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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

There is a fragile system at work whenever marketing material is distributed, whether large format or small. Your message, which should be the most important part of your marketing efforts, has to coexist with and, more often than not, subdue other design elements vying for a potential customer’s attention. Depending on the piece, the message could be struggling against competing imagery, surrounding space, and even the typeface in which it is rendered.

Another challenge the message has to contend with is that everyone sees color differently, and many designers don’t consider the consequences of their color choices on marketing materials. The wrong color choices can make the message difficult to read and turn an effective message into one that gets ignored.

Controlling contrast on your marketing materials is the best way to approach the whole issue of color. Text, in parti-cular, must be completely distinguishable from its background. So if you have a dark-colored background, you should place white text on it, and for a lighter background, you should use black. Be mindful to use colored text and drop shadows sparingly, because they can have a nasty habit of obscuring your message, even though all you wanted to do is distinguish it from its background. White or black text with no shadow is usually the best.

In most cases, colored text isn’t effective because designers aren’t careful to separate their normal values. The normal value is the shade of gray you get when you take out all the hue and saturation from a color and are left with only the brightness. Basically, if you were to run the graphic through a black and white copier, you’d see only its normal values. If you have a red blurb and a blue background with the same normal value, it will be very difficult to distinguish the text from the background, even though the colors are supposedly different. Since everybody sees color a little differently, making certain the normal values are different may be the only real way to be 100% certain your text will be read.

Finally, before printing your graphic, proof the normal values by either printing it out in black and white on your desktop printer, or just converting a copy of your file to grayscale in Photoshop. You’d be amazed at what sorts of problems a hard proof will help you spot.


Use simple imagery for maximum effectiveness


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