With trade show season winding down, there is no better time than now to take a step back, cup of fresh, hot coffee in hand, and take a look at your display material. Signage, banners and booth graphics are often the first line of contact for new customers who are searching for your products and services. Are you sure they are getting the message you intended? Here is Part 2 of our comprehensive guide to graphic design for trade show displays.
Research is also paramount in the preliminary stages of design to ensure a sign or display will be effective. By way of example, this can entail seeking out images from past events and inserting a new design into them.
This is a good way to check if a new colour scheme stands out, if the images are clear and recognizable and if any sightlines to the logo and other key branding elements will be obstructed. Side-by-side comparisons are a great way to check the overall efficacy and intended performance of a display’s three-second test on the trade show floor well before the actual event.
Colours are also important elements of design, as the way they are used will affect people’s perceptions of a brand. They are even powerful enough to affect someone’s mood and judgment.
Colour theory is a broad subject with formulas, principles and guidelines determined by an even broader spectrum of possible conditions, but the most important concept is the notion of a pleasant colour harmony, which is produced by combining complementary hues and introducing contrasting colours where juxtapositions are needed. This means keeping the basic colour palette limited to a range of complementary colours and adding contrasting ‘pops’ of other colours to draw attention and interest to specific parts of the design.
Colours are said to be in harmony simply when their aesthetic produces a pleased response in the viewer. The nature of this positive response, however, will vary from person to person, as it is influenced by age, gender, cultural and social differences and other individual factors. So, it is important to know about the intended audience before making any colour-based design decisions.
The perception of colours has always been defined in the abstract, with no technical explanation formulated thus far as to how different types of inks and substrates affect the ‘colour experience’ for a viewer. That said, print service providers (PSPs) have long known about the challenges involved in reproducing a colour to a client’s exacting specifications. Whether recreating a skin tone at photographic quality or using special inks to conform to a client’s brand standard guidelines, colour matching is a vital process in today’s sign industry.
Offset or digital?
Traditional offset printing has solved the problem of colour matching with the addition of special inks to precisely match corporate logos and to add dramatic effects, such as metallic and neon hues, but these spot colours come at considerable extra cost to the client. The process is labour-intensive in comparison to digital printing, due to the necessity of creating printing plates and the drying time required before finishing, and a typical project may take an average of two weeks to complete.
Digital printing presents a more straightforward and cost-effective alternative process. The design files are submitted directly to the print production team, checked for accuracy and then sent along to the printer. Barring special considerations, such as seams for sewing fabric panels or other post-print production requirements, it is not unusual for the entire process to be completed within two or three days.
That said, the efficiency of digital printing is most pronounced for shorter runs. If a client requires 10,000 or more graphics with special inks and varnishes, on the other hand, then offset printing is the method of choice.
“The question of which is better depends on your needs,” says Serge Kaitaz, who has been the graphic production manager for over nine years with Accenta. “With the availability of special inks, more choices for substrates and finishes—including gloss, matte and coated—and the ability to print white over any colour of substrate, offset printing creates a more precise product and allows for truer colours. And the inks sink into the paper, so cleaner finishes and better consistency can be achieved. For large runs, offset is the best choice. For smaller print runs, limited budgets and tight timelines, however, digital printing has been a truly great innovation. The options may be more limited, but for most signs and displays, digital saves both time and money.”
Graphic templates are very useful tools because they provide a precise replica of the graphic space available on a real-world product and indicate where any folds, curves, seams and panel edges are located. This makes it easier for both the client and the production team to determine precise image and text placement.
“The first thing we tell clients who have purchased one of our products, is to visit our website and download the corresponding Graphic Template,” says Kaitaz.
Graphic Templates provide clients and the production team with a precise replica of the graphic space available on the real world product. It also indicates where any folds, curves, seams and panel edges will occur, making it easier to determine image and text placement.
“Most of our products have templates readily available on our website at accenta.com, and custom displays will have a custom template, prepared for that specific unit by our industrial designers.”
Accenta accepts art files prepared with the most recent versions of all standard design software. “We recognize that not everyone rushes to update their design packages however, so we also accommodate artwork designed in previous, stepped-back versions of InDesign, QuarkXpress, and Illustrator.”
A computer screen displays images in red, green and blue (RGB), which is an ‘additive’ colour space. Setting each of RGB to equal values of 100 per cent will yield white, while the complete absence of colour—i.e. black—is achieved by setting the same values to zero per cent.
Process printing, on the other hand, uses the ‘subtractive’ colour space of cyan, magenta, yellow and key/black (CMYK). In this case, setting each value to 100 per cent will yield black and reducing them to zero per cent will yield white.
This is important to understand when displaying colours in the real world. As light hits a printed substrate, it is reflected back at the viewer, who perceives the colour of the paper mixed with the colour of the illumination. Adding cyan ink to the paper, for example, will absorb or subtract other wavelengths of light, resulting in the viewer perceiving the colour of cyan. This is why the same printed graphic will look different from one substrate to another, even when the same CMYK values have been specified.
“Best practices for colour matching requirements suggest using a physical printout of the final design to proof against,” says Kaitaz. “Keep in mind, due to variations in substrate type and colour and light source interpretation, it is not always possible to match all colours exactly in CMYK. Ink is delivered in droplets that react to different substrates in different ways. A job may therefore also require the use of special spot colours.”
Achieving smooth images
The resolution quality of a graphic can also be affected by the nature of the substrate onto which it is printed.
“With fabric graphic panels on products like Pak-N-Go backdrops, or Roll-It-Up, Eurostand and Piccolo banner stands, ink sinks into the fibres. Edges are softer, and the tendency toward pixelation at lower file resolutions is slightly reduced, due to the forgiving nature of the fabric. In contrast, graphics printed on paper will be sharply defined, with crisper edges.”
“By way of comparison, a 40” x 40” image printed on fabric will have a minimum image resolution of 100 dots per inch (DPI) versus paper, where the minimum recommended resolution for the same image at comparable size will need to be at least 150 DPI in order to avoid jagged edges.”
Hence the need for vector-based graphics where possible, to ensure images can be reproduced perfectly on everything from a 3-m (10-ft) wide fabric backdrop to a 3 x 6-m (10 x 20-ft) rigid display board. As vector graphics are digital images created by using mathematical points, rather than pixels, they can be scaled up from business card to billboard without any loss of quality or detail whatsoever.
Logos, for example, should always be provided in a vector-based format. So too should product names and descriptions be converted to outlines before the design files are submitted for printing.
And a final word from Serge, “Whether it’s through colour matching, image adjustments, or copy correcting, we are always happy to work with our clients, to ensure that their finished banner stand, signage or exhibit display meets or exceeds their expectations.”