Nothing brings together a corporate event, trade show, or expo like a dazzling, spectacular banner. Large format graphics are the focal point of major events and are central to event branding and advertising strategies. What’s the design process for a large format graphic and how does it differ from that used to create smaller images? Learning what tweaks you’ll have to make to this process can help you easily design show-stopping graphics for your events.

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Large format printing has some key differences from small format printing that need to be factored into any design you create. Grand format prints must awe their audiences and remain clearly visible at a distance, which influences what sort of color and imagery they utilize. They also require extensive use of scaling throughout the design process, as working on a full-size version of a banner is impractical on a computer. Finally, not all printers have the expertise to successfully implement grant format printing, despite the availability of the technology.

Keep the following principles in mind when you’re designing an image for large format printing:

When designing your large format print, one of the most important factors to keep in mind is the perspective from which attendees will view it. Images that are higher above attendees will appear different than those closer to ground height. This may affect the placement of images and text and what you want emphasized on your banner. Designs that are too complex or messages that aren’t clear are likely to get lost the further they aware away from the ground.

Your large format print could be massive once it’s finished, and this can be unwieldy to work with at full-size on a 13-inch screen. Consider scaling down your image to anywhere from ¼ to ⅙ of its size while working with it on a computer to make it more manageable. You’ll still want to use a fairly high resolution at these smaller sizes so that when it scales you don’t have to make any further adjustments. Make sure you let your printer know at what scale you were working with on your image so they can properly scale it to size.

Grand format prints don’t have to be limited to a vinyl canvas: fabric, a foam core board, wood, or even metal are all possible alternatives. The material you choose for your canvas can play a role in the functionality of your piece or where it is positioned at your venue. It can also enhance the image itself by adding texture or by providing an extra dimension to the colors you use. Not all printers can work with a wide array of canvas materials for large format prints, so you’ll want to find some that do before making a commitment.

Choosing the right color for your banner can be a challenge because those on a computer screen might not be the ones you want for the finished product. This can be solved by selecting Pantone colors, which are universally-recognized among printers. If you’re unable to do this, most printers and design programs use a CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and "Key" or typically Black) format, which means you can know how your banner will look as you design it. For more color options, you might go with an RBG (Red, Blue, Green) format, which gives more color options than a CMYK format but might not translate to the software your printer uses.

A font can look different depending on the size of a banner and the distance your audience will be from it. Fonts with delicate, sophisticated features may appear blurry when transferred from a smaller image to a larger one. The wrong font can also make your text hard to read, as certain letters may look different from a distance. Once you have the right font for your image, save your text as an image within your file in case your printer’s software is missing that font to prevent it from being converted to a different one.

Once you’ve considered the design of your graphic, you’ll need to prepare your artwork on software for printing.

Generally speaking, Illustrator is a better program to use than Photoshop when designing a large format print for several different reasons. Illustrator allows images to be created using vectors, which are 2D shapes defined by mathematical equations. Photoshop isn’t capable of creating vector images and can only use rasters, which are images that are created by a fixed distribution of pixels. Vectored images can scale easily and aren’t subject to pixelation, while rasters tend to get blurry when they are scaled due to their limited number of pixels.

Once you have your large format print artwork ready on a computer, you’ll need to use the right strategy to turn it into a file ready for print.

Vector files (.EPS or .AI) created in Adobe Illustrator or InDesign are the best types to use for transferring a large format graphic image. Vector files are made of paths, or smooth lines derived from mathematical equations, and can shrink or scale without pixelation. This is in contrast to bitmaps, which save images as a grid of pixels and can’t scale without pixelation. Many designers use a hybrid of the two files, with the background saved as a bitmap and more sophisticated images saved as vectors.

The resolution used for large format graphics is generally determined by its size and the distance at which audiences will be viewing the image. As a rule of thumb, use at least 150 dpi when designing an image if you intend for it to be viewed up to 10 feet away. For graphics to be viewed at a greater distance, use a resolution of at least 60 dpi. You can use a lower resolution than you normally would for larger prints that are further away because the human eye will perceive more of the image than is present.

Once your file is ready for printing, you’ll need to find a printer that is capable of bringing your vision to life. If your event is coming up soon, you’ll need a shop that has a proven track record of delivering their product on time and without flaws. Check out online reviews of printers and take a look at their portfolio of work. Try to work with a printer that already specializes in the type of banner you want printed and the type of event you’re holding.

Your printer should be a partner for your business, capable of understanding your specific needs and able to deliver on-time. Let Color Reflections handle your large format printing needs for your next event. We have five decades of experience and will place the latest printing technologies at your disposal. With five locations across the United States and a proven track record of delivering for large corporate events, expos, and trade shows, we can successfully turn your large format graphic design into the centerpiece of your event.

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