Digital Design Do's and Don'ts

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Today's digital presses offer reproduction quality so close to offset printing that most people can't see the difference with samples of both in hand. Faster running speeds, plenty of stock and coating choices and lower production costs combine to bring digital printing within the design and budget preferences of most direct marketers.


But while digital printing may look like offset, there are design requirements and considerations specific to digital. Consider the following tips to help you design campaigns for optimal digital reproduction:


Sufficient resolution is critical. As with offset printing, images for digital printing need sufficient resolution to display detail and depth. This is particularly important if digital images will be used. Images should have at least 300 dpi resolution at their final size, and line art should have at least 1,200 dpi resolution.


Your native files should be created with these resolution targets in mind. Adding resolution in Photoshop usually won't produce a better-looking printed image. This means those 72 dpi images you grabbed from the Web won't work!


Minimize tint or solid color area. Though digital printing is great for reproducing full-color images, large areas of solid color, tints or blends may look uneven if not prepared properly. To avoid unwanted effects such as banding - visible lines that appear between tint transitions - add a subtle texture or pattern to your designs through Photoshop. This gives your areas of color some "noise" and improves their appearance. Another rule of thumb: If your blend spans less than 7 inches, make sure it has at least a 50 percent value to ensure seamless appearance.


To be certain that your piece will reproduce the way you intend, get a digital press proof early in the design phase. This helps illuminate potential problems before it's too late!


Choose the best black. For presses that use CMYK inks, a "rich black" formula of 100 percent black ink (K) is all that's needed to reproduce a solid, pure black. However, additional color yields a pronounced difference in the shade of black that's reproduced. Starting with a base of 100 percent black ink, adding anywhere from 20 percent to 100 percent of cyan, magenta or yellow ink lets you create "super blacks" that possess all of the richness of a rich black, but with a visible color shift that can lend distinction to your designs.


The right type. Digital printing sometimes has trouble printing very small type. Using a combination of process color tints can compound the problem. Several factors go into whether type is legible, including font selection, resolution (if it's an image file), color and background.


If your design calls for small, colored type, its appearance and legibility will be maximized if one of the process colors cyan, magenta or black (not yellow) is set to at least 80 percent. If you design your type to knock out, ensure the font size is at least 6 pt. Type will knock out better if the background contains at least an 80 percent tint of one of the non-yellow process colors.


Design for finishing, too. To take full advantage of digital printing's speed and efficiency, the page sizes and bleeds of your designs should be optimized for the digital press on which they'll be printed.


If images such as logos will be used, keep them at the same cropped size and quality. Avoid layering of variable elements, such as a foreground image placed over a variable background, which can cause problems with the digital printer.


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