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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: Subtle Differences in Standees

My fiancee and I installed two more standees over the past few days. These were for the new movie X-Men. I was surprised to see more versioning, and I have given thought over the past few days to the goals the movie studio might have had when creating two versions of the large format print standee.

Description of the Standees

Both versions involve dynamic graphics of two faces with transparent “X”’s over them. You can see the tightly cropped faces through the transparent “X,” and if you look closely, you will see that the image within the “X” is actually a totally different face, so you’re really looking at a mosaic of four movie characters (two per face) rather than two. The effect is subtle but very cool.

Both versions of the large format print standees include the same tightly cropped faces. What differs between the two versions is the treatment of the movie title. In one case, the type is on a central panel between the two faces, run vertically up the narrow panel. In the other case the type is horizontal and printed at the bottom across both faces. In this case, there is no central panel.

Personally, I think the design differences reflect an “A/B Test” (described in a recent PIE Blog article) to determine which is the more effective design treatment.

The other potential reasons for the movie studio’s producing two versions of the large format print standee would be the following:

    1. The standee without the central panel is narrower than the other version by about two feet. This might allow smaller theaters to display the smaller version of this particular standee.


  1. One panel’s worth of a corrugated box plus a covering graphic panel and some screws were omitted from the standee without the central panel. This would have saved money on printing, diecutting, and shipping, when you multiply the item cost by the multitude of theaters across the USA showing X-Men.

Again, this is all speculation, other than the fact that there are two almost–but not quite–identical versions of the same standee. Unlike these X-Men standees, in the past, standees for the same movie had differed substantially. For instance, the studio promoted Walking with Dinosaurs with a flat card (flat, large format print image supported by a cardboard easel) and an alternate version with a thermoformed plastic eye that bulged out of the structure and actually moved from side to side as an animatronic device and motor system operated. In contrast to this standee “set,” the two X-Men standees were almost identical to one another.

The Real Reason for the Change (I Think)

For me this was an object lesson in legible type. In one version of the standee, the two X-Men portraits were separated by a central panel on which the title and subtitle of the movie (X-Men, Days of Future Past) had been turned counterclockwise 90 degrees to run up the vertical space. Mind you, they are not vertical (one letter above the other). They are completely rotated. You have to tilt your head 90 degrees to read them.

From a design point of view, it’s a dramatic treatment. Very powerful. However, from the point of view of legibility, it’s not quite as readable as a horizontal text treatment of the title would be. Here’s why.

All type of the title and subtitle are set in all caps (X-MEN and DAYS OF FUTURE PAST). Unlike words composed of lowercase letters, which form recognizable shapes (as words) with their ascenders and descenders, words composed exclusively of capital letters have a rectangular shape (no ascenders or descenders to extend out of the rectangle).

(Draw a box around the shape of an all-caps word, and you’ll see it’s a rectangle. In fact, if you draw a box around any word composed of all uppercase letters, you’ll see the same rectangle—just of a different width.)

As we read a passage of text, or a movie title, we don’t read and identify each letter. We look for the recognizable shapes of the words. This is why it’s harder to read a passage of type in a print book that’s set in all caps. However, when you turn the text on its side on a standee, the words become even harder to read.

This Isn’t Always Bad

Have you ever seen the cover of a journal or print newsletter with the magazine’s title slightly obscured by the cover art? Perhaps a model is in front of one of the letters. If you read the magazine regularly, you recognize the typeface, color, and wording of the title, even without seeing every letter. You don’t have to see everything to know what you’re looking at.

Movie promotions depend on how recognizable the movie images are. In fact, I have surmised over the last four years’ of standee installation that movies that are very popular actually need less promotion than new movie franchises. Hunger Games, for instance, had a huge following. When the prior installment of the film came out, my fiancee and I only hung a small banner in most theaters. Moviegoers didn’t need to see a 14-foot, large format print standee to convince them to buy a ticket. All they needed to know was when the movie would be shown.

To bring this back to the X-Men standees, the less legible type on the larger version with the vertical type panel would not be a problem for those who already recognize the X-Men movie franchise. Those waiting for this particular film to come out would grasp the images and text instantly.

However, those who are just being introduced to the X-Men ethos might need to read every word, and the legibility of the horizontal type across the bottom of the alternate standee version might just make the difference between their buying—or not buying—a ticket.

How This Relates to You

Here are a few take-aways you can apply to all commercial printing design jobs:

    1. Consider your audience. Are they familiar with what you’re designing? If not, make sure everything is not only dramatic in its design but consummately legible as well.


    1. Remember that all-caps text is harder to read than upper and lowercase type. Also, remember that horizontal type is easier to read than vertical type.


  1. Legibility comes first. If your audience can’t read your design product, it doesn’t matter how cool it looks.

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