Graphic designers, it’s time to get your game faces on.
Maybe you specialize in web design, or maybe you specialize strictly in apps. Either way, you know there’s a process to it all. There’s the prep, the brainstorming, the trial and error phase, followed by the frustration and then hopefully, satisfaction once you’ve finished a design that you’re happy about.
It’s no different than print design. Trying to get the process just right can be grueling — just because you can hold the finished product in your hands doesn’t make it any easier to conceptualize, plan out and create.
It takes time, patience, and a whole lot of garbage bags.
But it doesn’t have to be a nightmare! Learning how to find your rhythm as a print designer is attainable as long as you prepare.
When it comes to the best print design, there’s a world of possibilities out there. You just have to reach out, pluck the idea from the great beyond, and bring it to fruition.
Every job needs some mental preparation — and print design is no different. To get yourself in the right headspace, here are ten tips to enhance work ethic and creativity — which will drive you to creative, engaging and successful graphic designs going forward.
1. Become a perfectionist
Being a perfectionist can be both a good and bad thing — on the one hand, it could leave you spending hours on a project that you could have banged out in under 60 minutes. But being a perfectionist has its perks for a print designer. You can really come into your own, finding your own personal style. You stop getting sloppy. You learn what others are doing and how you can do it similarly, but in a slightly different way stylistically. Print design is precise so you need to have the patience, drive, and ambition to be the best you can be. And this might mean tossing out the first 20 drafts — because that 21 could be gold.
2. Challenge yourself
Choose projects that are outside of your comfort zone. Play with pieces that require a different tone and style than you're used to. This will help build your skills and broaden your strengths as a designer. Maybe you’re used to package designs — crafting the perfect logo for a beer bottle or chocolate bar. Maybe you usually make poster prints. Whatever you normally work on, try something different every once in awhile. It will help expand your mind, your creativity, and your portfolio.
3. Learn from superiors and mentors
Try to learn something new every day — this will help grow you into an educated, sophisticated and well-rounded person as well as designer. But you can expedite the learning process by asking questions, requesting feedback and learning how to take criticism. No one is perfect, no matter how hard we try to be. Ask your peers where they learned a certain technique, how they came up with the idea for a specific design and what motivates them to keep creating. It could really shed some light on how designers create the art that they do. And it could motivate you to become a better print designer as well.
4. Trust your instincts
Push yourself. Learn new things. Experiment with mediums and colors and fonts and styles. But always trust our gut. You know what your boundaries are and what you’re capable of. You know what will work and what won’t. Speak up! Your knowledge is powerful — and no one can do the things you can. It’s ok to say no to a project, or to disagree with a client as long as you can back it up.
5. Create pieces that pop
While minimalism is in right now — with brands changing their designs in favor of cleaner lines and softer colors, it’s important you learn to walk the line between what is in style, and what makes a statement like this design from The Maison Théâtre Book. Let print designs you see on a day-to-day basis be your guide. You don’t want to copy — you don’t want to steal (though Steve Jobs might disagree with you on that). It’s important that your designs stand out — don’t be afraid to make waves and have some fun.
6. Promote your work on social media
You are your biggest promoter, in much the same way you are your biggest critic. But it is important that you get your work seen — especially if you’re just starting out. Nothing motivates you to work harder, faster and longer than other people admiring your work and complimenting you on it — even offering tips and advice on how to improve can spur action. Using social media to showcase your print designs is vital for becoming a better print designer.
7. Follow other designers on social media
Follow mentors and idols. Start reading design blogs. From here, you can learn new things, uncover your own sense of self and connect with other designers around the world. You don’t know everything. I don’t know everything — though, for the sake of this article, I know quite a lot. So listen. You can’t learn how to improve your print design process if you don’t know what works and doesn’t work for other people.
8. Keep experimenting — even if you’ve found your signature style
If you’ve found your style, great! If you haven’t, don’t sweat it! The print design process gets easier and more fluid with time. Before you know it, you’ll know exactly what resolution your images need to be and what medium works best for what design. Don’t get frustrated with yourself. But have fun! Play around. Try new techniques and see what happens. You never know — it could be your favorite design yet.
9. Proof again and again
No one likes sloppy work. Not your clients, not your boss, not your mother. Don’t do something with half of your effort — this means that proofreading what you’ve written — if copy is involved — is imperative. It's also important to make sure that your proportions, dimension and resolution are all up to standard. You don’t want to make a simple mistake that'll slow down the entire process and keep you from really excelling in your field.
10. Do your research
With every client and every project, you’ll need to do your research. You’ll need to know what tone and image the company itself portrays. You’ll need to know what worked and didn’t work for them in the past so you can build upon, or stay away from, it. You can’t just wing it without having all the facts — in print design, web design or textile design. If you do, you’re already doing yourself, and your work, a disservice.
Once you’re in the right headspace and ready to dive in, you might still have some hesitations. What about all the technical bits? Print size, fonts, proportions and color profiles — what if you just forget it all?
Numbers 11 through 20 are filled with useful tips and cheat sheets that’ll help improve the print design process.
12. Always work with grids
If you want consistency in your work, you have to work with grids — there are no exceptions to this rule. Choose the best for your design to capture unity, harmony and balance in your work. Otherwise, when printing, your design will look off balance and sloppy. Using grids as a guide or template will give your print designs a foundation that no graphic designers can be successful without. Not only will it create an organized and eye-pleasing design, but working with grids will make the print design process even quicker by providing you with a template or guide to work off of. Whether working on t-shirt designs, business cards or a flyer — let grids be your guide.
12. Use colors carefully and cleverly
You want your designs to make a statement, but you don’t want to go overboard. Colors can make your design stand out, or make it impossible for viewers to understand. So it’s important to know what colors work well together, and which don’t. Studies show that chromostereopsis — a phenomenon that causes colors to pop and cause fatigue — is heightened when combining colors like red and blue that don’t work together.
Avoid this in your designs. You don’t want to cause fatigue or irritation for your viewers. And if a design turns people away, you won’t be asked for another one. If you’re not sure, check it out in print view so you can see your design as a whole. Do your eyes squint? Is it hard to read a certain text? Are there too many colors causing a distraction? Most of these fixes are common sense and can be made once you take a little time to investigate.
13. Know the difference between color profiles
To add on to the previous point about colors, it’s important you understand the three color profiles and how to use them effectively when printing your designs. This handy infographic from The Logo Company is a great source of information to help you better understand color profiles and printing —whether you’re using CMYK, RGB or Pantone.
14. Learn software shortcuts
These can be key to making the design process more efficient and helping you bang out more creative and engaging designs. These Photoshop and Adobe Experience Design keyboard shortcuts will really help you get the most use out of your time. These shortcuts are great for graphic designers because the hard part shouldn't be in the software, it should be in how creative you can be in creating an image that wows. Learning these easy tools will also give you more time to play around with your imagination and find what works for the specific project when it comes time for printing.
15. Know the best printing processes for your assignment
Of course, the printing process will be different depending on your medium. If you’re printing something onto a canvas, t-shirt or other non-paper sources, then the process changes slightly. But when printing onto paper, there are five main printing processes — laser printing, gravure printing, flexography printing, offset lithography printing, and digital offset printing. This cheat sheet by Kaela Ante on Behance gives a really great breakdown of the different paper printing processes. And knowing which process your project will undergo will help you better understand how to best go about creating your design.
16. Learn new skills with a design boot camp
It doesn’t hurt to keep learning — in fact, the second we stop learning is the second we get left behind. There are always new skills to learn, even if you think you’re the best in your field. While you can learn more organically through peers, mentors and idols, you can also sign yourself up for an online course that’ll keep you up-to-date on new trends, new hacks, and new style elements that’ll keep your designs hot and fresh when they go to the printer. Some courses are paid like this one and this one. And some are free like this one and this one. This is also a great source for finding great design courses.
17. Know your printing sizes
Whether you’re working with photos, posters, business cards or any other medium, it’s important you know your print size — so when it’s time to go to the printer, you’re not wasting paper nor time. This helpful infographic from Digital Printing gives a concise breakdown of paper sizes that will help make the printing process faster and more efficient.
18. Limit your fonts
Don’t get too fancy with fonts — and if you do, don’t overdo it. You have to use fonts that are easily readable, even if you want them to look funky or pretty. And don’t use multiple fonts on one page — it will confuse readers and cause them to lose interest. Just like colors can be distracting, so can fonts. You want to be consistent and balanced so try to keep the fonts to two per piece. Try pairing a fancy, elaborate font with a basic one to show contrast that is still pleasing to look at.
19. Play with symmetry
Symmetry adds balance. Symmetry adds harmony. Symmetry is vital for print designers because your designs will be right in front of people’s faces — not seen through a screen. You need to make sure your positive and negative space is being used appropriately to form a cohesive landscape. Unbalanced designs cause tension and uneasiness.
20. Check your image proportions, dimensions and resolution
This is probably the most important thing to do technically before sending your design to the printer. If the proportions, dimensions, and resolutions aren’t right, your design will come out looking like a hot mess — and not in a good way. These infographics from Growth Hub, Alamy and Design Mantic will help you nail your next print design.
Finding your niche and style isn’t easy. And really becoming comfortable with the designs you can create can take years — but you have to believe you’ll get there. And you can’t let little fears like which tones to use and which fonts complement each other keep you from diving in head first and making some print design magic happen.
It’s a process that takes time. It’s a process that requires you to continually teach yourself and try out new things. And with design trends always changing, it’s important you learn how to act on your feet.
Even then, it can get tricky — there’s a lot of information to hold onto. A lot of numbers and facts and figures that sometimes slip away in the heat of the moment when your deadline is approaching and you’re on your fifth coffee and wait, what time is it? That’s why having a guide like this with quick facts and figures is vital. Use it well — your next deadline is right around the corner.
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