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How to Design for Large Format Printing

Unlike the toner-based digital printing processes, inkjet printing does not have as many pitfalls. However, it has a more limited selection of regular papers to coordinate with regular printing papers.

Large-format printing is ideal for small business material or short-run items that a business would need for a trade show.

Inkjet printing used to be only for large items, but that is no longer true. Large-format inkjet presses are now capable of printing many little items, just like a digital press, and the finishing techniques available are getting fancier with each new generation of equipment.

Streamline_your_workflow_tcm245_2209968_tcm245_2209974_tcm245-2209968Packaging prototyping and versioning for shorter runs, personalization or specific geographic markets are great applications for digital printing.

Some inkjet-type presses can die cut without a die, print on metallic paper, and lay down gloss coating. Granted those machines are not everywhere, but they can be found. Not requiring dies drastically reduces the upfront cost of adding special cuts or shapes. Consider using commercial inkjet technology for short-run business cards as well. There’s no longer any print run or item that’s too small for these presses. Some are available as desktop models for design studios and agencies, making it possible to print and prototype quickly and conveniently.


This printer below is from rolanddga.com it's printing on adhesive paper 
and kiss-cutting an adhesive label!

Some large-format inkjet specialty companies only print large-format items and can handle huge projects such as building wraps. Some commercial printers have a large-format division, and your average print shop has one or two large-format printers to handle simple requests for banners and posters. Make sure that your print provider’s skill is up to the complexity of your project by asking for samples and referrals if necessary.

You will need to see a proof for a large-format job, but it’s probably not going to be at 100% of its final size for good reason. Ask for a reduced size proof of the final version. If your project involves enlarging your file, ask for a strip proof of a critical section so that you can check the resolution.


You can have these types of items printed from a large-format vendor:




Very large items such as billboards

Weather-resistant items

Point of Purchase Displays


Trade Show Booth Graphics

Vinyl Decals

Window Graphics

Building Wraps

Vehicle Wraps

Heat transfer decals (such as the image below (rolanddga.com)


Things to do for large-format printing:

Set the resolution to 300 dpi (dots per inch) for the best results for point of purchase displays or other items that will be viewed from a distance of fewer than three feet. For items viewed from a distance of three to ten feet, set the resolution to 150 dpi. For a very large-format billboard, set the resolution to 360 dpi.  Work at 1/10th the billboard’s scale or 72 dpi at 100% scale because it gets very hairy to work on a ten-foot banner at 100% of its actual size in any design program. So go ahead and work at a smaller scale and just make sure your placed or linked graphics are set at a high enough resolution to handle the final reproduction size.

If you are working on a poster that will print 34” in. x 44 in. and your file page size is 8.5 in. x 11 in., that means the print will be 400%, four times as big. Make sure your graphics are set to 1200 dpi at the 8.5 in. x 11 in. size if viewed from less than three feet.

Use vector art as much as possible if the work is going to be enlarged. That way, you can design freely and not have to worry about the resolution of raster images.

Keep your workflow RGB so that your printer can convert to CMYK in their RIP for best results.

Make sure that any rules are set to an actual width and not to “hairline.”

If your work is going to be used outdoors, let your print provider know that upfront and make sure the provider can print with outdoor inks. Do not use a lot of magenta in a piece meant to be outdoors because magenta fades more rapidly than the other process colors.

vehicle_graphics_2_1_18_14_tcm245_1554592_tcm245_1549369_tcm245-1554592 outdoor_event_banners_v2_1_18_14_tcm245_1549324_tcm245_1549369_tcm245-1549324

The bus wrap and outdoor signage are excellent examples of outdoor and large format

If you need to match an inkjet item exactly with an item printed by an offset printer, talk to your print provider well in advance to see which item should be printed first.

Go crazy with materials! Inkjet printers can print on plastic, fabric, foam core, wood, styrene, metal, and much more.


The wall treatments and fabrics below were printed on rolanddga.com large format 

A typography class is the best way to learn about the legibility of fonts when viewed at a distance, but here is a guide. This is where most beginners make their biggest mistake on large-format work.

Viewing Distance       Text Height in inches    Text Point Size

15 feet                         .0525 in.                         37.8pt

20 feet                         0.7 in.                             50.4pt

30 feet                         1.05 in.                           75.6pt

50 feet                         1.75 in.                           126pt

100 feet                       3.5 in.                             252pt

500 feet                       17.5 in.                           1,260pt

1,000 feet                    35 in.                              2,520pt

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to designing for large format projects, and I want to make sure you know these BEFORE you begin designing.

Have you ever been asked to work on a large format project? What tips do you have for other designers? Let me know by commenting, I’d love to talk to you more about it.


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  1. I just spent a few minutes looking for a book that was published two years ago by authors who work for a large format equipment manufacturer. I could not locate it but when I do, I will definitely post here.

  2. Hi Dan, thanks for your comment, I am so glad you found it helpful. Not to sound self-serving, but my book is being Kickstarted as we speak, and you will find much more info about designing for digital printing there. Here’s the link; http://kck.st/2tVZRR5

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