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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

File-size requirements for large-format printing are a bit different than for small format. And, like most things, acceptable standard files are different from printer to printer. The printer I work with accepts large-format graphics files in many formats, but finds that TIFF images work best with the workflow there. The standard file type they prefer is a flattened TIFF saved at 150 dpi (lower resolutions may work depending on size of the final image and the distance from which it will be viewed). The files should be embedded with the Adobe RGB 1998 color space, saved with LZW compression, and saved at the physical size at which they will be printed.

When files are prepared in this way, the RIP the printing company uses will process them for printing far quicker than any other file format—faster than PDF, JPEG, or anything else. JPEG uses a very heavy-handed compression technique and PDFs generally contain lots of vector data—two criteria that slow down the RIP when processing. Flattening the file not only speeds up the processing, it also eliminates font and transparency errors that can spring up.

TIFFs saved this way are generally smaller than a layered PDF files, making them easier to e-mail, transport, and archive. Also, unlike the lossy JPEG format, TIFFs are a lossless format: No matter how many times the file is saved, it won’t degrade into the jumbled mess that a JPEG will. Plus, the TIFF can be opened by just about any graphics program.

A note on resolution: Even though the industry standard resolution for small-format printing is generally 300 dpi, in the large-format world, the larger the graphic, the lower the dpi required. I find that 150-dpi images work in almost every large-format printing situation. In fact, some billboards can be printed at as little as 25 dpi without showing a noticeable difference in quality at the distance from which they’ll be viewed.


Plan ahead

As in all things, having a plan is the only way to minimize disaster. It will save you time, and it’s really the only way to ensure you stay within your budget. Ponder how, where, when, and by whom your graphic will be seen. Think about why your audience will want to view your message. Get inside their heads and poke around a little, because the only reason someone will pay attention is if you can draw on their desires or needs. Make the design large enough for them to see and read, but keep it simple.

Above all, try not to slap something together at the last minute. Don’t throw away your money and sales ef-forts on poorly made advertising—it just isn’t worth it. Set a realistic deadline and keep it, but make sure your efforts are effective. n




Benjamin Lawless is the lead graphic designer for BIG Images (, a wide-format digital printing company based in San Luis Obispo, CA. He is a graduate of the Graphic Communication program at California Polytechnic State University. View his portfolio and blog at








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