How to design for large- and grand-format printing

As print demands change, and print service providers are adding large- and grand-format printers to their mix, for the designer, knowledge of how to design for large format printing is important.

However, designing for large- and grand-format takes a different style and approach, so I am going to go over some of the basics on how to set up files, as well as tips on how to design the files.


Vector images, for those not familiar with the term, are images that can retain their layout and basic components as they are increased in scale.  A bit more technically, vector files say that you have a series of points that are always in this relationship, and as the file increases or decreases in scale, those points remain in the same relationship.  You can fill a vector file with color, which again, as the file is scaled, will not change.  Raster files, like photographs or any graphic image, are not vector files, and are susceptible to losing resolution as they are scaled up.  The benefit of this is that you can build a small file, easily transferable via email or other file transfer, and keep it under a few megabytes, due to it being vector.  If you do have photographs or graphics, you must make sure they are AT LEAST 300dpi, or even higher.


Font selection and sizing is also key to the success in the design.  If you’re wanting the viewer to be able to read the copy, the fonts have to be large enough to read.  Also, you must keep in mind that certain color combinations might be difficult to read, or difficult for the eye to see clearly (like a blue and red together often clash and can play visual tricks on the viewer).  Think about where the item is going to be: outside; inside; back lit; front lit.  All these factors can impact how the effective the fonts selected will be.  Try to avoid script types of fonts, unless they are going to be quite large, and stay with bold fonts, sans-serif fonts.


Remember that banners and many large format applications need to get the message across quickly and succinctly.  You need to recognize that in many cases, the viewer has seconds to see the message and understand it.  Not only is font selection and size crucial, but content as well.  Use as few words as you possibly can, and make sure the image and the copy reinforce each other.


On some banners or graphics, you need very little information, and possibly, a simple web address or phone number will suffice.  But do you need to put things like street address, or other contact points?  If you want to really get the information out to the viewer, a simple and EASY TO REMEMBER phone number is sufficient, and keep it as an 800 or 888 phone number with repetitive numbers or sequences.  Make it as easy as possible for the viewer to retain that information.  If your banner or sign is something accessible by foot (say a bus stop graphic), you can put more information on there, since they have time to read it. However, you still need to keep it simple and easy-to-read.  An idea would be to add a QR code to the content, so the user can read the code with an app on their mobile device, and view a website, or a video, giving them even more information.


Look at it.  If you have one of the nice, big Mac monitor, open it up full screen, step back from the monitor (maybe even across the room) and look at it.  If you have a high end proofing device or a good desktop printer, print it out and pin or tape it to the wall.  Step back and look.  Think of the scale of the piece and then readability.  If you can print out small sections at 100%, you can get a better idea of image resolution and how the fonts will read when the final banner or graphic is imaged.

Like designing for print, or for the web, designing for large format takes a different mind set, but once you have it down, it is relatively easy to do.  The basic rules of design, font selection, graphics and content apply here as well, but in a different model.  Becoming proficient is the goal, and becoming an expert at large format design is one more advantage to you and your clients or employer.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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1 Response to How to design for large- and grand-format printing

  1. Pingback: How to design for print – Episode II | The Prothero Press

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