Wide format images are, by virtue of their sheer size, visually arresting. Of course, printing them involves a specific set of issues and challenges that differ greatly from offset printing. Elements like fonts, colors, perspective, and file creation are some considerations that are unique to wide-format printing.
Let’s have a look at these elements, broadly broken down into two categories.
The key consideration when designing large-format projects is perspective. Images that are significantly higher than eye level will look different from those closer to the ground. This viewpoint affects design in a critical way.
Designs that are too complex or have too much text will be difficult to read and absorb. If fonts are too thin and delicate, they won’t be readable, and the distance may distort how they appear. Similarly, fonts that are too thick may overpower the design.
Graphics should be simple, yet compelling. Designers should limit the text so viewers can absorb the message in a few seconds.
Similarly, keep colors to a few and make them crisp, so they stand out. Avoid light colors on a white background, for example. Pantone colors might be best to achieve consistency and to match other graphics properly.
What looks good on a brochure or business card will work similarly well on a huge scale. Consider the context of where the customer will display the print item. How will it compete with other banners or graphics? How far away are most viewers likely to be? How long do viewers have to take it in? Factor all these considerations to create a large-format printed piece that’s effective.
The necessary resolution for a wide-format file is governed by the viewing distance. Resolution for wide format is somewhat counterintuitive since the farther the image, the lower the resolution needs to be. If a banner is being viewed from 10 ft., then resolution at full size should be 150 dpi. If viewed from more
than 18 to 20 ft., than 75 dpi will do. Offset printing requires 300 dpi for optimal printing, but the human eye can’t discern fine details from a distance, so a lower resolution is acceptable.
Working to Scale: It’s unwieldy to create a 10 ft. banner on a computer screen. A solution is to scale down the image to one quarter to one sixth of its size, while keeping resolution high for the best results. The printer needs to know what scale was used so they can output at the correct size.
Substrates: Wide-format printing devices can output on a full range of substrates beyond paper. Again, consulting the printer about specific set ups for any chosen substrate is a good idea, especially as colors are converted from RGB to CMYK or Pantone colors.
Raster vs Vector Images: Vector images are more effective when outputting a wide-format file. They scale up easily to any size and do not pixelate. Change as many elements as possible, including fonts and logos, to vector graphics before outputting to a PDF. If a photograph is included in the poster or banner, it will have to be a raster image and must be large enough, huge really, to scale up to the desired size. It’s best to consult a printer if they have preferences regarding which software, such as Adobe Illustrator or InDesign, is used to create the file.
Type Safety Area and Bleeds: To ensure type or graphics don’t get cut off, they should be placed in the type safety area with about 2% clearance on all sides. If a banner is 100 inches, the clear border should be about 2 inches. When grommets are used, more space may be required. If the poster, sign, or banner needs bleeds, those should be at least 2 inches on all sides.
Wide format is unique and requires adjustments to traditional design and printing conventions, but the result, in terms of new revenue streams, producing eye-popping creations, and meeting healthy demand, is well worth the effort.
Gimbel & Associates
Garden City, New York