The Best Advice for Designing Large-Scale Graphics
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The Best Advice for Designing Large-Scale Graphics

Large signs, billboards and banners require special consideration if you want your advertising to appear sharp and grab the interest of potential customers. Even though design is similar for large-scale graphics and smaller-sized projects, there are some special considerations you must keep in mind if you want your work to shine.

Experts predict out-of-home (OOH) advertising, such as billboards, vehicle wraps and banner displays, will reach $33 billion by 2021. There’s a reason the OOH market share increases each year — it attracts new customers. More than likely, your clients will follow this trend and request more large-scale graphics than ever before.

Here are 14 tips to help you design large-scale graphics that perform well for your clients:

1. Contact the Printer

Before you create a single element of your design, you should contact the printer and find out their desired format and scale. Most don’t want a 1:1 ratio for such large-scale projects, but talking to the printer gives you the specifics you need to create a document that works the first time you send it. Avoid delays by getting the formatting correct the first time.

2. Figure Out Your Message

For larger graphics, people usually read the text as they’re driving past or walking down a crowded event thoroughfare. Consider the length of time most people view your sign and cut the text until it is digestible in a glance. Also, because your letters will be taller and wider, think about the width and length of your sign and the best number of words to get your message across succinctly.

For example, if you want to announce a price reduction, write “big sale” instead of “our biggest sale ever.”

3. Generate Leads

Plan what type of images attract the leads you most want to target. Generating new leads is the backbone of your business, driving new customers through the door. Event marketing is an excellent tool for lead generation, so place large-scale signage high so attendees see it from a distance. Consider the height of the letters and how the words appear from different angles.

4. Choose Colors With Impact

The colors you choose for your large-scale graphics make a big difference in the impact of your ad. Colors evoke emotion and even have different meanings in various cultures. If you want to tap into feelings of security and stability, use a dark blue. To show consumers your brand is fun and hip, use bright, bold colors.

5. Create Contrast

Large-scale graphics need letters that pop against the background. Otherwise, you risk the text blending into the graphics and the entire ad disappearing in a blur. Consider the contrast between typography and background. While it’s OK to use images, make sure they are all in the same color family.

For example, if you want a photo background of a landscape, use a dark, smoky photo and add white text so the two contrast sharply. If your background is light, use a dark text. For larger-scale designs, the contrasts must be as sharp as possible.

6. Keep the Font Simple

Because the letters on large-scale graphics are so big, you’ll want to keep your fonts simple. Scripts and decorative fonts don’t typically work well for larger designs. You can weave in decorative elements with moderation, but save it for embellishments to your design rather than full blocks of text.

7. Design in the Right Program

Although many graphic designers use InDesign for projects such as brochures and print ads, this software isn’t well-suited for large-scale projects. Choosing which program for designing bigger projects is another area where your printer may have input. Find out if it wants the finished project in a specific format and what size file it accepts.

    1. Illustrator creates vector images, which are scalable without losing sharpness.
    2. Photoshop is for editing photos and images. It doesn’t scale up well and may result in fuzzy larger print.
    3. InDesign has limits on scale size, so it isn’t the best choice for huge projects.

Illustrator provides images in vector (EPS) format and scales up easily. The file size is more manageable with Illustrator, too. It’s likely the best choice for big designs.

8. Use a Higher Resolution

You can get by with 150 dpi in a smaller print, but when working with huge images, you’ll need at least a 300 dpi. Higher resolution results in larger file sizes, but the last thing you want is a billboard with fuzzy images and an unprofessional look. You can get by with a little more in smaller banners, but a billboard is one example of a place you never want to downsize resolution. However, huge graphics sometimes need a different sizing, so talk to your printer or billboard company about what works best with the type of design you have in mind.

9. Use Fading With Caution

Isn’t a faded ombre effect beautiful in some designs? Unfortunately, for large-scale printing, it sometimes comes out wonky, creating strips of color that look like bands instead of facing the same color into different shades. It’s probably best to avoid fading. In situations where you must use it, talk to the printer about the best method to ensure the color prints faded rather than in bands that appear like a collection of paint swatches.

10. Utilize Negative Space

When you have a tall and wide space in which to work, it’s tempting to fill every spare inch. However, negative space gives the reader’s eyes a break and draws focus to the elements you want. A good balance of both positive and negative space creates a design that is visually pleasing and has an even greater impact than one crammed with elements.

Consider the viewing path of your typical reader and place items you want to be viewed first in the top left, and then move right, diagonal and so on. The rule of thirds is a traditional philosophy on figuring out where to place items in a design. There are other rules out there, so choose what works best for your design style.

11. Stand Across the Room

One of the issues with a large-scale design is you can’t print out a bunch of samples and see how the finished product might look. However, you can stand up and move to the other side of the room or your cubicle and get an idea of how the design looks from a distance. No, it’s not perfect, but it does help you with the purpose of viewing from a distance.

12. Consider the Display

Keep in mind where the finished product goes. If you design a banner for a store window, are there any elements that might interfere with the design? A framed window, for example, might cut off text at the top of the page. Think about where the finished product appears and allow enough bleed that letters aren’t cut off and images are not placed awkwardly. A chopped-off photo may create a meaning you never wanted or even lead to embarrassment.

13. Know How Long You Have

The average amount of time a time a person looks at a large-scale image is four seconds. Set a timer and see if you get the entire meaning behind the design within that timeframe. If the design doesn’t make sense unless you stare at it for 10 seconds, go back to the drawing board. Figure out how you can tighten words or create more meaning with the image, which the human brain processes faster than words.

14. Consider Moving Elements

If you’re designing a vehicle wrap, keep in mind that the car will likely be in motion as people see it. Keep the message simple and make it something that stays with the viewer, such as a word, short website URL or hashtag. Think through how the user might look up the company later and stick with elements easy to remember and likely to drive leads to the business.

Less Is More

When it comes to big designs, less is often more. Not only do you have to get your message across in a few short seconds, but you also have to consider placement of the ad and factor in space for page bleeds. Keep your design simple, which will make needed changes more manageable as well. Large designs are fun and make an impact on getting the word out about a business. Just be aware of the differences in larger ones and plan accordingly.

Lexie Lu is a UX content strategist and web designer. Feel free to subscribe to her design blog, Design Roast, or follow her on Twitter.

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