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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Large Format Printing: Sidestep the Pitfalls in Banner Design

I’m designing a banner for a trade-show package that will include business cards, oversized marketing postcards, and the large format print banner itself, which will be loaded into a banner-stand assembly. Here’s some more information on this design job, which I’ve been describing in recent blog entries. Hopefully the descriptions will help you sidestep technical issues in your own marketing design work. After all, it’s very easy to turn a gorgeous custom printing job into an unprintable mess.

The banner-stand assembly is a bit like an upside-down window shade. You grab a hook on the spring-loaded case on the floor after lifting the telescoping vertical support pole. The vinyl banner unrolls from the spring-loaded case, and you loop the hook over the top of the vertical pole. A horizontal bar at the top of the banner holds the vinyl flat and “square.” Voila. You have a free-standing large format print banner. If you’re really creative, you may even want to line up a few of these banner-stands side by side, with each containing a portion of your overall marketing image.

From everything I’ve read, trade-show banners are not the same as the interior and exterior banners you might see on a wall. When you’re visiting a vendor booth at a trade show, you can see the banners up close. In contrast, when you’re looking at a large format print banner on an interior or exterior wall (or suspended from wires hooked to the ceiling), you’re probably much farther away.

This means a regular banner will be fine printed at about 100 dpi resolution. From a distance, you won’t see the pixels. However, since you’ll be looking at a trade-show banner up close, it’s wise to print it at 300 dpi, just as you would render a photo for a publication at 300 dpi.

The Creative Design of the Banner

This particular banner has a gradation. The top of the banner is white, and the bottom is a blue process color build (mostly composed of cyan). My client’s logo floats at the top of the banner in the white space. Below this is a montage of 4-color photos. Below this are three lines of black type, and at the bottom of the banner on the solid blue, there are three lines of reversed type (with a drop shadow to make the words “pop”).

Producing the Actual Banner Art File

Banner design is not the same as banner production, although it’s wise to be thinking about such technical issues as materials for the banner, image resolution, the technicalities of gradations, etc., while you design. This helps you make sure you haven’t designed something that can’t be printed—which is far easier than you may think.

Creating the Blue Gradated Background

First I designed the gradation in InDesign. After all, InDesign can do this with a few keystrokes. Then I thought better. I had always been taught that when you take the imagesetter resolution, divide it by the line screen (1440/150, let’s say, for large-format inkjet) and then square this total (9.6 x 9.6), you get the number of greys (or in this case “blues”) in your gradation.

The math is really not that relevant. What’s relevant is that I had visions of “banding.” That is, I was worried that there would be a visible stair-stepping between the various levels of blue as they changed and became progressively lighter going from the bottom to the top of the large format print banner.

So I created a gradation of blue (at a size of 31.5” x 79”) for the banner background in Photoshop, and I added noise so there would be no chance of a visible stair-stepping effect as the gradation became lighter and lighter from the bottom to the top of the banner. The file was huge, something like 380 MB just for the gradation, let alone the photos to be used on the banner.

I did some research and learned (online, from Adobe, makers of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign), that the PostScript gradated screens had improved—as long as the custom printing supplier was using a PostScript Level 3 RIP.

Had I proceeded with the Photoshop gradated screen, the image would have been a bitmapped version, with each and every pixel noted in the TIFF file. Apparently this was no longer a necessary approach (for quality), so I produced the gradated screen in Illustrator. Illustrator creates the gradient using mathematical formulas. Only when the job is ready to print does the RIP (raster image processor) turn the PostScript mathematical formulas into a bitmapped screen. The resulting screen, as well as the overall banner file, was much smaller than the bitmapped Photoshop screen.

Processing the Photographs

I got lucky. My client is a photographer. So she understands the technical requirements of digital printing, and she submitted a collage of photos (300 dpi at final size for the banner). That said, the photos were overlapped, so to keep the space between the photos transparent (the little corners where some photos did not overlap completely—like photos scattered on a table), she submitted a layered Photoshop file (instead of a JPEG or TIFF).

Fortunately, using InDesign you can place a layered Photoshop document into an InDesign layout. Even better, the blue of the banner successfully showed through the spaces between the photos, as it was supposed to do.

Granted, transparency is tricky, so when I submit the banner art for printing, I will alert the commercial printing vendor to the transparency and request feedback on the accuracy of the file (i.e., a preflight report). I’m not overly worried, since there’s no text near the transparent elements, but I do know that transparency can cause unpredictable results within a file and therefore needs to be addressed by a knowledgeable prepress service provider.

Preparing the Text for the Banner

Finally, when my client had approved the design and text, I converted all type into outlines. This way there would be no font issues (dropping or substituting typefaces). Everything was now either line art or photos.

So you can see that designing a banner is not the same as addressing all the technical requirements for accurately rendering a large format print.

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