Graphic Design Tips for Billboards - Image Magazine


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Graphic Design Tips for Billboards

Graphic Design Tips for Billboards

Tackling the Goliath

From a designer's perspective, large format advertising is one of the really exciting things they get to do in their line of work. Putting ideas on massive billboards all the way up to creating stunning special builds, large format is a discipline that many designers love to indulge in.

Young guns look up to their seniors in awe, hoping to get to see one of their ideas on a massive scale one day. But not a lot of them know what it actually means to produce such a large graphic. The restrictions, boundaries, special techniques and especially the sense of space is lost to them. Only with experience - meaning errors, numerous calls to the printer and hours of 'how-to' online tutorials - comes a true appreciation of the work that goes into a large scale print.

Whether it be a pull-up banner, trade show booth or billboard - we have some tips to share with all designers who want to avoid frustration and costly reprints.

My choice of design software

For me, Adobe Illustrator is the place to be. Illustrator outputs vector-based graphics that can be scaled up into infinity and will create the smallest file size possible due to it. Small file sizes are preferable as they are easier to transfer to the printer and also easier for the printer to handle in prepress. (But don’t worry, Illustrator can incorporate raster-based images as well!)

In the current version, the maximum size of an Illustrator artboard is limited to the maximum of the Illustrator canvas, which is approximately 16383 pixels (5,77 m) square. Designers who want to create artwork larger than that need to half their dimensions (keep measurements to scale) and advise the printer to double the size in print.

Best practice

Designing for large scale follows a different set of rules as some design elements won't translate well into bigger applications. The audience will see the billboard or banner from a few metres, up to half a kilometre away first. In trade shows for example, these distances are divided into short-range (1-3 metres), mid-range (5-15 metres) and long-range (30+ metres) graphics. It is important not to focus on too many details and make good use of negative space. To fill all the costly advertising space with as much content as possible can be tempting at first, but it will be detrimental to legibility and impact of the work.

Choosing colours works a little differently with large-scale graphics too. Creating too much colour unity in long-range graphics can make design elements appear to meld together whereas too much colour diversity in short-range graphics can lead to over-stimulation.

Using easy-to-read fonts and keeping the copy to a minimum (ten words or less) helps with readability. Copy that cannot be read in three seconds fails to get the attention of the passersby or urban audience. Copy text also needs more space than usual, so increased line spacing is a must and of course, all fonts need to be vectorised before going to print.

Most printers prefer either EPS or PDF as a print file. Depending on the viewing distance of the audience, getting away with a resolution as low as 100dpi for pixel or raster based imagery is possible - but it is safest to have a chat to the printer first, to get an expert opinion.

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