Should Web Designers Take on Print Work?

John Tabita

When you live and breathe digital marketing, it’s easy to overlook the fact that traditional offline marketing was a $93.6 billion industry in 2012. Whereas the digital marketing industry trails slightly behind at $63 billion.

In case you think all those advertisers are foolishly wasting their money, consider this: direct marketing alone—which includes mailed postcards, brochures, catalogs, and coupons—produced $2.05 trillion in sales in 2012.

And who do you suppose is designing all that print adversing for your web clients? Another designer, perhaps?

Print design can be a great source of ongoing work, especially when you target larger companies as clients. But before you jump in with both feet, consider the pros and cons.

Three Reasons to Offer Print Design

Print advertising has a greater likelihood of generating ongoing work

I had a photographer for a client who mailed postcards to her entire customer base right before every major holiday. She initially hired me to design her website, but I made more from her print advertising than her web work.

New businesses need more than just a website

One of our largest clients was a start-up which invested a lot of money in a web presence. But it also needed a complete corporate identity package (logo, business cards, letterhead and envelopes) as well as several hundred brochures and a billboard design—the entirety of which became a five-figure project.

Earn additional revenue from print brokering

Besides the money you earn for creating the design, you can also make a profit reselling the printing.

As a graphic designer, you can purchase printing services from trade printers who do not deal with retail customers. Trade printers will work with freelance graphic designers, ad agencies, as well as other printing firms, by providing print services at wholesale rates, allowing you to mark it up for a profit.

A trade printer may require that you have a reseller’s permit or resale license before doing business with you.

Three Reasons to Avoid Print Design

Print design requires a learning curve, additional software, and a robust computer

Preparing files for print is different than for the web. But if you can learn HTML, CSS and jQuery, why should CMYK colors, trapping and bleeds be beyond your ability to grasp?

But if you’re going to jump into print design, know that you’ll need software programs like Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop—which aren’t cheap.

Another expense might also be an updated computer. Manipulating a 300dpi layered Photoshop file may require a faster processor and more RAM than your current computer has.

Print design leaves no room for error

Unlike the online world, once something’s in print, it’s permanent. That means if you make a mistake, you may wind up eating the cost to have the job reprinted.

A fellow graphic artist I worked with designed a brochure for a company. The owner proofread the comp before it went to the printer. He also had several of his employees do the same. Satisfied that there were no errors, he signed off on the proof. When my designer friend delivered several hundred copies of the brochure to the office, the owner eagerly opened one of the boxes, pulled one out and immediately exclaimed, “My company name is misspelled!” (How he, several employees and the designer overlooked this remains a mystery.)

In a perfect world, since the client signed off on the proof, he’s the one that should eat the cost of reprinting, right? In the real world, however, things aren’t so clear-cut.

You’re responsible for the final outcome

Print design, especially print brokering, means you assume full responsibility for how the job turns out. A good trade printer will be a valuable asset to make sure you create files that are properly prepared. But there’s always the risk that something will go awry.

Fifteen years ago, I was a print designer struggling to figure out how to design for the web. Today, a new generation of designers is making the opposite jump.

How about you?

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  • Julian

    Hi, I am the one! Just as web developer is a little difficult but it works for now.
    I worked in a printing house as graphic designer and in one day I’ve typed wrong the phone number on a flyer. I paid 1 mc (one cubic meter) of glossy paper in few months (monthly salary cut!) and that was the issue for passing at web design.
    Here I am and I’m a lot more confy.
    In last 7 years I paid nothing for web mistakes… Just, in few cases… I was not paid for few things…
    That is… On line is on the fly… If you choose the wrong people you can only earn experience…

  • Dotty Scott

    You forgot one obvious reason NOT to add print to your list of services…If you find a great print designer you can pass business back and forth and get more of the business you like. Think Power Partner…

  • Michael Pantoja

    This article definitely hit some big points, but I have a couple more to add from a decade and a half of running the prepress department.

    1) A less obvious reason to avoid print design is the fact that many brick & mortar print shops have their own graphic designers and their work is often included in the price of printing, or heavily subsidized. This is because the print industry has become so commoditized that print shops must offer something more than the online bulk printers can.

    2) This article didn’t even touch on the complications of providing a printed proof. Sure Adobe software isn’t cheap… but how much is a color calibrated printer? Maybe you have a local print shop that can generate proofs for you… how much does it cost to print a calibrated proof, drive to pick it up then drive to give it to your client?

    As for the misspelled company name, that’s why you require a signed proof statement and a clear, courteous explanation of the importance of careful review. In all my time of dealing with proofs, the very few customers that tried to pin the blame on me were trying to cheat during the entire process.

    Dotty has made an excellent point. I have forged great relationships with local print shops and local designers as their “web guy” and work as a subcontractor. They love print, I love the web. We work as a team.

    If you really want to work as a print designer because you love the process or the results, then do it. Feed your soul. It can be incredibly satisfying and the move to digital printing has made this kind of work easier than it has ever been. But don’t do it because you feel you have to in order to compete. If you don’t love it, it’s just a big bag of hurt and profits are hard to come by.

  • CMD_Z

    This article definitely hit some big points, but I have a couple more to add from a decade and a half of running the prepress department.

    1) A less obvious reason to avoid print design is the fact that many brick & mortar print shops have their own graphic designers and their work is often included in the price of printing, or heavily subsidized. This is because the print industry has become so commoditized that print shops must offer something more than the online bulk printers can.

    2) This article didn’t even touch on the complications of providing a printed proof. Sure Adobe software isn’t cheap… but how much is a color calibrated printer? Maybe you have a local print shop that can generate proofs for you… how much does it cost to print a calibrated proof, drive to pick it up then drive to give it to your client?

    As for the misspelled company name, that’s why you require a signed proof statement and a clear, courteous explanation of the importance of careful review. In all my time of dealing with proofs, the very few customers that tried to pin the blame on me were trying to cheat during the entire process.

    Dotty has made an excellent point. I have forged great relationships with local print shops and local designers as their “web guy” and work as a subcontractor. They love print, I love the web. We work as a team.

    If you really want to work as a print designer because you love the process or the results, then do it. Feed your soul. It can be incredibly satisfying and the move to digital printing has made this kind of work easier than it has ever been. But don’t do it because you feel you have to in order to compete. If you don’t love it, it’s just a big bag of hurt and profits are hard to come by.