are high quality and rather large, and when compressed, the image quality does not suffer.

GIFs are only supported digitally as these are moving images or graphics with transparency effects. GIFs are viral on the internet, but their colour isn’t as good as the quality of colour you get with JPGs.

SVG is a vector format, and these files can be scaled without losing any of their quality.

There are also a few software-specific file types that designers sometimes use. PSD is an editable file created using Photoshop, and AI is editable vector-based files created using Adobe Illustrator.

Colour: CMYK and RGB  

The way colour is displayed differs between screens and printed media. The reason for this is that different colour spaces are involved.

Print content works with CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) to create available designs in printers. Digital content is created using RGB (Red, Green, and Blue).

To ensure that colours are consistent between the two mediums, designers must know the differences.

If you have to work in the CMYK colour space, keep in mind that the colours will look different when printed. You may have to test the various colours you want to use before finalising your design.

When working with this colour space, you have to specify the individual colours you want to use with codes. These codes indicate the percentage of each ink type that you will use to create the desired colour.

For example, if you need to print something that is the same blue as Twitter’s logo, you’ll use 70/10/0/0: 70% cyan ink, 10% magenta ink, and no black or yellow ink.

The RGB colour space is all about the colours seen when looking at a monitor or digital screen. Dots of red, green, and blue light are combined and create visible colours.

It can be tricky to achieve consistent colours on the web because display capabilities are different between monitors. Even the brightness settings of the viewer’s screen will affect how the colour looks.

Using RGB colours to create a design, you’ll use three sets of numbers between 0 and 255. Each number will refer to how much of the three colours’ light is needed for a specific colour.

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Rgb Vs Cmyk Design For Print

The difference between RGB and CMYK. Source: Wikipedia


Typography is crucial in design. The fonts you use can convey messages and evoke emotions, so you should always plan what you use carefully.

Printed projects have some common best practices that must be adhered to, but other than that, almost anything goes. Your design goals and marketing objectives will likely be all that restricts you.

However, the best fonts for web designs are the ones that are easy to read and display cleanly. 

Web designers can’t control how people see the fonts they use (different customisations and preferences on the viewing device).

Control and Construction Elements 

In addition to typography, digital designers also don’t control other factors, such as the users zooming in and out and adjusting their browser settings and window size.

The viewer can change even the size of fonts (and the font itself).

Print designers, on the other hand, almost completely control this. There is no way for people to change the font of a published book, for example.

The construction methods used in a project vary from one designer to the next. Everyone works differently.

This can have a more significant impact on web design than it would on print. Print designers learn to know that there is more than one way to do a thing. How they get to a result isn’t as important, as long as it looks good.

But for web designers, it’s more complicated, even when working with a smaller business.

A designer’s work is affected by how the website is put together. You must keep usability, navigation, user experience, page loading speed, and other such factors in mind during the design process.

Elevate Your Designs 

The best designers can make the most of both web and print media as long as they know the limits and rules.

This article dived into the key differences in designing for print vs digital media, and you should be able to do great regardless of which you use.

Author Bio: Zoe is a content marketing strategist for SaaS brands like FollowUpBoss, Mention.com and more. Zoe is a pho enthusiast on the personal front and loves travelling worldwide as a digital nomad. 

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