Jacqui Vear

Posted on 9th February 2022
by Jacqui Vear

8 graphic design mistakes made by non-designers

Creativity plays an important role in all business

We celebrate everyone’s creativity; it is to be positively encouraged. General ideas or a vision of an end-product are fabulous resources for our team to work with as we create design collateral to help you win business and do business.

If you are avoiding investing in the skills of a graphic design professional, there are some corners that we often find are cut. Here are the pitfalls to avoid whether you are designing for screen or for print.

1. Low resolution or copyright protected images
Our brains are visual, our eyes are immediately drawn to images that don’t quite look right, and judgements are made. They might be blurred / pixelated, which is when the file size of the image is too small for the application. The image may look fine on your screen, but it could literally set alarm bells ringing in our pre-production checks if it is to be printed! Equally, in a digital context, the image could be too large, causing a web page to load very slowly. The other hidden pitfall, with potentially more serious repercussions, is ‘borrowing’ someone else’s design or photograph. Copyright protected images have legal restrictions on when you can use them without permission. Most images are protected by default, you will need to specifically seek out copyright free images, potentially purchasing them from an image library. Here’s a link for more information on copyright restrictions. There are websites that specifically share copyright free images, such as Unsplash.

2. Incorrect file formats
Do you know a jpeg from a png? Both are types of image format. If you are designing for a digital application, ensure you know what format is best for the job. For example, a jpeg does not have a transparent background, so impose a jpeg logo over a coloured background and the impact will not be right. Many print projects will require artwork in vector file format. Vectored images can be scaled without compromising image quality, whether they are scaled up for large format projects such as exhibition displays or signage or scaled down whilst retaining their resolution for projects such as promotional products or workwear personalisation.

3. Not having the right tools for the job
You can select ‘print’ from most forms of software, yet just because you can print, the artwork is not necessarily ‘print ready’ i.e. in a format that will translate effectively to the intended application, whether online or in print. The general advice is to use software for the purpose that it is primarily intended. Adobe Illustrator is a popular programme for Graphic and Digital Designers. In our opinion, Canva is a flexible and often free platform for quickly creating unique content for social media, whilst the heart of PowerPoint is in digital presentations.

CMYK colour chart from printer

4. Using the wrong colour mode
The world of colour is more complex than you might think! Screens show colours in an RGB format; Red, Green, Blue. Printed colours are created through the CMYK colour mode, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black. An RGB image reproduced in CMYK will look dull when transferred to print. Jpegs are presented in an RGB format, but once the imaged is opened it can be converted and applied to print projects in a CMYK format.

5. Artwork not ‘packaged’ or collected for output
Saving and sending artwork for print projects, even from design software such as Adobe Illustrator, does not necessarily bring all the design elements together. Often fonts and images are missing when the file is opened by someone else.

6. Deviating from brand guidelines
Let’s put technical issues aside for a moment and give due consideration to brand guidelines! You don’t have to be a large business to feel like you have a brand, all organisations do or should, and ideally the creative parameters of the brand are shared in some form of brand guidelines. In essence, if the look and feel of your communications is consistent, you will enjoy greater levels of engagement from your audience, your communications will look like the friendly face they know and trust. How your logo is used in artwork, the colours, and fonts you revert to, are all part of your brand. Consistency is king and less if often more. A good rule of thumb is 2-3 fonts maximum per design, you can always use different weights of a typeface instead.

Don't use Comic Sans if you want to stay friends with graphic designers

7. Not adding crop marks or bleed
This job ensures that text and images sit right on a printed page. Adding bleed means that images go beyond the page, so that a slight misregistration when a piece of print is trimmed does not lead to a white line. Crop marks are little marks in the corners of each page, to indicate the final trim of a sheet that will be larger than the finished size of your printed item. These print marks can easily be added to files and always should be.

Bound book with gutter for artwork

8. Forgetting a page gutter
Take note if you are designing a multiple page printed item that is going to be perfect bound together on the left edge, like a book. You need a margin in your artwork to account for the curve in the paper that is created by the spine, or text and page numbers will be lost in the binding. The amount of gutter you need depends on your page count, the more you have, the bigger it will need to be! Note that lay-flat binding approaches, such as wiro-binding, or saddle stitched binding, still require a page gutter but it does not tend to be as big.

So, there you have it, 8 tips to keep those who are applying the output of your design happy, including your print partner. If we can help bridge gaps in your design expertise, finesse your ideas or take a job off your to-do list, we are here to help.

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