Differences Between Print and Digital Design

Differences Between Print and Digital Design

It is no secret that modern graphic designers do fantastic work to bring advertising campaigns and other promotional materials to life. However, keep in mind that digital professionals do things quite differently than people who design for print.

Graphic design for print and graphic design for digital and the web are two very different things. Also, note that print and digital design each have their unique challenges and nuances that only established and educated designers can plan for.

And this means that it is essential for designers to not just be familiar with design, but also in the coherent and technical presentation of a cohesive vision across several different mediums.

What is Print Design?

Graphic design for printing is a unique process and its end-product is often a design in a digital form. Print design is for physical publications, like newspapers, periodicals, and flyers, etc.  In our tech-driven world of many digital design tools, it is likely that designing will be done on a computer. It is then printed onto a material, like paper, cardboard, plastic, and ceramics, etc. Although print design helps with many purposes, the primary two are brand awareness and marketing.

What is Digital Design?

It is any presentation or design that’s developed and viewed on a digital platform. Nowadays, digital designs are in great use. This design is developed specifically for use on digital platforms. Digital design includes graphics on social media, graphics on websites and graphics for email. In addition to the more traditional print design, designers now leverage various digital sources in order to create and develop brilliant designs and presentations.

Print vs. Digital Design – Considerations

These are some main differences between print and digital design and considerations designers need to make.


Although brilliant colors help breathe life into any design project, it is crucial to know how professional designers are able to achieve consistent and impactful coloration across various elements. It is also worth mentioning that different kinds of graphic design require different color formats.

CMYK, RGB, and HEX are three of the main formats. For printing, the color format that is often used is called CMYK. Note that CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and k (which represents black). On the other hand, HEX and RGB color formats are used for digital designs. RGB is based on 3 colors that you can see looking at any computer monitor. They are red, green, and blue. Six digit codes known as HEX codes define the spectrum of all possible permutations of these 3 colors.


You should maintain excellent layout practices for all your pieces. Also, follow a design guide that helps prevent mistakes, like mixing fonts that clash, disregarding alignment, or overlooking the hierarchy of your different elements. With printed mediums, designers have a finite amount of space that they can use to bring their design to life.

Note that best practices of composition apply and you can follow them to create an orderly design with great visual flow. You should also consider issues of sizing so that everything is legible and clear once printed.


Web design certainly has one indisputable advantage in this modern era over print design: this is the degree of accessibility. As about 20% of US citizens are disabled, accessibility features are great as they allow your digital content to reach a much wider audience. In conventional print media, this is usually not possible.

Digital designers can easily optimize their design for screen readers. They can also include closed captions for video content, while providing alternative navigation controls for disabled people.


You should keep in mind that both digital and print design have a visual quality in common — the design has to make an excellent impression regardless of what the final product is. So, whether you are designing for print or online consumption, remember that you have the great potential to impact your audience via a variety of different sensations. While both kinds of media offer visual stimulation with typography and images, the two tend to differ considerably when it comes to using the other senses.

For example, you can easily enhance the tactile sensation of interacting with the print piece through embossing as well as other textured elements, or you may stimulate the olfactory sense with scented inks and coatings.

You may have noticed that most bibliophiles like the feel of a book, its smell, weight, and texture. You cannot appeal to all of these senses with digital experiences.

On the other hand, if you are designing for digital audiences, you can leverage technology in order to provide a great multimedia experience. For example, ebooks have advantages that you can’t transfer to the print format.

Here are some examples. Children’s books have animated illustrations and digital versions of scientific literature often have links to external sources.


Readability is one of the most important factors when choosing fonts. It is no secret that certain fonts are much better suited to web than print designs, and vice-versa. Remember that when it comes to print design your only limitations are the boundaries of standard typographical practices. For example, you have to avoid clashing styles and give adequate space between lines and letters.

Another key font consideration is whether to use serif or sans-serif. Remember that serifs are the tiny flairs that you can see on some fonts’ letters – Times New Roman is one of the most frequently used examples. In contrast, sans-serif fonts do not have these extra flairs on the letters. For print media, serif fonts are the best. This is because the serifs can make it simpler for your brain to identify letters as well as words, particularly when reading a full page of a newspaper, book, or magazine.


Note that when the design is only placed on the paper, then the user’s actions were only about flipping pages or unfolding them. However, keep in mind that virtual space is very different. For instance, web designers often use a slew of convenient menus at an expected location in order to simplify the navigation. This helps users find what they are looking for.

And with the recent explosion of various web-enabled gadgets and devices, there is a growing concern among many regarding how sites display on various screen sizes and devices. This has led to more focus on responsive design, or a design that adapts to different viewing methods. This is why now it is vital to ensure the correct website display in different sizes on various screens, i.e. to use responsive or adaptive design. Also, the design not only has to look good, but it also has to be scalable when users are scrolling.

Final Thoughts

We can divide the world of graphics into two different categories: creation for web/digital and design for print. While design talent can certainly transcend the medium, note that not all design practices will translate well from one specific medium to another. This is why the professionals who work in this industry do things a little differently for these two segments.

While most of them use the same software and best practices on their job, that’s where the similarities often end. From layout and color choice to interaction and fonts, designers have to look carefully at every project through the lens of the intended medium.

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