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Creating Effective Large-Format Graphics

(September 2008) posted on Wed Sep 24, 2008

It takes more than artistic talent to create effective large-format graphics. You also need to have a firm handle on the way big promotional images are perceived and how to use various design elements to make them grab the attention of viewers. Presented here are a few basic rules that, when followed, will result in graphics that print correctly and deliver their promotional message effectively.

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By Benjamin Lawless

Most large-format graphics are viewed from a distance, generally from behind the wheel of a car or perhaps from a pedestrian’s peripheral vision. In some cases, you don’t even get three seconds to deliver the message. So if text can’t be read easily, your audience won’t even bother trying.

Unfortunately, many designers make their graphics difficult to read by using font sizes that are too small. But you can avoid this mistake by using the following formulas to determine the appropriate text size: height of text (in inches) = 0.035 x viewing distance (in feet) and point size of text = 72 x height of text (in inches).

So, if you know your text is going to be seen from 20 ft away, such as across a walkway to a storefront window, then you’d do well to make your smallest text at least 0.7 in. tall, or a point size of 50.4. Figure 2 represents a range of viewing distances and corresponding text sizes as calculated using these formulas.

Worth noting here is that with a program such as Adobe Illustrator CS2, the maximum point size of text is 1296 pt, which limits you to a viewing distance of 514 ft. One way to get around this is to create outlines of the text (Cmd-shift-O with Mac or Ctrl-shift-O with Windows) and then manually scale the resulting object. With this solution, make sure you have Rulers turned on (Cmd-R or Ctrl-R for Windows) and keep an eye on the resulting size in inches.

Also consider your computers default leading (the space between lines of text). When designing for large format, the default leading of most design applications (120% the point size of the font) doesn’t quite work out. In most cases, you’ll want to decrease it to 110% or even less. But remember, there’s no substitute for actually looking at your piece and adjusting it to what just feels right. If possible, create a mock-up with your own desktop printer on normal letter-sized paper and actually test it out at certain distances. All you really need is a few letters or two lines of text, just enough to check if your typography is legible.


Use contrast to ensure maximum legibility and clarity


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