Design Tips

Design tips to help you on those smaller projects…but when in doubt, call a professional!

What application should I use to create my documents if I want to take them to a local print shop?

If you’re not planning on using a professional graphic designer, you’re left to selecting a very limited series of applications to create your project. As most businesses are still windows-based, applications can range from Microsoft Publisher, Word, Corel Draw and to be honest, who knows what else what. If you’re planning on printing your project on your office printer than you shouldn’t have too many problems. However, if you’re going to take your files to a printer or even a place like Kinkos or Staples, you could run into some bumps along the way – especially if you’re giving them the actual file you created. My advice is whenever possible, create a PDF – this will be the easiest to support. Most applications should support printing or exporting to a PDF now.

When you take your Publisher or Word document to the local printer, chances are that you’re not including the fonts used or the graphics – both which will cause problems when they try to work with your file. Creating the PDF for the most part “locks” in your document’s information, so you get what you expect. TIP: Commercial printers and designers HATE Publisher files as they cause numerous problems. If you use it, best bet is to print of your own in-house printers.

Fonts – Keep it Simple

Fonts are one of the greatest elements to graphic design and most important to the layout of your document. When working on a project keep your font use to just a few fonts. With all of the fonts available, it can be easy to use too many – the result is a document that becomes a visual headache. I’d recommend using one font for headlines and subheads, one for the body copy, and one for callouts. If there’s lots of text to read, use a serif font like Palatino, Garamond or Times as they’re easy to read. For headlines and subheads, you could use a sans serif font – something like Helvetica or Futura. These contrast the serif fonts nicely and are easy to read as well.

The other issue with fonts is size – bigger isn’t always better here! Body text on average should be 11 to 12 points depending on the font, with headlines around 18 – 24 points. Keep the sizing in control and your document will be much easier to read.


One of the biggest problem I see with client supplied pictures is that they are often blurry, low resolution and poorly composed. It really doesn’t take much to take a decent picture to use for your website, or company flyer. Most digital cameras now have such good quality it makes it hard to take a bad picture – but it still happens. Make sure your camera is on the FINE setting – this will give you the highest resolution possible.

Try to take pictures of contrasting colors – for example, don’t put your office workers in white shirts against a white wall – they’ll disappear! Think lights and darks and you’ll do fine. To make the most of your important pictures, invest $20 in a simple tripod – this will keep the camera still so you don’t end up with the shakies.

After your photos have been taken, you can simply improve their quality using something like Photoshop Elements – an introductory application to Photoshop which is the industry standard for professional designers and photographers.

The wonderful world of color – not always what you expect

Let’s face it – color is fun! But when it comes to creating projects that you plan on having printed outside your office and if you’re not using a graphic designer, a little knowledge can help prevent unexpected results. There are two basic color formats – RGB which is default on your monitor and used for web design and CMYK (also known as 4-color process) which is used for offset printing. Depending on the final output of your document and who is doing it, working in the proper color format could make or break its appearance. Most non designers will design in RGB (not knowing any difference) and then give their files to a printer who may convert it to CMYK. Depending on the colors used, you could be in for quite a surprise in how different it looks when printed – and possibly NOT for the better. Best advice is to consult with your printer or store to see if they suggest using a color mode.

The other kicker when designing your own documents for print that could produce headaches is the use of SPOT colors rather than process colors. I know this gets a little advanced, but with some of the applications out there, they make it easy to mess up. Spot colors refer to the Pantone Matching System (PMS color) that is used to communicate with commercial printers. Depending on your software you could be designing a newsletter or brochure – specifying beautiful colors – perhaps 20 different versions which are all defined as spot color. To print a 20 spot color job would be a small fortune, so your printer would most likely automatically convert the file to process color. Process color uses 4 colors (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to create combinations of color. The result is MASSIVE color change! A beautiful spot color blue will quickly become a ho-hum purple.

Talk with your printer – communication is always key to success of any project. If you get really stuck send us an email with a brief question and we’ll do our best to answer it as promptly as possible.

More to come soon!

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