Using Flat Design in Web and Print Projects

• 5 minutes READ

We’ve talked a lot here at Designmodo about flat design – so you probably know what the trend is all about at this point.

The short version: Flat design is a style that does not use tricks or embellishments such as shadows, embossing or gradients to make elements look “real.” The design is characterized by a minimalistic style that uses color and typography in bold ways to create a distinct user experience.

That idea has been discussed in great detail for web projects – especially mobile apps – but not so much for when it comes to print design. And readers of this blog asked me about it on Twitter: How can you convert the flat style to print applications?

It’s easier than you might think.

Getting On-Trend


Wall Street Journal

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Why would you ever use flat design for both web and print design projects?

  1. Because you like the look of flat design.
  2. To brand materials in the same way for a consistent look.

Flat design is not brand new, even though it is very trendy right now. It is a concept that has come to the surface in many forms over the years. And it does work for a variety of projects.

In addition to web and application design, flat concepts have been used for quite some time on business cards, posters and even newspaper design. (Wall Street Journal above-the-fold promos often showcase the flat design style.)

Tips for Flat and Printing

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There are a few considerations for printing using a flat design scheme – the difference in color, bleed from printing and overall vibrancy.

When translating a flat design from digital to print, colors have to be remixed for printing. Digital projects often use colors based on HEX or RGB values, while most printers prefer CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). CMYK printing uses four printer “plates” to create every color in the document and colors are mixed based on the four plate colors used.

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When looking at a screen, very little consideration is given to bleed from one color to the next. In some instances colors can seem to mesh together a little, but this is a much more common problem when working with print materials. The darker a color, the more likely it is to bleed into a lighter color. The weight of the paper used also makes a big difference as well. Thinner paper types bleed much more than thicker, heavier-weight paper. This bleed is most commonly noticed when it affects the quality of type. If you are using a lot of ink (typically meaning use of a dark hue), make sure to use type that has a thicker, bolder stroke weight to absorb some of the potential ink bleed.

Finally, think about overall color vibrancy and selection. Digital display has a higher capacity to show more colors and variations in truer and sharper color than most standard printing (think posters and business cards). There is can be considerably less contrast between close shades when working with CMYK color (depending on the printing method). So you will likely not want to use both Amethyst and Wisteria from the Flat UI Color palette below in print because they may end up looking like the same color.

What Does This Mean for Flat Web Design?




If you are designing for digital only, all of these considerations mean nothing.

If your projects cross over between print and web, they are of utmost importance.

Web designers may find that they choose to use certain colors and tints because of cross-platform compatibility. Instead of matching colors with slight to moderate changes in color value, a designer may instead go bolder to create more contrast. This look might be easier to use in multiple mediums.

Font selection can also be impacted if a project will be used in print and web applications. For print, you must have a font to package, prep and print it. You can “borrow” fonts for use online from services such as Google Web Fonts, without having them installed on your computer. To maintain consistent font usage, a designer may look toward a different typeface they own for these projects.

In the end, designers must think about the complete package from start to finish. It can be quite difficult to convert a flat-designed website into a print counterpart after the fact, if print was never considered in the original plan.

Flat Colors as CMYK

Flat Colors CMYK

Flat UI Colors is a fun little site that showcases 20 of the most popular hues in flat design right now. But the color swatches are only available in HEX and RGB.

We’ve converted each color to CMYK for you to use in print projects. Remember that projects come off different printing presses and from different printers in quite different ways, so make sure to adjust the color settings to best work with your printer.

A couple things to keep in mind when using these colors across platforms:

They will look slightly different from RGB to CMYK. These colors were created for flat digital design projects.

My suggestion? Use colors from the second and fourth rows for print projects.

The colors on these rows are a little more saturated and contain more colors from the CMYK mix. (Note all the zeroes in the first and third rows? That’s why for printing you will likely want to avoid those colors.)

Another tip? If you are planning to use white text, opt for a color with no black (K). If you are planning to use black (K) as the text color, use colors that contain black in the color mix. This can help keep print registration a little sharper.

Flat Fonts for Printing

Type Posters

Human Rights

Look past web fonts – even if you have to buy some typefaces – if you are planning to go in the direction of print. (Web fonts just don’t have the depth you need for certain print resolutions.)

Opt for a double-duty typeface that works for print and online or opt for two similar typefaces – one for digital use and another for printed publishing.

Some staples such as Helvetica and Lobster work well. Learn more about pairing type with flat design in a previous Designmodo post.

Carrie Cousins

Carrie Cousins has more than 20 years of experience in online media, web design, and content marketing. She has worked with a diverse range of clients, from small businesses to large corporations, helping them create engaging and effective digital strategies that drive results. Now, she serves as the Director of Digital Marketing and has been featured on Blue Ridge PBS (Roanoke) and VPM's Buzz4Good (Richmond), where she helps nonprofits get more from their design and marketing efforts.

Posts by Carrie Cousins