A Designer’s Perspective: What Do You Wish Every Graphic Design Student Knew Before Graduating College?

Things every graphic designer should know before graduation
Written By: Jenny Reolfi

Ah college….long hours in the library….painting rocks for Greek Week….sleeping in the Mac lab during finals week to finish printing and assembling your manufacturing packaging project.

Okay, I might have lost some of you on the last one.

While the details of our college experience may differ, our classes prepared us for today’s careers…mostly. 

My professors at Defiance were incredible and 100% shaped me into the professional I am today. They prioritized real-world experience over textbook learning, which is especially important for the design field.

There are some things you can’t learn without doing. Here is a list of things all designers should know before they graduate.

The Client is always right – even if they’re wrong, they’re right

The difference between an artist and a designer is the intention of the piece. Understanding and respecting that your design is an extension of someone else’s vision is key.

Artist: “I make for me”

Designer: “I make for them”

If you design a stunning, artistically perfect flyer, but the client hates it – it’s a bad design.

We can advise of best practices and explain why we set up a layout in a way to best meet their goals. But at the end of the day, the client has the final say.

Projects are an extension of the client, not an extension of the designer.

Setting up a file for print

It’s surprising how many professionals have an incomplete understanding of print requirements. Different printers have different requirements, but the concepts covered below are fairly universal.


The majority of Printers cannot print edge to edge on a sheet of paper. By majority I mean 99.5% of printers, it is incredibly rare to find a company that doesn’t need a bleed to print a graphic to the edge of the paper.

If you ever received a postcard featuring a photo that covers the entire front side with no margin, that postcard had a bleed.

  • To properly set up a file for bleed in InDesign, set your artboard to the final dimension of the piece. Ex. 8.5″ x 5.5″ Postcard.
  • Below the margin in the document setup panel, there’s an area named Bleed. Set this to .125″ or 1/8 inch.
  • It is very important that ALL images or graphics meant to run off the page extend to the red line completely.

When you open your file, the white artboard represents your finished piece. The red outline outside the edge of the page is your bleed. Once printed, the bleed is cut off of the piece.

The bleed accounts for a cutting machine’s margin for error. If you only move it halfway to the red line and you may have an unwanted white margin.


As mentioned above, printers cannot print edge to edge. Printers are able to print a set distance from the edge of a paper. If your text falls outside that set distance, it may get cut off when printed.

A margin is the text safe zone. I recommend a minimum of .25″ margin from the edge of the page. Depending on your print company’s capabilities, you can possibly use a .125″ margin for small items like business cards (you can do this at Holmes!)

Transparencies and Pantones

Pantone colors are the industry standard for color matching. They are the only guarantee that your colors will match no matter who does the printing. So, why don’t we use them on everything, why are other colors even an option?!


At Holmes, every Pantone in a file must be color-matched when printed. Matthew Metzger, our production manager, estimates 15 minutes per color. Each color is compared and the machine’s settings adjusted to achieve the correct color. It can be a laborious and time-intensive process, but color matching for a brand is important and well worth the effort.

For a non-branded piece, Pantones aren’t required unless you plan to match the piece with other components printed at different times.

They don’t play well with effects.

Transparencies, opacities, drop shadows and gradients do not play well with Pantones. If you combine any of those effects with a Pantone, there is a very strong probability your graphics, text or other design components will print as a white box.


  • Grab the CMYK color values of your desired Pantone from Photoshop then use the CMYK equivalent in your design.
  • Or create your graphic with the Pantone and effects in photoshop, flatten the file and export it as an image.

Never Stop Learning

While you will learn amazing fundamentals in high school and college, nothing will ever replace real-world experience. If you are in school and would like to sit down and speak with one of our designers or marketers to ask questions and learn more, email Hannah at marketing@thinkholmes.com