Differences in Web and Print Design

From book pages to web pages, from pop-up ads to soda pop bottles, all media requires thoughtful design to be effective. Designing for either print or the web requires an eye for color, form and function, a sense of balance and a bit of style. More so than, say, fashion designers or interior designers, those handling graphics must be highly methodical and technically-oriented. Professional designers need not just a sense of composition, but skills in software and production to succeed in either field. But what are they key differences in web and print design? Read on to learn the essential similarities and distinctions in the user experience, workflow, careers and education in web vs print design.

Key Differences for Users

Both web design and print design aim for an end-product which is attractive, intuitive and functional. However, there are a few basic differences in web and print design for the user. One obvious difference is that web content requires flexibility in layout for scaling. A viewer looking a website may be viewing the page through a tiny phone screen or oversize monitor. By contrast, printed material is static, though it can be reproduced in multiple formats. Printed matter has physical qualities such as weight, shape volume and texture, which the graphic designer can alter or allow to dictate their design scheme. Digital media, on the other hand, lacks physical substance but offers the possibility of interactivity. Embedded links, functions and animation can add interest while also guiding the user to other content.

Key Differences for Designers

On the back end, creators must think and work quite differently to create web design vs print design. Both will be creating graphics and layouts in a computer program, but in design for print, the final result will be rendered in a physical medium, such as on paper or packaging. Web designers, on the other hand, compose graphics and pages in their native digital medium. Websites have functional content, such as pop-up windows and links, which must be crerated, tested and updated, while print is static. While testing functionality is an additional chore for web designers, they do have the luxury of making changes after a site goes live. In print design, this is not an option. Once the final proof has been sent to the printer, it’s too late to correct any mistakes. While both web designers and graphic designers work with clients to achieve a specific goal, web designers will work with web developers to realize that vision, while graphic designers will need to work with a printer to create the final product.

Web vs Print Design Skills and Tools

The job of a web or graphic designer doesn’t begin and end with creating images and layouts. Each will need to understand the ins and outs of the medium itself in order to design effectively and collaborate with team members on a given project. For web designers, this will mean being familiar with basic coding, such as Java or C++. For graphic designers, it is essential to understand every step of the physical printing process, from bleeds and margins to collating and trimming. Some design considerations, such as color and line, will be the same for both mediums but differ in format. Web designers, for instance, will be thinking of resolution in terms of PPI (pixels per inch) and color in hexadecimals. Designers working in print will be looking at DPI (dots per inch) resolution and using spot or process colors. Both will need to have advanced proficiency in a number of graphics programs, and to keep those skills current through continuing education, such as a series of Illustrator Tutorials or an Online Web Design Certification.

When it comes to software, Adobe Creative Suite is as much a design industry staple as Pantone Colors or the ubiquitous MacBook Pro. Some programs, particularly Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, will be used by designers working in both mediums. With other programs, there are differences in web and print design software. Commonly used programs for each include:

Print Design Software
  • Photoshop
  • InDesign
  • Illustrator
Web Design Software
  • Dreamweaver
  • Muse
  • Photoshop/Illustrator
  • Flash

Working in Web Design vs Print Design

Whether you’ve earned an online web design degree or studied graphic design at a traditional art school, you’ll need to understand the job market ahead. Graduates who hold a degree in Graphic Design should look for job titles including: Graphic Designer, Visual Designer, Product Design Director, and Digital Imaging Artist. Those who have earned an on-campus or online web design degree are qualified for job including: Web Designer, Front-End Designer, Digital Designer and Web Animation Graphics Artist.

There are a few differences in the web vs print design job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 15 growth in the Graphic Design job market and a growth rate of 25% in Web Design between 2014 and 2024. Salaries for positions in both Web Design and Print Design vary widely based on the size of the company and job duties. Print Designer salaries average $48,692 per year according to Glassdoor, while Web Designers make a median of $59,989. Advanced technical skills, such as coding in multiple languages, can give Web Designers a competitive edge and access to higher salaries.

There can be plenty of overlap in the design tasks performed for both web and print, but some examples of job responsibilities for each include:

Print Design Work
  • Laying out text and graphics for a newspaper
  • Designing posters and billboards
  • Designing packaging and labels for commercial products
  • Creating dust jacket designs for books
  • Creating identity systems for a brand (logos, letterhead, business cards)
Web Design Work
  • Laying out text and graphics for a newspaper
  • Designing a website’s overall look and layout
  • Creating Flash animation for websites
  • Designing banners and pop-up ads
  • Designing graphics for a mobile app
  • Creating layouts and graphics for e-newsletters

Getting Started

Unlike sculpture or painting, which can be learned through self-directed study, a formal education is pretty indispensible for a career in web design or graphic design. Graphic design degrees and web design degrees are offered at the associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s levels. According to BurningGlass, some 77% of professionals in the field hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design, and 84% of web designers hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Web Design or Graphic Design. One of the differences in web and print design training is that the latter has a long history of training through traditional art schools, and some of the World’s Best Fine Art Schools offer graphic design. It’s also passible to earn an Online Graphic Design Degree or Fine Art Degree. It should come as no surprise that an Online Web Design Degree is a popular choice. The long history of online web design tutorials has meant that flexible distance education in this area is well-established, and learning to design for the web through the web seems like a natural fit. There is a wide selection of affordable, flexible and reputable choices for a Web Design Degree Online. Students should research the one which best suits their professional goals, budget and work/life considerations.

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