A bit of transparency here, one of my goals for my shop is to develop digital downloads, both digital assets and printable products. You’ve probably heard them called digital downloads, printables, digital assets, or clip art. I’d like to take the mystery out of using them and help you decide if they are something you would want to invest in. Let me start by defining what they are for you.
A little History
Clip art is an old school term. When I worked as a technical illustrator in the art department, there were large books of what we call clip art. This was before the era of desktop computers. If we needed an illustration, we actually cut the art out of the book and pasted it into our layout, or we could copy the artwork and paste the copy into our layout.
We didn’t have a scanner. When our work was done, it was photographed. Our designs were laid out on a table where there was a stand above the artwork that held a camera. It was a tripod of sorts. Next, the artwork was photographed. What I’m referring to is black and white art. If you added the color you had to make special layouts for the areas you wanted to have color. It closely resembles the process that you use when you cut silkscreen.
Once desktop computers came into play and graphics software was developed, a lot of things changed. We still had clip art of sorts. It consists of computer graphic files that you can download and insert into your layout by using the software. Anything from Word to Adobe products allows you to insert graphics and photos. The artwork that you insert into a graphic program is called an asset or a graphic asset.
A printable in a completed file that is print-ready. Once you download it, you have the product and are able to reproduce it in print.
Both digital assets and the printables are considered digital downloads. You purchase them from an online vendor and receive them through an email or by being sent to a download page on their site. With the right software, a designer is able to manipulate assets, change printables, and create their own designs from printable downloads.
Using Digital Downloads
As a graphic designer, I use digital downloads throughout the day. Every day, I don’t reinvent the wheel. I find what I need, what works, and I rework it if need be and come up with a layout design that fits our client’s needs. I know where to look and what to look for, and once I find the right assets, I know how to use them. Primarily, a print designer, I can easily switch gears and create for the digital world.
Digital download products are useful to me simply because as a designer, I know how to use them. There are other situations where people find them useful. Scrapbookers, for instance, can get lots of miles out of investing in downloads— they make sense… instead of searching rack after rack in their favorite craft store, they can sit in an easy chair with a cup of coffee and select art to print on demand, and get exactly what they want at a saving.
Whether you’ve thought about purchasing a download for a paper product like a scrapbooking background or badge, or an invitation or birthday card you might want to consider a few things before you place that item in your cart. The same is true, if you want some artwork for content of your social media posts.
Things to Consider
First, you should consider which world you are designing for. Print or web? You need to understand the difference even before you begin a project, you need to know before you choose your assets.
Ask yourself what world am I creating for? As a print designer, I design for my client and for the press. I listen to what my client is asking for and I create it in a way that it won’t fail preflight or worse it won’t print as intended. Blurry or stretched photos are a no-no. I don’t want transparencies that render opaque instead of, you know, transparent. My cut and fold line need to be exactly where they need to be. OK, I admit it, I want the project to be perfect and flawless always. Print is expensive, mistakes are even more expensive.
When I design for the digital realm, I need smaller photo files because loading time on a website is important, but I still want my images to look the best they can. Having the correct proportions is another thing to deal with when creating for the web.
For a nice clear photo or art print, you need a high-resolution file. I prefer jpg. Make sure that the file you purchase is at least 300 dpi at the size you want. It can be larger than that, but not smaller.
You can’t take a photo off the web and expect it to print. Web files although they can be jpg are 72dpi and will appear pixelated. When people give me web files for their print project, I like to print the photo out at actual size and show them the postage stamp size the file they gave me really is.
Often, people give me png’s for print because they have a transparent background. Png files are for the web, but if they are large enough, they are 300 dpi at the size you want, they work. I prefer a Photoshop file if I want a transparent background, but not everyone has access to Photoshop, so a png will work.
There are other file types that can be used for a print called vector art, but that is a subject all by itself that I may discuss in a future blog.
Files for the web can be smaller but it is helpful to know what you need for your website or social media.
Before you hit “Order now,” do you know how to use your item? Are you confident with the software you have chosen to use it with? Do you need software? Will it do what you need it to do? Can you make your purchase fit the requirements you need for a project? Or is your file print-ready?
If you said yes to these questions, great, but think about this…
People want to cut out expenses for paper products by producing them themselves. This is true especially if they need a large quantity of, let’s say invitations. Or maybe they are the arts and crafts type, Confession includes me in that group. We like to have a project or two or three, right?
Digital downloads are for all of us who don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but we have things to do and spending hours coming up with our own design, isn’t it what we wanted to accomplish? We just want to do our own Christmas cards this year and we have a good idea of what we want, we just need to get there. When we purchase digital downloads, we can create a card or invitation that we’re proud of. That is all we require— we just want to love it and send it.
Putting together your own print design and printing it yourself has Pros and Cons. Here are more things to consider.
After all, unless you get a custom order when you buy packages of thank you cards or invitations you have to buy a certain amount. You may need to buy an extra package for just one more person on your list. When you print them yourself, you can print as many as you need.
With the right software, you are able to customize your product and avoid an added cost when having them printed.
Or maybe you just like the hands-on experience of making cards. It feels good to do it yourself.
You don’t have a printer.
Your printer doesn’t make copies that look nice.
You don’t know how to adjust the settings on your printer so your project doesn’t print the way you intended and you go through a pile of card stock that you specially ordered and half a cartridge of ink and you still don’t have those invitations.
And you can’t figure out which direction to put the paper in to do the inside and it’s always upside down or you print over what you’ve already printed on…
Or you don’t use the right paper and it looks like it.
And now, you just don’t want to be bothered.
Fear not, it isn’t that hard to print your own projects. I had my sister’s test out the first download I created. We had a little discussion figuring out exactly what to do to get the file on their computer, but they did it, and they successfully printed the watercolor print download I sent them.
If you have never used a digital download and don’t know what to do and you need someone to walk you through it here are the instructions my sister’s and I came up with.
And here is a Colorful Thank You Note Cards download to try out in order to see if you like the process. Sign up for my weekly newsletter which includes The Blog, Biz News, and a new download each week.
To Download –
The file is a print quality file. It is best to download to your laptop. Click the link, it will open up to the file. Right-click and save or since every browser is different, look for a down arrow at the top right of your screen.
Open the file in Adobe Acrobat Reader. It has a good interface to print from.
Start with the Icon of the Printer at the top left of the file. It will open a Print Panel. Under Print Sizing and Handling select the Actual Size and Landscape. Then, select Properties at the center top of the panel, and the Quick Set-Up Panel will open. For Print Quality at the bottom left, select High. Then close by, clicking on OK, and then print.