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Large-format printing: A practical guide and checklist

In the past, large-format printing was a complicated process, from getting images and designs of high enough quality to ensuring high-quality final prints. Even smaller businesses have become a more viable option with modern technology, with cameras and software now maintaining high quality even when scaled up. Printing methods and materials have also improved to the point where prints will survive harsh weather conditions without any issues. This is fantastic for anyone wanting to promote their brand, as wide-formatting or large-scale printing can be a compelling way to get in front of people.

What’s large-format printing?

Large-format printing is typically when a design is printed at a size of between 18 and 100 inches and a width of 60 inches. When printed at this size, the design is created specifically to cover such an extended area, making the designing process quite different from a traditional brochure or poster. The technique is versatile and can be perfect for window graphics, banners, or ceiling graphics, meaning that many businesses will likely have an opportunity to use large-format printing. When printing design at such a large size, printers generally use either a roll-to-roll or a flatbed printer, or a combination of the two to create the finished product. A flatbed is often used for less traditional or thicker materials, while a roll-to-roll printer is used on more conventional materials such as banners.

How to work with a company on large-format printing

The most important thing to do when getting a design printed in a large format is to find a company that will be able to work with you closely to create the print you need. It’s worth spending some time getting quotes from several contractors in your area, and getting recommendations from other people that have used them if possible. An excellent example of a large-format printer is, and as long as you do some research, you should be able to find a supplier that can meet your needs. There are several other things you can do to improve the process with your printer:

Communicate from the start.

Create a detailed brief and use this as you speak to your printer as early as possible. Try to include everything from the size, design, and deadlines to ensure that what you have in mind is achievable, and that a reasonable timeline can be established. Quick turnaround times are possible, but it’s vital to build in some flexibility to cover any issues when printing anything.

Prepare your files

Ensure that your files are in a vector format such as .eps or .ai before they are sent for printing. Vector files are created in Adobe Illustrator and use algorithms to increase an image’s size rather than pixels, which will lose quality when scaled up. Doing this will ensure that quality is maintained regardless of the size of the final print, and makes the process far easier when the printer gets to work.

What software should you use for large-format printing?

Suppose your design team wants to discuss the best software for creating assets for large-scale print. In that case, Adobe Illustrator is generally preferred over Photoshop, as the files are smaller and more user-friendly, but both can be used effectively.

Adobe Illustrator

Illustrator is one of the best design software options for creating large-format print designs, primarily because it works using vector (.eps) files, increasing in size without losing any clarity. These files are significantly smaller than the output when using Photoshop, making them easier to download and transfer from your designer to yourself, and then onto your printer. The software is also relatively easy to use than other design software, allowing enough creativity and flexibility to create the design you want. It can also use raster files from Photoshop if needed.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is one of the most used design software available and is best used to edit photographs. If you have photographic imagery in your design, then Photoshop will be needed to edit the images’ composition. The main issue is that the files that Photoshop outputs aren’t vectors, which means they may lose quality when scaled up. To prevent this, you’ll need high-quality images with as many pixels per inch as possible, which will help when printing at large sizes.

Calibrate your equipment

Another element to be aware of is that not all screens are set up correctly to reflect what an image or design will look like when printed. To do this, you need to adjust the monitor settings, including the white, black, and color levels to get your screen to display colors correctly, or there are tools you can download to do this for you. When checking designs, make sure to use the ‘soft proofing’ view provided in both Photoshop and Illustrator, which will help show the system in a way that will be true to print.

Get color samples.

There are two primary ways of displaying colors, depending on whether you view a screen or printed materials. Anything designed for a screen, such as digital banners or a website, use an RGB color (red, green, blue) model, while printed materials use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black). The difference is that RGB looks great when on a screen but can look dull when printed, so it’s recommended that CMYK is used from the start, so there are no issues in color when the design is printed.

If you doubt the technical elements of your design, and if it’s appropriate for your final print, make sure to consult with both your designers and printer. It’s recommended that you allow the two parties to speak directly to prevent any miscommunication, and ensure that your print comes out the way you want it the first time possible. Good briefing and communication can be the difference between multiple images and one print, and hitting or missing your deadline.

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