What is Good Graphic Design and How Do You Know It? | Clarke Inc. Creative Marketing & Print Communication
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What is Good Graphic Design and How Do You Know It?

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Do you know why a college degree in graphic design is useless without practical experience?  Design schools do a good job of teaching form, composition and the use of software tools for creating custom graphics. But they do a terrible job teaching the production of graphic arts for digital and print purposes. How a graphic is used dictates its form of production. This in turn also places constraints on the design for the piece to be accurately represented.

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Four-color printing is still a mainstay in print marketing. It has its own set of rules that dictate design requirements. A good source for details is Pantone, developers of the only universally accepted standards for color.

What good graphic designers need to know is that failure to adhere to the rules seriously impacts quality, schedules and budgets. Good graphic design for print production will consider the following factors.

Image Quality

Images produced with 72 dpi (dots per inch) resolution look great online or on video. Also, they aren’t large enough files to delay the load time of the webpage. The same image in print is fuzzy and pixilated. It just won’t work. Resolution for print images requires a minimum of 300 dpi to look sharp and professional.


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The web and video use RGB (Red, Green Blue) color mode. Graphic design for four-color print requires CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key [black]). Without getting into too much detail about color theory, mixing light (RGB) and mixing pigment (CMYK) don’t follow the same rules. Designers, who see colors displayed on their computer monitor in RGB mode, need to convert files to CMYK for print. CMYK colors for print won’t necessarily look the same as the colors on the monitor. It is important to use color swatches so the designer and the client can see how the color will appear when printed.


There is only one way to display black on a computer monitor; the absence of light equals black. What graphic designers need to know is that print can represent black in several ways, from “plain black,” a fully saturated black with the absence of other colors, to “rich black” which adds variants of cyan, magenta and yellow. The results can produce blacks that appear richer in tone on paper than plain black.

On a computer monitor, variant blacks look no different than plain black. In print, however, a distinct perceptible difference between the areas of rich black and plain black appears. If designers don’t compensate and adjust, mismatched black will degrade image quality on paper.


Spot colors and process colors contain differences a designer should know or it can lead to unexpected results on the printed page. Spot colors are blended inks derived from combinations of 15 different base inks. Process colors do not mix inks; colors are created with a series of half-tone dots from cyan, magenta, yellow and black to create the desired color.

Spot colors are commonly used for one, two or three-color graphic treatments. Some spot colors are cleaner and brighter than process colors. For this reason and, because they are consistent from one job to the next, they are often used in corporate logos and identity pieces.


Process colors are better suited to a printed image requiring a broad range of colors, for example, a photograph reproduction.   Because they must be premixed, spot colors can add to the overall expense of printing. For many print jobs, process colors are more cost effective.




In the Pantone color system, colors are classified as coated or uncoated. This designation refers to matching the appropriate color to the paper used for the print job; coated for glossy-coated papers, uncoated for plain uncoated paper. An appropriate graphic design will accommodate the paper finish since each absorb inks differently and color appearance will vary.


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Adding to all the variables above is the issue of how the chosen print shop is set up; if the designs can be delivered sufficiently on their printers. It is a good policy to consult with the print or media vendor to make sure designs conform to their guidelines. This helps avoid surprises, extra work, delays or budget overruns.

What do you look for in great graphic design?  How do you know it’s great?  Post your comments below.

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Andrew Osborne

Andrew works as our Preflight Engineer, Graphic Designer, Web Designer, and all-around computer guru. He has won several academic and design awards during his career. Print, Web Design, and Tablet applications are his specialties and he knows how to make effective designs that call out to customers.

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