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Design Techniques

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This article discusses some basic design techniques that should be used when designing for stickers, signs, banners and general signage.

Basic Design Techniques for Stickers and Signs

Typeface

As a general rule, for sticker and sign design, serif typefaces, such as Times New Roman, are more readable than sans serif (such as Arial). Why is this the case? Well, for starters we are more likely to read our first words in school in the serif typeface family. Our daily newspapers are also often set in a serif font (e.g. The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times), with which we're more familiar and more comfortable reading.

"Readability", however, is not the same as "legibility". Times New Roman may be more eye-pleasing, but this doesn't mean it's more legible.

typograhy

So, what do we mean by legibility? Generally, sans-serif fonts can be read more easily from a distance than fonts with serifs (the small embellishing strokes that finish off a letter's main strokes). However, this doesn't mean that you should always use sans-serif copy when designing your sticker or sign. In fact, most graphic designers believe that serif type is more likely to be read because it's more pleasing to the eye.

To put it another way, legibility is a function of typeface design. It’s an informal measure of how easy it is to distinguish one letter from another in a particular typeface. Readability, on the other hand, is dependent upon how the typeface is used. Readability is about typography. It is a gauge of how easily words, phrases and blocks of copy can be read.

Does Size Matter?

Like most things in life, size matters, especially if your sign or window decal is viewed from a considerable distance.

The distance from which a sign is viewed determines suitable copy character height. As a general rule every inch of character height yields 25ft. of readability. Viewing distance is only one factor, however. For signs on buildings that are read by passing vehicles you must also consider the speed at which traffic is moving past the location. Furthermore, words that comprise initial capital letters followed by lower-case letters are more readable than words that employ all upper-case letters. On the other hand, from a greater distance, signs that incorporate all capital letters are probably more legible.

Outlines And Shadows

Outlines and drop shadows can also improve your sticker or sign's readability. For example, heavy, black, drop shadows can create the right contrast and improve readability. However, black is not the only colour you can use for drop shadows. For instance, if your sticker or sign uses gold lettering on a bright-red background, use a dark red for the shadow - the dark red will soften the transition from the gold in the foreground to the red background.

Composition

Good composition - how a sign or sticker's elements/objects are organised - improves the visual appeal.

When arranging a sign's design objects, remember a few basic guidelines:

Don't use backgrounds that conflict with the typeface, and limit the text to six or fewer words. Typeface variations can be interesting, but don't use too many different fonts. Usually, a maximum of two different typefaces suffice.

All too often, too many words, colours, and design elements create visual clutter. White space should represent between 30% and 40% of the overall design. However, be careful not to trap any white space between the design elements as this breaks up the design's continuity and/or flow.

A border around your sticker, banner or sign frames your layout and ties all the design objects together.

There are several ways to organise a sticker layout. Some designers divide their composition into quadrants, others divide into thirds. When designing your sticker, the primary element doesn't have to be positioned directly in the design's centre - a perfectly symmetrical sticker layout can be rather boring and static. An asymmetrical sticker layout is usually more dynamic and visually appealing. Arranging a design's key elements on a diagonal axis can convey a sense of movement and energy.

To create more visual interest for your sticker or sign, position a key element or primary text just above the centre. Often, an item placed slightly off-centre attracts greater viewer attention. Alternatively, make your primary design element big and position an object, such as the sticker logo, up to a corner or overlapping the sticker's edge. It is also important to consider where viewer's eyes are going to travel after they've seen a sticker's primary component. For example, if a sticker's focal point is a large glass of beer, and you want viewers to notice "Best Pub in Town", position the text next to, or overlapping, the picture. You can also attract attention to the primary sticker object by setting it apart from other elements.

Most people read a sticker the same way they read a printed page - from top to bottom and left to right. With this in mind, when you design a sticker, pay attention to the key elements. Do your eyes move naturally from one sticker element to another? Too much space between graphic elements can result in a disjointed sticker design.

A good way to learn about effective composition is to study well-designed ads, vinyl stickers, window stickers, signs, banners and billboard layouts.

View our sticker gallery for some ideas!