We all have days when we’re not thinking straight (or at all). Maybe it’s due to an unexpected problem with a client or co-worker, or maybe it’s just a simple lack of coffee. But whatever the reason, our designs are the ones that suffer.
Part of being a designer is recognizing that everyone makes mistakes. Sooner or later, they’re going to happen—and when they do, it’s important to learn from them and avoid making them in the future. With that in mind, here are a few of the worst print design mistakes and some tips for steering clear of them.
Trying to print RGB colors is a total rookie mistake. Images with the RGB (red, green, blue) color model are meant to be projected on a screen, so if you print them, the colors won’t be true to the digitized version of your design. It’s a little like putting diesel fuel into a car that runs on regular gas: the design stops working properly.
When you design for print, you’re generally going to be working with either CMYK or PMS color models. Make sure you understand the difference between PMS and CMYK before you send off your artwork to a printer.
Print designs should be simple and easy to read, not cluttered. The best designs even use white space to streamline the overall appearance or emphasize the main points. But many artists still end up turning their print designs into a busy mess.
If your project looks like a teenager’s bedroom the day after a Halloween party, it’s time to clean it up. Rather than using a color palette with forty different hues, stick to two or three. Use images in the same way; unless you’re making a collage, one strong image is usually enough for your design.
You want your audience to be able to understand your design, so keep it clean.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are designs that don’t have enough visual interest. Viewers get bored with designs that lack variations in color, typography and other imagery. If your design is bland as a bowl of white rice, try spicing it up with some more intriguing visual (or even textural) elements.
Good design hierarchy typically uses the boldest and brightest elements to draw attention to the most important information. Use gentler, lighter fonts and colors for details. Embossing (even blind embossing, with no printing or foil over it) is an excellent way to add textural interest.
Ever hear that old phrase about how it’s now what you say that counts, it’s how you say it? A similar principle applies when it comes to written text. The way you present a word can radically affect the way it’s interpreted, as well as whether or not people will read it in the first place. After all, nobody will bother paying attention to a headline that isn’t designed legibly.
You’ll want to start by choosing the right font. People connect fonts with specific emotions, so you need to know how your audience will react to your font choice.
Size and spacing are also important factors. Manage your kerning carefully and don’t have your words randomly change size, especially if you’re only doing it to make your design “interesting.” You know what’s interesting? A design people can actually read.
Social media doesn’t translate well into print, at least not without some help. That’s why we often see companies promote their Facebook or Twitter presence in strange ways, like a Facebook button that doesn’t actually give any indication of how to access the business’s Facebook page.
When you’re promoting social media accounts in print, you’ll have to adjust your social media promotion to account for the differences between print and web design. You can start by replacing links and buttons with a QR code. Links are obviously useless in a print design, but QR codes route people directly from your design to your social media profiles.
Don’t feel like you have to promote all of your social media accounts in a single piece. Instead, link your other social media to the profile you promoted with the QR code. Your audience can follow the links if they want to, and you won’t be wasting valuable space on your design.
Printers are like house pets: you’ve got to plan for a bit of a mess.
Most printers can’t print all the way to the edge of a piece of paper; you’ll always end up with a little bit of white space. But if you print on a slightly larger piece of paper and then cut it down to size, you can get a final product that looks polished and complete.
Bleed areas make that possible. By creating a bleed area around the edge of your project and extending your graphics into it, you’ll prevent awkward white space around the edges of your final product.
Many designers don’t realize that when they send their artwork files to be printed, forcing the printer to ask for revisions. Remembering to add a proper bleed area from the very beginning will save you valuable time.
A word of advice: keep your text away from the edge of the bleed zone. Otherwise, it may get chopped off during the final cut.
Most people don’t think twice before printing a color background because it makes for more design possibilities and crisper colors. But it’s not always the best choice; it doubles your production time and increases your costs because you’ll have to print the background on both sides of the stock. Plus, printing a background on white stock can result in distracting white edges, since you typically can’t print on the edge of a piece of paper.
If you want a color background that doesn’t make use of dark hues, extremely accurate color-matching or complex elements such as photos and gradients, using a colored stock is probably a better way to go.
Only two types of people refuse to go back to review and proofread their work: narcissists and quitters.
If you don’t take the time to review your work, you’re shortchanging not just your client, but yourself. A potential client only has to see one sloppy design to think that’s indicative of all your work.
It’s pure ego to assume you’ve made a perfect design on the first try. But like we said before, everyone make mistakes. If you want to protect your ego, remember to check and double-check the work you’ve done. Fixing errors before you print is way less embarrassing than sending a client a design riddled with mistakes.
Everyone has off days. But that doesn’t mean you have to be stuck making the same mistakes over and over.
Keep your mistakes from becoming habits by using this list to check your designs for errors. And when (not if) you mess up again, think of yourself as falling forward: it’s okay to make a mistake as long as you learn something from it.