Photoshop is great. Illustrator? Love it.
But guess what – you can create great printable downloads with Word instead of InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop, if you do two things – invest in your content, and keep the design polished and professional.
Here are my tips:
How to create beautiful downloadable printables for your website without paying for design software
First, what is a “printable”?
Well, it’s a document that your website visitor can download and print for their own use. Printables are part of a larger umbrella category of “content upgrades” that you can offer to visitors to your website that give them a chance to engage with you more deeply and benefit from your expertise beyond just what is offered on your blog.
This is a big part of content marketing – demonstrating your expertise and commitment to helping other people succeed by “giving away” some of your knowledge and insight.
Worried that you will give away so much they won’t need you anymore? This is of course a delicate balance but in my experience it’s a whole lot easier than most people think.
Giving away helpful insight to potential customers shows that you know what you’re doing, you’re confident in what you can offer, and you are committed to helping, not just selling. These three factors are an important part of small business marketing today.
Printables, in particular, are helpful because they are designed so your reader or website visitor can print them out and mark them up for their own use.
I’ve seen everything from printable family calendars and birthday invitations to printable business planning worksheets and social media action plans offered as content upgrades.
I love this marketing trend because, if done correctly, it allows a small business to provide some serious value for their potential customer, without any additional marginal cost per user.
In other words, you (the small business owner) only need to create your printable once, but a million people could download it and each one would get the same amount of value from it. Everybody wins.
What do you really need to create a great printable download for your website?
A lot of small business owners go so far as to hire designers and create fancy graphics for printables, but unless you are offering something like party decorations or invitations, I don’t think that’s necessary.
In fact, from the customer’s point of view, the less ink and color your printable requires, the better. Remember, the goal with the printable is to build your brand and simultaneously provide value for your website visitor. If you do the first at the expense of the second by create a colorful, logo-packed printable that can’t actually be printed, mission not accomplished.
You can actually create a beautiful and useful printable on your computer without using any fancy design tool – just fire up good ol’ Microsoft Word, as I mentioned above.
Here’s how to create a gorgeous printable download for your website visitors using Microsoft Word:
Outline some truly amazing content
Please don’t overlook this one. I’ve been guilty of that before, and I’ve regretted it. Yes, there are some very popular and successful full time bloggers who offer PDF downloads that are basically useless content regurgitated from their blog, but that really, really isn’t the right way to go about it.
And as a small business owner just getting started with content marketing, you don’t have the SEO pull or the brand recognition to produce silly downloads and still have people like you. Straight talk, people.
So before you get started on actually creating your printable, outline some really good content that your target audience will love.
This content should fit the following guidelines:
- Not already available on your blog
- Not already available on someone else’s blog
- On a topic that requires significant time to reflect on and work through OR will take some significant time if they have to create it themselves. In other words, your printable will save them time, energy, and frustration.
Drawing a blank? Start with one of your most popular blog posts and generate ideas for how to take your audience a little deeper in that subject.
For example, one of my most popular blog posts last month was 5 Ridiculously Easy Branding Tricks For Small Businesses. In that post, I give 5 ideas for small businesses to improve their brand without a ton of extra work.
One of my recommendations was to create a brand alter ego and always make sure to use that alter ego when using social media or creating content. But how do you create a brand alter ego? It’s easy for me but might be confusing for a small business owner who doesn’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the magic of good marketing.
I could create a printable worksheet to walk small business owners through my typical process for creating a brand alter ego for my clients. This worksheet would contain examples and places for them to write their own alter ego for their business. (Fun fact – I actually already created something like that and it’s available in my free 6 day course “Create Your Own Killer Content Marketing Plan”).
What about you? What is one of your most popular blog posts these days and how can you help readers learn more or apply that topic in their own lives?
Try using that approach to create content for your printable.
Find the RGB for your website or logo accent colors
Now onto design. My personal opinion is that not everything you do needs to have your logo, especially if it’s meant to be printed out, but there are subtle ways you can brand it by using your colors.
The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the RGB numbers for the main colors on your website or logo so you are ready to use them in your template. In my case, my logo is black but the main accent color on my website is coral (R: 240, G: 101, B: 82) so I use that in any printable worksheets or other text documents I create.
I highly recommend picking only one (max two) accent colors, then using a dark, easy-to-read color like black or charcoal grey for most of the font on your printable and a plain white background for everything. Fancy backgrounds and colors might look amazing on your computer but could get funky when your customer prints it out. Remember, your #1 goal is usefulness, not fanciness!
Find attractive fonts that convey your brand
A really important step in creating a gorgeous printable download is going beyond the default fonts you would normally use. I don’t want to see any Calibri, Times New Roman, or Arial in your printable. This might sound like a small thing, but to me using default fonts basically says that you put no effort into making your printable unique and attractive, and if you didn’t do that, how do I know you put any effort into creating good content?
On the other hand, going crazy with “fun” and “quirky” fonts can backfire and make your printable look really unprofessional or unattractive.
I recommend finding a middle ground by choosing just two fonts for your document: one eye-catching font for big headings or special emphasized words/phrases and one simple, professional, easy-to-read font for body text.
But within those guidelines, there is still a lot you can do to make your printable look unique. Instead of going with whatever originally came on your computer, try looking for free fonts on Font Squirrel or DaFont. Just make sure the fonts you pick are ok for commercial use – and that they match your brand. If you’re a financial adviser, you need fonts that are straightforward and polished; if you’re a piano teacher for kids, pick something a little more fun and different.
In my case, I want to convey a brand that matches the quality of tradition with modern polish. I picked an old fashioned serif font called Alegreya for body text and headings and a rustic script called Landliebe for emphasized words and phrases. You can see an example of how that works in the image in the next section.
Use Styles and Formatting to incorporate your special font and colors in Word
Modify the standard styles for heading 1, heading 2, etc. and paragraph text to match your special fonts and colors. If you’ve never done it before, this is easier than you think. Check out this quick tutorial on styles and headings in Word. This will save you a lot of time in the future!
Remember to save your fancy font for only “special” text like emphasized words or top level headings. Too much fancy in your printable template will overpower your content. In my case, I only use my fancy font for special emphasized words, like this – another example from my Killer Content Marketing Plan course:
Add your content
Now take the content you’ve outlined and add it to your Word document, applying your special headings and formatting as appropriate.
Add a footer with your printable title, copyright, link to your site, and page number if applicable. I usually skip the logo because I want things to look as clean and simple as possible and because I always include my name and a link to my website at the bottom anyway. But if you need a logo, by all means add one in now.
Save it as a PDF and upload it to your website
Save your Word doc as a PDF and then make it available to download by uploading it to your website.
Here’s how you do that in WordPress – it’s probably similar with most other similar platforms:
- Go to media
- Click add new
- Upload your PDF file
- Click edit once your file is uploaded
- Copy the link to the file
- Now place that link anywhere you want people to be able to access that file. For example, in the welcome email to new subscribers to your email list.
And that’s how you do it! Got questions or comments? Drop me a line – I’d love to hear from you.
Curious and Want An Example?
Enter your email here to download a printable I created in Word with the approach I mentioned above for my recent post How To Survive A Hard Life Season As An Entrepreneur: