Designing for Large Format:  The Importance of Considering The Bigger Picture

Designing for Large Format: The Importance of Considering The Bigger Picture

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Outdoor/Indoor signage as you know is a broad compendium of products, materials and finishing options, all of which could result overwhelming to an industry newcomer.

Nonetheless, designing for this type of printing format also requires some knowledge about what is best and what works for each application; our team of designers counts with an accumulated knowledge and experience that allows them to create flawless wide-format graphics.

The hard truth is that designing for large format is not the same as designing a business card, a flyer or a postcard, and over the years, we have seen a number of customers get mislead by unprepared designers who did not know the basic aspects we are going to comment on this article.

Here at DEV1150, as you know we are specialists in large format and graphic design solutions for every aspect of signage, using the best materials, with the best inks and state of the art equipment. We understand that if the graphics are poorly designed, any quality standard can only do so much. With that in mind, we have compiled in this article a few ideas and tips that all our grand-format designers consider when they create their graphics; at the same time, this article seeks to give our non-designer customers a few tools to judge large-format graphics by themselves.

Work small, think large

Most of the authoring software utilities have limitations regarding canvas sizes and maximum dimensions. So, how is it possible to design a 40 feet banner then? Well, the answer is working on a scaled down file. It is surprising how useful it is working at a 50% or 25% scale and then let the printer scale it up; if you send us the file, you just have to remember to tell us that it is at scale so we can take it to full size properly.

On a related note, while working on images in Photoshop one good tip is to calculate the necessary resolution based on the full size of the design and link them externally instead of embedding them. In order to choose the right image set up and quality, the designer can take advantage of the fact that wide-format designs are intended to be viewed from a distance, so it is possible to get away with having lower resolution prints at full size.

The following are some recommended rules of thumb to maintain compelling and vibrant bitmap graphics while designing for large format applications:

  • 200dpi minimum for graphics viewed up to 3 feet.
  • 150dpi minimum for graphics viewed between 3 feet to 13 feet.
  • 100dpi minimum for graphics viewed between 13 to 20 feet.
  • 75dpi minimum at full finished sizes for graphics viewed from over 20 feet.

Following these guidelines will result in more manageable file sizes and working at scale will make moving around the art boards easier. Nevertheless, if the design has fine details or small areas of text or non-raster based images that are meant to draw attention, then the text and those images can be designed as vector elements, placing bitmaps components as a background layer in Illustrator. That way, when scaling the file, the texts and vector images will remain clear, legible, crisp and impactful looking. 

In addition, once the design is ready, we recommend saving the file in EPS or PDF format. If you are going to send us source files, it is important that you remember to convert the fonts to outlines to avoid font substitution issues. On the other hand, saving the artwork in high res PDF file format will keep the quality in both raster and vector based images, and will allow image compressions to be managed more efficiently. 

Step back and look at the bigger picture

One of the biggest differences between designing for large format printing and designing for other media is the fact that the little things are not as important. Excessive detail is often unnecessary and occasionally counterproductive; sometimes designers waste their time adding elements to the graphics that nobody is going to be able to see from a distance.

In addition to excessive detail, it is also important to keep text to a minimum. Long manifestos could generate the opposite desired effect, by driving away the attention of the target audience. So, while designing it is recommended to just get up, stand back from the monitor, and answer the following question: Does it look good from a distance?

Let it bleed…

Page bleed is another element that large format printing designers overlook easily and often. Bleed is a term that means leaving a document’s image or color go right to the limits of the printing material, which allows a small margin around the edges of the printed image; not leaving bleed space can result in unwanted white borders or cropped graphics.

The usual bleed space is between 3 and 5 millimeters on each edge. That is 3 to 5 millimeters of background color. Texts, images or any other element of the design must not extend to the bleed area since they will probably be lost during the printing process.

Once a designer masters these basic concepts, large format graphics can be quite easy to build and work in. We hope that you find these tips and tricks useful and can apply them to your files so that when they get to us, you can be sure that we will do our part and print them with a beautiful look at their intended final resolution.