6 Tips for Designing Signs and Billboards

Your next project: designing a sign for an upcoming event. It will be displayed on billboards around town and printed on smaller yard signs as well. If you are already panicking at the idea, don’t worry – designing a sign is not much different than any other project.

The big difference is scale. It’s going to be a lot larger in size than what you might be used to. Other things to think about when designing signage are location, color, typography, contrast and material the sign will be printed on. Design Shack’s Carrie Cousins explores each of these factors and how they can make for a better sign design experience.

1. Think Size and Scale

In most cases, a sign will be among the largest things you ever design. Don’t think about the size of the project other than to create a canvas. It is more important to think in terms of scale. Signs need to be read and understood from a distance, often by people who only have a few seconds to look in that direction. Everything should be big and simple for maximum impact.

2. Consider Location

Just as important as knowing how big a sign will be, is knowing where it will be located. Will the design be featured in the sky, such as a billboard; on the ground, such as a yard sign; on a moving vehicle, such as a wrap or magnet; will it be indoors? Does the sign have a border (and is it thick or thin)? Then ask what color background is present in this location. It will help you select a color palette that contrasts with the environment.

3. Go Big with Color and Graphics

Color can be one of the most important design decisions you will make when working on a sign project. Generally, graphics and color should be bright and saturated. In terms of images and graphics, pick a single element and go big with it. Your design must catch someone’s attention in a second and a single, simple focal point will help.

4. Simple Typography and Message

When it comes to type, keep it simple. Aside from the company logo, pick a single typeface. Opt for a sans serif with uniform and medium to wide stroke widths. And make it big. Think about lettering in terms to 10 to 100. That is 10 inches of letter height for every 100 feet of visibility. Also consider the total number of words. The message should be as simple as the typography. For the greatest impact, signs should not contain more than 15 words.

5. Contrast Matters

While contrast is an important part of any design project, it is especially important when you only have a couple of seconds to catch someone’s attention. Every focal point needs to be clearly distinguishable. With type, size and simplicity are key factors. With color, it comes back to pairing hues that stand out from one another.

6. What Is It Printed On?

Sign materials often break down into categories based on location (indoor vs. outdoor materials), durability and print vs. digital. Some of the most common sign designs include working on a vinyl banner, billboard (print or digital), corrugated plastic and magnetic. But the sign medium can vary depending on use.

Ask right away what the sign or signs you are working with will be printed on. Get the specs before getting too involved in a project. Ask about file formats and prepress. (You are not going to be able to supply a jpg for a printed billboard, but it might be required for a digital display.) Finding out what your printer needs before getting started will save a lot of headache in the end.

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