Graphic Design and How to Drive your Graphic Designer Crazy!!!

Back before the internet was a gleam in Al Gore’s eye, life as a graphic artist was pretty calm; busy, but the design process was pretty straight forward. Whether your marketing needs were for a magazine layout, a direct mail piece or a brochure, the design process was the same, create the marketing piece at 300 PPI and send it out for proofing.

Sure there were challenges; monitors and software were not what they are today. To send a proof to a client, the design would be put on disk, dropped into an envelope, along with a print  and a Pantone color swatch, and then sent overnight by FedEx.

Somewhere along the way, things got complicated. I can’t look back and say “this is when it happened.” It’s like one day I looked in the mirror and noticed I was going bald. Coincidence?  When the Internet finally came of age, it changed our lives forever.

Fast forward to today and along comes one of my new clients, Bob (fictitious name to protect the guilty) and in one job he has found three distinct missteps to absolutely drive me crazy! This brings me to the story of:

Bodacious Bob and
How to Drive a Graphic Designer Crazy.

 Question 1: Why doesn’t my Logo look like the image I sent you?

Bob proudly hands me his newly designed logo to be incorporate into a business card. I take one look at his design and think to myself, “here we go again.” Bob designed his logo in RGB color mode and in order to have it printed by my local commercial print house, I would have to convert it to CMYK.  CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black) and RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) are as different as night and day.

With the fast acceleration of the internet and the use of browsers to access the info highway, we have been introduced to monitors that use the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) color mode. (Stay with me here) RGB uses the subtraction of color to display a design on the computer screen, where CMYK is the addition of color on printed material.

When a new client hires me to design their brand, I now have to ask what medium they intend to use their new design in. When it comes to business cards, brochures, posters, or commercially printed materials, the standard is still to design in CMYK. However, designing for your online presence, websites or PDFs, must be designed in RGB.

Due to the wealth of information the internet provides and the low cost of computer software, many aspiring artists, or “Do it Yourselfers” have found out they too can design a logo.

Unfortunately, they learn how, but they don’t know the why.  I won’t get into design theory or the marketing aspects of being an experienced designer. However, I believe the color differences between RGB and CMYK are one of the underlying problems of producing quality materials for my clients.

Since monitors can only display colors in RGB they can’t accurately display CMYK designs. With the advancement in design software and screen calibration software we can get pretty close, but it is not an accurate view. This is where an experienced designer comes in handy (a shameless plug.)

The following example shows the difference between the two color modes on my 27″ Samsung LED SyncMaster 275t Plus monitor. You can see the CMYK image on the left looks flat and more subdued, especially the blues.

Question 2: Can’t you just copy the picture from this magazine?

Unlike monitors, that remove light to show color, offset printing uses inks to add color. These inks are solid in color. A black ink only prints black, it can’t print gray. To get the various shades of black that change from light gray to black, your image must be converted to halftones.

 These halftones consist of CMYK ink dots of variable size and are printed in overlapping grids.

What this means is if you find the perfect picture in a printed magazine, it simply cannot be scanned without the dots showing up in the re-scanned artwork.

Question 3: Can you just take it off the internet?

When the internet was first introduced, information was transmitted over very slow modems. It could take several minutes to show an image. Without getting into all of the technical jargon about Pixels Per Inch and Dots Per Inch, the take away is that most monitors use a pixel configuration where  it displays 72 pixels per inch. If you were to print out a 72 PPI image you would notice that it measures one inch.

An image used in offset printing (Offset printing is a commonly used printing technique used in commercial print shops) are actually created at 300 PPI (Points Per Inch), on your monitor and converted to 300DPI (Dots Per Inch) for printing purposes. The size of a 300 PPI image is just too large to view on the internet. For instance, an image 7″ wide by 4″ tall at 72 PPI is just 0.425megabytes. The same size image at 300 PPI comes in at a whopping 9.6megabytes. Most of us lose patience if we have to wait 3 seconds for a page to load. How long would we wait for an image of this size to download?

Due to this time constraint, images used on the internet are down sampled, where information not needed is discarded.  To try and use an image from the internet (72 PPI) will not work well. It just does not have enough info in it to increase it to a size acceptable for offset printing (300 dpi) without losing quality.

Scanners, Camera, and Video Capture Systems

Most desktop scanners, cameras and video recorders save their files as RGB. So, if the outcome is to be printed materials, these images will have to be converted and adjusted to CMYK by your  favorite designer/printer (namely, me).

The caveat to this is that print shops are forgoing the traditional offset printing of past and using digital printing equipment for small runs. In this case, printers are asking for RGB color mode artwork for their clients. What this means is you need to make sure you ask what color mode the output requires.

With my “Teaching Cap” on, I explain these differences to Bob in detail and what is needed to give his branding the best look possible.  Feeling confident with his new found knowledge, Bob has headed out the door and is on his merry way, with a new found purpose.

“Excuse me, are you Rick?” comes from the gentleman walking into my shop. “Can you print this design I just created?” (here we go again).

About the Author: Rick Clark (62 Posts)

Rick founded Rick' Creative Designs, an innovative digital design printshop, when those around him were still using linotype machines. He earned his degree as an Internet Professional, enhancing his repertoire as a "Creative Specialist." Today, he runs Clark Media, Inc. where he brings his creativity and experience to the forefront in web, print, social and mobile media.


About the Author: Rick Clark

Rick founded Rick' Creative Designs, an innovative digital design printshop, when those around him were still using linotype machines. He earned his degree as an Internet Professional, enhancing his repertoire as a "Creative Specialist." Today, he runs Clark Media, Inc. where he brings his creativity and experience to the forefront in web, print, social and mobile media.