Tips For Designing Large Format Graphics

What do you notice about every impressive exhibit you’ve seen at a trade show? They all share one thing in common: stunning graphics that stand out on the show floor. Larger-than-life graphics are made possible thanks to large format printers that can create graphics on virtually any material.

Whether you’re designing graphics for a banner stand, a fabric exhibit or a rigid hanging sign, large format trade show graphics are a unique breed. Typical rules and guidelines for designing standard graphics do not necessarily apply when preparing files for large format printing.

Apogee has several tips that will help ensure you get the best possible outcome for your large format graphic design.

Using Adobe Design Programs

Adobe’s three main products—Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign—are used to design large format graphics.

Illustrator

Create vector-based images with Adobe Illustrator that can be scaled up without losing clarity. You can also incorporate raster-based images from Photoshop. Files created in Illustrator are typically smaller than files created in Photoshop. Smaller files are easier to transfer and print during the design process, making Illustrator ideal for laying out and creating large-scale graphics.

Photoshop

Photoshop is strictly raster-based and mainly used for photo/image editing. Because the images are composed of pixels, raster graphics scale down with no loss of quality but enlarging will cause pixelation.

When using Photoshop, be sure your images are high resolution enough to fit the large print space. If you are creating design elements like shapes or blocks of color, Illustrator is best.

InDesign

If your designer often creates brochures for your company, they likely use InDesign, a program best for page layout for printing. With restrictions on page scale, InDesign isn’t recommended for large-format printing. Instead, use Illustrator, which provides the same options in more precise formatting.

Related – Captivate the Crowd with Interactive Trade Show Design

File Preparation for Large Format Graphics

Follow these tips to get your files ready for the printer.

Best file type: vector (.EPS) files

Vector files, which are produced using Illustrator, are the best format to use on large-scale graphics. An .EPS vector file works on mathematical principles of scale and is completely resolution independent. Because of this it can be scaled up dramatically while still maintaining its original clarity.

If scaling up non-vector images like a TIFF or JPEG in Illustrator to massive sizes, they will likely become extremely blurry, pixelated and distorted. For this reason, Vector files are preferable.

Working with bitmap files

Not all images and graphics can be vectored. Sometimes you need to import pixel or raster based artwork into your designs from Photoshop. If you do this you need to keep proper dpi in mind to avoid that loss of quality.

Viewing distance is important to consider when using bitmap. Detail in graphics is not as apparent when viewed from 10-20+ feet, and a lower ppi (100 ppi) can suffice. While you may be able to get away with lower resolutions on large banners that hang far away, the best practice is to have a ppi in the 100-300 range to ensure it looks crisp from any distance. Keep in mind that higher dpi resolutions can result in very large file sizes.

Related – Getting Started: How to Plan for Trade Shows

Use Pantone for perfect color

If you’re hoping to match your large-scale graphics with other graphics, your logo or promotional items, Pantone colors can help you do that. Using them within your design will ensure cohesion across the board when your graphic goes to print.

CMYK and RGB color models are the standard options for printing. While the RGB color model has a few benefits, including a wider range of colors and typically smaller file sizes, CMYK is the model generally used by printers. This means that using CMYK will result in a more accurate depiction of color for your graphics.

Alternatively, you can likely provide a color sample (brand logo, a table throw, an existing graphic) to your exhibit house and they can help you match it to the right Pantone color.

Be careful with fonts and design features

Not all design elements that work well in small-scale design are going to translate well to large scale. You must take into account that small-scale design on brochures, business cards or sell sheets will be absorbed in close range. Large-scale graphics are unique in that they will be viewed both from far away and up close. You must create images and designs that are easily visible from both distances.

Keep in mind that your audience will likely see your banners or exhibit graphics from several dozen feet away first. Therefore, design using images that don’t completely lose their legibility from a far.

Below are a few golden rules to keep your exhibit graphics looking good close and far:

  • Keep distinct images and text well-spaced
  • Use easy to read fonts & keep copy at a minimum.
  • Use high contrasting colors between backgrounds and overlay imagery or text to maintain visibility

Don’t focus too much on small details. Large format graphics offer significant graphic space. Combined with the cost or printing, it can be tempting to fill the space with as much detail as possible, but it’s not necessary.

Find a design expert

Reach out to your exhibit designer for help creating trade show graphics, or talk to an Apogee design expert. The designer will be happy to guide you through the process, step-by-step. Remember, following these tips will help to create a design that will look great on the show floor, both technically and artistically.

Want more design tips? Check out our guide on the Top Trade Show Trends to Watch

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