Digital Marketing Blog

20 Nov 2015

Advantages and Constraints of Designing for Digital & Print (Quick Overview)

Designing for print and for the web are two different things, each coming with its advantages and constraints. Today we take a look at what those benefits and limitations are so you can take them into consideration for the design process. With the rise of the digital age, more and more companies start joining the new medium to attract more business and stay in touch with the trend.

There is still a long way to go for smaller companies, but today it is quite difficult to find a business without a website, a digital catalog or some other sort of online documents, a social media page or any mentions on the internet. These digital tools are there not only because the trends order companies to be online; it is because being online means you are visible to a larger audience. The sky's the only limit.

But, designing for print and the web is not the same. There are some definite advantages to one of them and, at the same time, there are also downsides. How to design for one or the other is often a question that gets asked, but to answer it, we have to take a look at the differences between the two media.


When designers start creating something that will end up as printed material, they have to keep in mind a few things about the final product. Although print has been around for decades, there are still some downsides to it compared to the online world. But there are also some advantages to it.



As we did for an extended period, we still get a special feeling when reading something we hold in our hands. There are still lots of individuals who prefer to buy a book and wait for the shipping than buying it from Amazon and having it almost instantly. It's just something special holding a book in your hands. It's also the reason book libraries and retailers such as Barnes & Nobles and Amazon are very much in demand, although ebooks are on the rise.


While there are lots of interaction patterns one can use to make users engaged, the online world will probably never get as far as the offline world. Studies show that people skim websites quickly, and with distractions being only a click away, it's hard to keep readers engaged for a longer period. But printed publications don't have these challenges. Consumers are more involved in the reading process when reading printed material.

No need to test on multiple devices

When you design a website, you need to make sure it looks impeccable on mobile, desktop, and tablet. But this is much more than just three different sizes. If you count all types of tablets, smartphones, and desktop computers, there are probably as many as 250+ different kinds. This enormous number doesn't mean designers have to create 250 different versions, but a lot of testing and bug fixing is required to make a website perfect. Print doesn't have this problem, as you only publish in a single size. On the other hand, this can also be a downside of print publishing. Different people prefer different sizes of books and newspapers, therefore creating a one-size-fits-all might not always give all readers a positive experience.


Printing is expensive; I think we all can agree on that. Maybe not as expensive as twenty years ago, but more costly than creating a website. Also, print publications are limited regarding how many people can read them. You can share a newspaper with two or three business contacts or the guy to the right on the commute, but you will never be able to share a newspaper with millions of users across the border. 

Ad revenue

Because the internet is the new best place to advertise, print publishing loses a lot of terrain in this area. There are less and fewer companies backed up by massive budgets that spend most of it on printed marketing. Most of them move the majority of their money towards online.

The fact that less and fewer people are interested in advertising in print might seem to you like a positive thing. Fewer people willing to advertise, fewer ads, more content. But that's not how it works in reality. Just because the large players are not interested anymore, it doesn't mean the whole industry is dead. Instead, they are replaced with smaller advertisers, interested in paying the lower prices compared to ten years ago. Because of this, not only a number of ads is at least the same, but their quality is only lower. To me, it seems like a lose-lose deal for publishers and readers.



There is no bigger advantage to the web world than the interactivity it offers. There are simply so many things that the print world will never be able to feature. When designing for digital, there are things like search functionality, links, instant sharing and featuring all kinds of media are some of the things that you will never be able to do with print - only with online documents. All these are done instantly, no need to wait. If you want to share a newspaper with your friends, it can take days. If they are living across the borders, it's even more difficult. When you have an online catalog, for instance, it can't take more than ten seconds to share it.



Online publishing is very cheap compared to print. This is important for designers because it allows much more creativity, knowing that making a small mistake is just that: a small mistake. Everything can quickly be corrected - most of the time for free. 

Advertising revenue

The online advertising industry is huge, and it doesn't show any signs of slowing down. The revenue from ads is much higher for online publishers, mostly because their costs are low. When prices are low, even if the intake is the same as with print publishing, the profit is higher.

What is even more valuable is that you can track readers online, unlike the ones who read a book or a newspaper. On the Internet, you always know something about your visitors, more about some and less about others; but you always know something. This way you can target advertising much better than with print - on top of it, there are no printing costs either. The file is received by mail, uploaded on the server and published on the website: for free and to significant benefits for both publishers and advertisers.


I wrote earlier that designers have to create and optimize designs for a multitude of devices, and that's really important to do. But all these devices come quite handy when discussing flexibility. When you're at work, you can read an article on the computer, which you continue to read on your mobile while you commute. When you get home, you lie on the sofa and spend some time with your tablet. And during the whole day, on all these devices, you can visit the same website, read the same blog or browse the same catalog. As long as you're connected to the internet and have one of these devices, you're always seconds away from anything. The world of information is yours.


Bottom line

There are advantages and disadvantages to both online and print and today we took a look at some of them. Whatever medium you decide to publish on, keep in mind these constraints and make sure you get the best out of the advantages.

If you want to become better at digital design and optimizing your online documents and publications, take a look at this really great ebook below. It covers a lot about creating interactive online publications and how to design them. Enjoy!download free ebook designing for digital

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About the author

Christian Vasile

Christian Vasile

‚ÄčChristian comes to work with a single goal in mind: to make sure iPaper stays at the top of the digital publishing industry in terms of usability. His job is all about improving our software's user experience and obsessing about every single detail that makes iPaper great. He can be bribed with pancakes & nutella.

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