How to Design Professional Large Format Print


It can be difficult to decide which setup you need when designing for large format print. Do you need an eye-catching display? The quality of your print depends on correctly formatting your artwork and choosing the right material for your needs. This can be quite daunting if you are not experienced in producing display print. So here is a guide to help you make the right choices.

Designing your large format print

Know something about who will be reading the display

First of all find out where the poster will be displayed – for example,  if it will be on a roadside, exhibition, or office setting. Then consider who will be reading it – exhibition attendees, passing motorists or office staff in a work environment. How much time will the reader be allowed to take in the information?

Use this information to help determine:

  • The number of words
  • The size of the type
  • The amount of information
  • The detail included in pictures

The implications are clear – if a motorist is passing at high speed then they are unlikely to have time to read more than a few words. If a poster is up in a workplace then each word will be read and re-read over and over again.

Interestingly in his book “Just My Type” Simon Garfield explains how the modern road signs were developed. Research by Kinneir & Calvert showed that motorists read words by word recognition rather than registering each letter. In this respect mixed case if better than capitals as the reader is more used to the pattern of the letters.

Choose the right image format…

Consider the viewing distance for your poster. If it will be viewed from a distance, you can have a lower amount of dots per inch (dpi). The human eye will combine what it sees and make the image seem sharp. The closer it is to be viewed, the higher the dpi, or resolution, needs to be.

If the image is going to be viewed from less than 3′ such as a wall mural, around 150-200-ppi (pixels-per-inch) would work. This leaves some detail in there, but it will have a big file size. However, if the image will be viewed from around 10′ or more, then the resolution can be decreased to around 100-dpi. This makes a much more manageable file size for large print.

If you are designing for large format with all-vector art, however, you can get very high-quality art at a manageable file size. But this applies only to vector art like sharp, clean graphics and text. Photos and continuous tone images will need to be raster art which is dependent on resolution.

It is usually preferable to save your file as a TIFF or EPS, but check with us first to be certain. Always save it as a copy and keep an editable non-flattened version somewhere in case you need to make changes.

…and colour palette

Effective designs often keep the number of colours to a minimum. You can choose a colour palette and stick to those colours, being consequent in which colours you use for headlines and text. This helps with the navigation of your poster and avoids chaos.

Increase the contrast of your colours that will be used next to each other to make them easier to discern. This is especially helpful to those who are colour blind. The further away the colours are from each other on the colour wheel, the better.

Always use CMYK colour mode as this is the one printers use. That way you will know exactly what colour you’ll be getting in your large format digital print.

Find readable fonts

Stick to simple, readable fonts that can be read clearly even from a distance. Script styles look attractive from a design point of view but are difficult to read quickly. You may only have a few seconds to catch the eye of your viewer. So use a font that is well-spaced with clear gaps between words.

Make sure the colour contrasts nicely with the background. If you choose a font that is not so usual, you may need to send the font to your printer so check with them first.

Picture Use – less is more

Pictures are clearly valuable in getting the message across but too many or too busy a picture for a passing pedestrian or motorist will mean the effect is lost – better as with lettering to keep the picture easy to understand and pick up the sense of it – don’t have many subjects and ensure the part of the picture such as an expression or subject of the picture clearly dominates.

Remember also not to run your design right up to the edge, as page bleed might cause you to lose the edge of your graphic during printing.

Respect copyright

When using photographs remember to ensure that you hold the correct authority to use the picture. The law is on the side of the artist or photographer in the case of permission to print the image. Don’t assume that pictures from the internet can be used without permission for public displays of a photograph or illustration.

Check the design from a distance

A design that looks good on your screen may look completely different when viewed from a distance. Try standing around 10-20 feet away from your screen to see if the main aspects of your design still work well together. Does it seem cohesive? Do the colours work well together? Ask a colleague to look at the design to highlight any possible issues.

Choosing the right material

There are many different materials available to choose from for your large format print. In order to help you make that choice, here are some points to think about.

Indoors or outdoors?

The first question you need to consider is whether your design will be used indoors or outdoors. Outdoor signs will want to be printed on plastic materials as opposed to paper-based substrates.

At Severn, we can print your custom banners on high-quality HDPE material which is environmentally friendly, durable and built to last.

For indoor signs and posters, you can use a more lightweight and affordable option. Our posters are printed on eco-friendly recyclable paper that is rich in detail and brilliant attention-grabbing colour.

Rigid sign or flexible?

The next thing you need to consider is whether you are adding a graphic to an existing fixture such as a wall or a window. Or do you need a new, rigid sign to fix to posts or a wall? Perhaps it needs to be free-standing?

If you are looking to place a graphic on an existing structure then Phototex self-adhesive vinyl might be a good choice for your design. This has a self-adhesive back and can be over-laminated with a clear laminate for extra durability. It is made from tough, tear resistant fabric which makes hanging simple and it is even repositionable.

Rigid signs for a museum exhibition

For a more rigid sign, there are various materials available to choose from such as Smart X which is very low weight but with high stability and weather resistant, or Foamalux with is very durable and resistant to everyday knocks and scratches.

Exhibition/display stands

Are you creating something for an exhibition? Then you might be looking at using roller banners (otherwise known as pull ups) or large pop-up screens (otherwise known as banner stands).

Roller banners create quick and easy displays and provide a big impact for internal events. They can be easily stored, and you can even replace the artwork for a later event, re-using the same case. Severn has a range of sizes to choose from, including a mini table-top banner. Both single sided and double sided is available.

Pop-up screens create a much stronger impact at exhibitions and conferences. They are easy to assemble and available in a number of styles. Again you can choose from single sided or double sided. The frame comes with magnetic bars to which you fit the artwork. They can be folded away and stored in a case.

Curved popup with stand


Finally, you should consider whether you need grommets installed on your sign. These are small metal rings that are placed in the corners of a sign or banner so they can be easily hung up with string or rope. A longer banner might need several placed along the length to support it.

Hopefully, this will have given you a few pointers as to what to think about when producing a design for large format print. But as always, you are welcome to contact us first with any questions you have. Our friendly staff will be happy to give you pointers. If you need help with your artwork, our design department can even create it for you.

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