Passionate About Print Design

by | Aug 29, 2019

According to Wikipedia, Print Design is a subset of graphic design and “a form of visual communication used to convey information to an audience through intentional aesthetic design printed on a tangible surface, designed to be printed on paper, as opposed to presented on a digital platform.”

As design professionals, we like the phrase “intentional aesthetic design printed on a tangible surface”, so let’s pick that apart a bit.

intentional – this obviously means that someone has thought carefully about what elements to include in the design, and then taken some time and care to put them in the best possible positions for the best possible visual result. For print projects, this design process using involves one or more of the Adobe Creative Suite software tools (InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop).

Design elements can include text, blocks of colour, logos, graphics, photographic images, effects like gradients etc. etc., but if the design process has been accidental, rather than ‘intentional’, it’ll look that way – and probably reflect badly on whoever’s presenting it as their work.

But with print design, any ‘intention’ needs to go way beyond arranging 2D graphic elements onto the screen or page. From the outset, the best graphic designers will be thinking ahead to how the finished, printed item will look and feel when someone picks it up and touches it.

Before the first click of their mouse, they’ll have thought about paper or card stock options (uncoated, matt, silk, gloss etc.), what weights or thicknesses those stocks need to be, what finishes (embossing, debossing, die cutting, foil blocking, varnishes etc.) can be applied to make the item look and feel extra-special, and – often depending on the required, final quantities – what print process or processes (digital, lithography, screenprinting, gravure etc.) will get the desired end result – for both them, and their client.

So, there’s actually lots to think about. And how the design looks shouldn’t be left to chance (or left to a designer or agency that isn’t a print design expert).

aesthetic – as an adjective, this word means ‘concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty’, and while good graphic designers understand that their work needs to sell things and be commercial, they’ll also always try and make it beautiful and visual appealing.

There’s an old saying, that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, and it’s true that design can be subjective and a matter of personal taste, but when something has been so badly designed that it lacks any aesthetic appeal, even the most generous customer’s rose-tinted spectacles probably won’t persuade them to choose it over something that’s been well-designed.

According to famous industrial designer, Raymond Loewy…
“Between two products equal in price, functionality and quality, the one with the most attractive exterior will win.”

OK, so he might’ve been thinking about a car or coke bottle design when he said this, but it’s true. And the same applies to graphic design and print design.

design – we won’t dwell on this word for long. Design’s what we do, it’s what we love doing, and luckily for us, it’s what our clients keep coming back to us for help with.

While those clients might have the original idea about WHAT they need to promote their product, service or organisation (whether it’s a new piece of packaging, a sales brochure, an exhibition stand, or a trade press advert), and while we work closely with them to understand the objectives and work within any budgets and timescales, they’ll then usually trust that our creative skills and experience (50+ years combined!) will deliver a high-quality, professional design solution that looks great AND gets results they want.

printed – so, once all the design elements have been laid out, once any amends have been made, and once everyone’s 100% happy about how it’s looking, the approved artwork can then ‘go to print’.

We’ll usually have been liaising with the nominated printers for days or weeks by now, so we already understand exactly what they need from us artwork-wise – what file formats and whether they have a preferred way of receiving the files. But even before we send them the digital files (and usually after the client assumes everything’s done and dusted!), we’ll be carrying out final on-screen checks and running high-quality hard copy proofs to triple-check that everything’s still in place and looking perfect.

We’ve got some long-standing relationships with some amazing printers, and just as our clients trust us to design their projects, we’ll often rely on our printers’ expert knowledge about the best processes, techniques, inks and finishing options to optimise the final result.

And then it’s over to them!

For all designers, seeing their concept leave the safety of their design studio as digital data, to become a physically-printed object can be a bit nerve-wracking – but as long as they’ve done their job properly, and as long the printers do theirs, there really should be no issues.

tangible surface – so now the idea has become a physical thing. The graphic elements are (hopefully!) all still present and correct, but now the digital data has been applied to the chosen base material – paper, card, vinyl, fabric, glass, metal, plastic etc. Those extra-special print finishes have now been added, so it glints beautifully in the light, glows magically in the dark, or helps you grip it when you pick it up.

The item is now three-dimensional with sides, edges, curves and corners. Its surface has a texture – rough, smooth, both, or somewhere in between.

It will often now make a noise if you flap it (think A4 leaflet), tap it (think promotional USB stick) or unwrap it (think biscuit wrapper).

And to complete the multi-sensory experience, just try sniffing it. That’s right, printed items smell – mostly of fresh ink (which smells amazing, by the way!), but also of the base material – a cotton t-shirt will smell totally different from a PVC banner, and they’ll both smell totally different from an aluminium beer can. (But they’ll all smell great!).

So we love the fact our ideas move (usually fairly smoothly) from the purely conceptual to the totally physical – from our minds, to our notepads and sketchpads, to our computers, and finally – thanks to our talented printer friends – to become corporate signage hanging outside offices, brochures on travel agent shelves, charity fundraising posters in shop windows, and craft beer cans in neighbours’ fridges.

However long the items exist for – maybe two days, maybe 40 years – they’ve still existed. And in a world where it’s getting harder to tell what’s real and what isn’t, and where the majority of marketing budgets are spent online on fast-moving pixels, there’s something appealing about a well thought out, well-designed and well-printed physical ‘thing’.

So here’s to “intentional aesthetic design printed on a tangible surface”. Long may it last!

“If you do it right, it will last forever.”

Massimo Vignelli