8 Ideas for Print Design Inspiration

Don’t miss Roberto’s HOW Design Live session, Cutting Through the Noise: Social Media for Creatives next week.


In every designer’s career, there comes a point when you can find yourself struggling to find inspiration. This can be particularly challenging for print designers, since they have be creative and have intermediate-to-advanced skills as technicians. Here are a few ideas of projects you can take on to help stimulate your creativity and find new print design inspiration.

Tackle an Old School Paste-Up Design Project

In the days before digital graphic design and print production, “Paste-Up” was the manual approach to design and layouts. While it is unthinkable to use this process in your paid client work, going through the manual process and the challenge that it brings is a great way to stimulate your creativity. We often take our digital tools for granted, and sometimes this even means that we don’t pay as much attention the process and thought behind a design as we should. Stripping yourself of the conveniences of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign (or your tools of choice) will force you to stretch your creative muscles and pay more attention to detail. The real world has no Undo button.

Create Your Own Typeface

Building your own typeface from scratch is no simple task, and it can be an impressive addition to your print portfolio. Creating a typeface and utilizing it in your own projects will help you have something unique to work with creatively. Having assets that are one-of-a-kind can give you more flexibility and motivate you to experiment in your designs.

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Bixa, or Typewood was originally designed as wood type for letterpress, and is now transformed into a multicolor font for web. This project earned a win in the 2015 Typography & Lettering Awards. See the full gallery of winners here. 

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Typewood – The Declaration of Deconstructed Typography—Novo Typo, Amsterdam, Netherlands; www.novotypo.nl: Novo Typo – (typo)graphic designers from Amsterdam, The Netherlands (art directors/designers), Novo Typo (client)

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Shoot Your Own Stock Photography

By shooting your own custom stock photography, you’ll develop a better eye for composition and lighting, while also expanding your creative skill set as a whole. Photography uses many of the same skills as design, and you can leverage your own photographs as unique assets in your work. These photos can also serve as inspiration for you when you are experiencing a creative block: whenever you feel stagnant, you can pick up your camera and capture the world around you.

Create an Accordion Book

Crafting projects that also tap into your design skills is a great way to grow your creativity and find new inspiration. These types of projects will challenge you in new ways and force you to be clever in how you apply your skills. Accordion books are interesting projects because they balance craftsmanship, thoughtful design, planning and an eye for details. Very few projects will utilize the variety of skills that this one will require of you as a creative.

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160over90‘s crazy-good client promotion design won Best of Show in last year’s HOW Promotion & Marketing Design Awards. An accordion-fold piece titled “Art takes courage” introduces some of the university’s art students and showcases their projects. 

Design a Large Format Poster

Poster design has a few different components to it. In addition to designing an overall layout, there is key art, composition typography, and the digital print production process. In many cases you will have to use a combination of Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign to develop a polished concept. Designing a poster like this allows you to explore multiple tools and techniques in interesting ways and unify a variety of assets in a single project. Typically you’ll also have to do research and acquire different assets when taking on this type of project. It is a great way to not only get inspiration but to deploy the full scope of your abilities as a designer.

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This poster design for Central Market Bacon Fest by RBMM wowed the judges of last year’s Regional Design Annual. See more award-winning poster designs.

Create Custom Brushes and Vector Assets

When you run into a creative block, sometimes it’s because you are trying to take on the whole project at once. If you put some distance between yourself and the overall project, you can see it a bit more clearly. Consider instead working on something less complex that still can benefit the project in the long term. By creating custom assets, such as brushes and vector objects that might be usable on the current project or future ones, you can clear your mind, explore your creativity and still get some practical work done.

Find Inspiration in Magazines and Books

Magazines—like PRINT, HOW and more—showcase a nearly endless supply of inspiration and creative ideas you can explore. Never underestimate the power of stimulating your creativity by reviewing and deconstructing the work of others. Articles and books can also help you generate new ideas and provide you with some much-needed guidance when you’re struggling.

Get Back to Pencil and Paper

If you find yourself trying to break through a creative block, starring at a blank screen might be part of the problem. Going back to old school pencil and paper, even if you are not an artist or lack drawing ability, can still be helpful. You can use this as a creative exercise to your ideas out, even if they are just words, concepts or doodles. Many creatives use this as a last resort, but if you start here, more often than not you will find that you can break through your creative roadblocks more quickly and less painfully. Using your sketches and ideation as a roadmap means that when it is time to get to work on the computer, you have a plan of execution.

Read more: Robin Landa discusses the benefits of drawing in “Draw Yourself Happy: Drawing, Creativity + Your Brain.”


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