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Designing for Print

Clarify Your Purpose

·       What do you want your publication to accomplish?

·       What is the main message?

·       What do you want your readers to know?

·       What essential information must be communicated?

Good design communicates the intended message.  Make every word and picture count.  If you try to make too many points, you will clutter or confuse your readers.  Don’t lose your readers by presenting too little or too much information.  You must know what you want to convey before you create your publication.

Knowing Your Audience

·       Who will read your publication?

·       What response are you trying to obtain?

·       What do your readers already know?

·       Why do your readers want to read this publication?

·       Under what circumstances will your message be read?

Set the tone for your publication by knowing your audience.  The headlines, graphics, and organization of the text hinge on your knowledge of the audience that you are addressing.  If you are not sure of your audience, find out.  This is really important to the effectiveness of your publication.

Gathering Ideas

·       Where do I gather ideas?

·       What are the copyright issues?

·       What about “good” and “bad” examples?

The best ideas are all around you.  Gather samples.  Remember that everything belongs to the person who created it.  It is fine to adapt ideas but not to recreate the total design.  Even if you adapt it is a courtesy to note the original designer.  Saving good and bad examples can provide a learning experience for a new designer.  You can learn as much from noting mistakes as you can from seeking only exemplary examples of excellent design.  Create an ideas folder and when you find samples, attach a note so you can remember what you liked or disliked.  Then when you have to begin your design, you will have options already noted in your folder.

Planning Ahead for Printing

·       What problems does the printer see with the publication?

·       What do you need to know about formatting, color and other design issues?

·       How will delivery affect printing?

·       How will the number of copies affect the cost of paper and production?

·       What about reprints?

·       What about color vs. black and white?

Before you lay out your publication, think about printing issues.  Create your pencil design of your publication then ask your printer to consider the printing issues.  If you are having something commercially printed, you don’t want to have a small $100 budget and produce a publication that will cost $1000 to print.

Laying Out Your Publication

“Graphic design is not something added to make the pages look lively.  It is not an end in itself.  It is the means to an end—that of clear, vivid, stirring communication of editorial content.”  Designing for Magazines, Jan White

No hard and fast rules apply to lay out.  Basic guidelines emphasize

·       Simplicity

·       Limit the number of elements on each page.  Five elements is usually the most that can impact a reader on a single page.

·       Use plenty of white space to make key information stand out.  White space clarifies the relationship between objects and text. Related things should be closer together and unrelated further apart.

·       Align the elements which pleases the eye and simplifies reading for the audience.

·       Consistency

·       Unify the publication by being consistent.  This lets the audience see at a glance how the information is organized.

·       Keep spacing consistent throughout the publication.  Margin widths and page setup should be the same throughout the publication.

·       Fonts should be consistent.  Consistency should relate to the mission of the font.  All text the same, all headings the same but each item could use a different font.

·       Use one alignment for a publication or a set of publications. 

·       Use color consistently.

·       Use the same style for decorative elements such as borders and drop caps.

·       Repeat design elements in a publication or a set of publications.

·       Contrast

·       Draw attention to a specific item by contrast.

·       Place a dominant element on each page or every two-pages depending on how you print your publication. 

·       Make different element look really different.  Choose bold contrasts in color or font, don’t make small differences.

·       Use contrast wisely.  Too much will overpower the reader.  Use contrast to prioritize information for your reader.

Choosing the Right Paper

This is the finishing touch.  If you control this part of publication, consider the care that you should give to the paper.  The feel of the paper helps the reader to determine the worth of the publication.  If you want to be noticed you want it to happen from the moment that the reader touches your publication.

·       Tips on paper

·       Vibrant color and high resolution result on coated paper

·       Paper weight matters.

·       20 0r 24 for letterhead

·       60 to 70 for newsletters or brochures

·       Try parchment or flecked finish paper for personal correspondence

·       Make sure the text is readable on embossed, textures, or other specialty papers

·       Remember recycled paper exists and sometimes can make a big impression on your audience

·       Cheap paper may be false economy.  Preprinted paper or heavy bond may cut cost in color or mailing issues.

Putting It All Together

·       What if the design “rules” don’t apply?

·       What is I can’t afford good design?

Brainstorm, ask others, don’t give up!  Be bold.  Sometimes breaking design rules can be  the beginning of a brilliant solution.


Microsoft Publisher 98 Companion.  Microsoft Corporation.  1998.

This page was updated on:  04/10/02