Whether you’re designing for a banner stand, a fabric exhibit or a rigid hanging sign, large-scale trade show graphics are a unique breed. As you work with your exhibit house on a design, you may want to have an in-house designer or another member of your team create your graphic images. If your team member is new to the large format designing, we have several tips that will help ensure you get the best graphic outcome possible.
what you need to know about the programs
Your designer likely knows which programs are best for what, but below is a refresher of the three main Adobe products and what they are best used for.
Illustrator can create vector-based images that can be scaled up without losing clarity. You can also incorporate raster-based images from photoshop. For that reason Illustrator is ideal for laying out and creating large-scale graphics.
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 pixilation. 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.
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 it isn’t recommended for large-format printing. Instead, use Illustrator, which provides the same options in more precise formatting.
best file type: vector (.EPS) files
As suggested in the breakdown of programs, Vector files, which are produced using Illustrator are the best format to use on large-scale graphics. A .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. However, not all images and graphics can be vectored and sometimes you need to import pixel or raster based artwork into your designs from Photoshop. If you do this you need to keep proper ppi in mind to avoid that loss of quality. While you may be able to get away with lower resolutions on large banners that hang far away, best practice it to have a ppi between 100-300 to ensure it looks crisp from any distance.
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. Or 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 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 many on tiny details, instead be focused on the design as a whole.
print small scale test copies
Large-scale printing is costly and takes time and preparation, which mean you only get one chance to print it and see it at full size. Fortunately you can still get an idea of what the whole graphic will look like by printing out a small-scale test copy perfectly scaled to match the larger version on 11’’x17’’ format paper. From this view you can check to make sure everything properly aligns and that designs and fonts work as a whole.
Additionally, check out the design from a distance of 5-10 feet, or equivalent based on size to the distance your audience will be looking at the full-sized display. This way you can further confirm that the design is legible and text readable.
consult with your exhibit house
Don’t forget you can always reach out to your exhibit designer for help on this, or download Nimlok’s Artwork Guidelines. They’re experts! Not positive on the technical elements? Provide your finalized designs in the proper format, and your designer can help you prepare for print and share proofs like the small scale test copies listed above.
These tips should help you create a design that will technically and artistically look great on the show floor, plus provide your exhibit house with a design that’s ready for print and easy to work with when changes are needed.
What are your own golden rules for designing large-scale graphics? Let us know in the comments! Plus, don’t forget to “like” and share!