Search the blog

Sometimes two things that appear to be like one another can actually be two very different things. Some use the terms ‘print design’ and ‘web design’ interchangeably but actually these two apparently similar disciplines of design have some crucial differences and sometimes a well–meaning print designer who has decided to add web design to his or her list of services can unwittingly be producing you a website that is not fit for purpose. Here I outline a few of the differences.

Users’ settings

One of the fundamental differences between web and print is that with print you know exactly how people will see your finished work. Everyone gets the same design on the same printed medium. On the web, however, there are many subjective factors that mean people may see your website slightly differently. A good example of this is screen resolution; one user might have a small 4:3 monitor displaying at 800 x 600 and then another might use a large widescreen monitor and 1980 x 1200. There are many other subjective factors to consider too: how much ‘real estate’ the browser’s toolbar takes up, how big they have the browser on their desktop, what size they have the text set. The list goes on and a good web designer knows that you must consider these factors and that you cannot guarantee everyone will see your website in the same way.


Print designers are very pedantic about colour matching—and quite rightly so. When working with print you can—and want—everyone to see what you have designed as it should be. Print uses the CMYK colour mode to represent how ink is matched and colour profiles are used to ensure that the colour is represented in the same way across different computers. Again, web designers do not have this luxury. First of all, computers actually use a different colour mode, RGB, to render colour on–screen. RGB—which stands for Red, Green, Blue—uses three values to represent the three colours used for each pixel on–screen. When print designers work in CYMK, they are actually working with RGB values the computer has converted to CMYK. Plus not all browsers support colour profiles, so it is unwise to use them. The upshot of all this for the web designer is, again, you cannot be sure your colour will be seen in exactly the same way by all your users. Furthermore, PCs and Linux use a colour gamma of 2.2 whereas Apple Macs use 1.8 resulting in a noticeable colour difference (the same image would look more vibrant on a Mac). Finally, it is worth noting that you do not know if the user has altered their monitor’s brightness and contrast settings.

How visitors scan information

When people read printed literature they scan it very differently to how they scan a website. Tests show printed literature is digested more casually (see the next point—Attention span) and is read in a different order. Websites on the other hand are scanned very quickly so all information must be concise and must draw the eye to it.

Attention span

Unlike print, website visitors tend to have a very short attention span. Most of them want something—and they want it quickly. Whether your goal is to generate a lead, capture an email address, make them pick up the phone or make them buy a product from your online shop a website should be designed to achieve this goal, rather than just to look pretty. This is arguably where most print designers (and even a lot of web designers) fail.


The World Wide Web was designed to serve information over a network and was not really designed with advanced typesetting in mind. While the technology that controls how a website looks (CSS) is quite sophisticated it does not come with the same set of typography options available in a professional desktop publishing application such as InDesign. And as was mentioned earlier a user can use their browser to override many of the text settings anyway.


So it is evident that these two branches of design might seem similar on face value but actually there are differences all print and web designers should be aware of. If you are considering using a print designer to design your website check that they have sufficient experiences with websites, which is more than just good design. Some print designers get hung up on looks only whereas a good web designer will use design and layout to make your website perform as effectively as possible.

If you are unsure or just want to work with someone who knows how websites work call me on 07843 483 078 or get a free quote online.

Tim Bennett is a freelance web designer from Leeds. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.