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Nine Common Errors When Working With Large-Scale Graphics (And How to Avoid Them in the Future)

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When you’re under pressure to meet a deadline, it can feel like your work suffers at times — especially when it comes to building stand-out designs. You may not focus on your attention to detail as much, or you may adopt more familiar methods to simply get the work finished.

No one will argue this isn’t necessary sometimes, as it comes with the territory. Freelancers often have to push the boundaries in terms of what they can achieve, and that doesn’t happen without making certain sacrifices.

But, at the same time, you don’t want your work laden with mistakes or errors. Mistakes often rear their ugly heads during crunch time, either ruining the effectiveness of your overall design or making the entire process that much more difficult.

If you know what to look out for and what to avoid before starting any project, however, that can make things a whole lot easier. Even more so if you’re running on fumes and operating in the same emotional and mental state as a zombie. We’ve all been there.

Here are some common mistakes you should be mindful of when you work:

1. Graphics That Stretch Outside the Safe Area

With digital design, it’s easy to forget some of the age-old techniques you might have used when working with traditional print. Printer marks, for example, are not as common these days because most content is displayed via the web or digital platforms.

But when you’re working with large-scale graphics, especially large prints, they are absolutely necessary. Incorrect placement of an image or artwork can be extremely costly with large prints, and the larger you go the more expensive it gets.

Don’t forget to mind the safe areas of your image or design. You should also consider properties like bleed, crop and trim size. Traditional prints also have boundaries where parts of a design may be cut off or hidden. Make sure you know what those boundaries are before you ship a final design or piece of artwork to your client. They will not want to pay for your mistakes.

2. Using the Wrong Color Space

By default, most photographs are RGB in their raw form. That amazing image you plucked right off your brand-new DSLR camera? Yeah, it’s in RGB.

This is called the color space, and it’s extremely important when working with visual design elements and images. Why? Because if you start with a source that has fewer colors, you cannot convert it so that it has more — you’re stuck with the original color scheme. For simple edits, this isn’t a big deal. But if you’re trying to open something in ProPhoto that’s saved in sRGB, which has fewer colors, it’s not going to work out well.

It’s even more important when working with large-scale graphics and prints because they tend to need a lot of color in their native form. Avoid using CMYK and stick with RGB as much as you can, but choose a color space that honors the true color of the image or design.

3. Fonts Are Not Embedded

Most brands have their own custom fonts and many designers love to use them, too. The problem is, those typefaces can cause some real problems when it’s time to ship a design, particularly if you’re working with print. Not all companies will have the font available or installed.

That’s why it’s important to embed any fonts you use within the design itself. Depending on what you’re creating and how you’re going to save the final design, there are tools to make this happen. You can embed fonts in PDF and Word docs as well as many other file formats.

While we’re at it, it’s also important to keep the total number of fonts to a minimum across a single design. Don’t go overboard changing the font ten or twenty times in a single graphic. Just don’t do it.

4. Not Kerning Your Fonts

Ever heard of kerning? Don’t worry if you haven’t — it’s a pretty simple concept. It refers to adjusting the space between letters or symbols in typography, and it can be done either manually or automatically.

With certain fonts, it’s crucial to do some kerning manually to ensure the design is more legible and pleasing. This can have a profound impact on the final product when working with large-scale graphics. With some fonts, for example, the letters might overlap in their native display format. The tail end of a capital “T” might hover over the crescendo in a lowercase “y.” In that case, it’s better to simply put a space between the two of them, creating a small gap that is more appealing.

Keep in mind that the opposite is also true. Poor or bad kerning can absolutely ruin a design.

5. Mind the Color Scheme

Color combinations always play a role in the attractiveness and functionality of any design. Choose an ugly color combination and the entire experience will be jarring and unfriendly. This is exacerbated even more with large-scale graphics and prints. You’re working with a much larger space, so even a minute palette adjustment can have a huge impact.

Make sure the colors you choose have the appropriate contrast and that they don’t hinder readability. You want to capture the audience’s attention, but you don’t want to be so alarming that they can’t stand to look at your design or content.

Think of it this way. To be a more effective worker and designer, you need to minimize distractions around your workspace, right? Well, you also need to do the same for your audience by minimizing visual and color distractions so they pay more attention to the message.

6. Not Scaling Properly

Scale is an important element of design, marketing and development. Modern designs tend to use a mix of large- and small-scale elements or print. Larger fonts are more dramatic and captivating, and when used in conjunction with smaller fonts, they create a beautiful image — it’s no longer just text.

But this is difficult to achieve when you’re working with large-scale graphics. It’s tough to gauge the right size for various elements, as well as how much negative space you should be using.

Be sure you take the time to consider the full size of the print or layout before shipping the final product. This might mean displaying the content unconventionally, such as on a nearby big-screen TV instead of just a small computer monitor. You might also try out higher resolutions on a small display, or even viewing the content on mobile.

Testing out different platforms will help you get a good feel for the overall scale, whether you’re shrinking the design down or blowing it up for larger displays.

7. Using Raster Images

Don’t use a raster or rasterized image, especially for larger pieces. Raster formats are made up of individual pixels, which means they can look great in smaller sizes. But once the file is saved and you try to stretch or enlarge it, the content becomes blurry and pixelated. You might have the knowledge to avoid this, but your clients probably will not.

Vector-based images, on the other hand, rely on geometric lines and curves so they can be scaled freely up or down without any detail or resolution loss.

8. Not Making Your Design Big Enough

As a general rule of thumb, you can always scale down or decrease a print without any fidelity loss. But you cannot do the opposite, even with vector graphics. At a certain point, enlarging a design or image will result in blemishes or blurry visuals.

Therefore, you should always create a design that is much bigger than it needs to be. That allows you to shrink the size down at a later time without losing the crispness of the design or visuals. Decreasing the resolution of an image to conserve disk space is also a possibility, but again, increasing it will ruin the fidelity. It should always be a one-way process, so keep this in mind.

It’s important to consider how your design will be used, too. If it’s going to appear on a digital menu or restaurant sign, you’ll need to maximize the readability of the font or text. If it’s going on something like a billboard instead, then the text needs to be larger.

9. Poor Spelling or Grammar

Just because you’re working with visual content and images doesn’t mean you can ignore basic English. Improper spelling and rookie grammar mistakes make your design appear unprofessional and shallow.

If you have to, use a tool to check your work or hire an editor to help you get things straight.

Avoid These Common Mistakes

Large-scale graphics and prints are, admittedly, a little different than working with other graphic design projects. You have to be mindful of their large size, but also how that affects the overall experience for potential viewers. But as long as you avoid these common mistakes, you should do fine.

Lexie Lu is a web designer and UX content strategist. She enjoys covering topics related to UX design, web design, social media and branding. Feel free to subscribe to her design blog, Design Roast, or follow her on Twitter @lexieludesigner.