Large Format Graphics: It’s Not Just Resolution That Matters

An example of a large format graphic designed and produced by ETMG

We field a lot of questions about large format graphics, like the trade show signage shown here, and appropriate resolution. Here are some tips for producing larger printed works:

Q: I need to create large banners at 16ft x 6ft, that will be displayed above the tradeshow floor at our next show, but the product manager wants to use an image from a smaller ad. Will the resolution work for such a large graphic?


A:  Let’s take a look at this handy chart!

Viewing Distance Chart shows required resolution at various Viewing Distances

Tip: Consider Viewing Distance When Determining Resolution

PPI stands for “pixels per inch.” The more pixels per inch, the higher the image resolution. You can see from the chart that PPI, or resolution, is inversely related to the output size and viewing distance. The larger your output AND greater your viewing distance, the fewer pixels per inch that are needed in order to ensure best appearance.

The important factor here is viewing distance. If you need to print a 24 x 36″ poster that will be viewable up close then you’ll want to go with a higher resolution.

To put this in perspective (pun intended) consider this impressionist painting by Claude Monet. View the painting up close it is a mess of strokes, dabs, and dots. Stand back and view the same painting at a distance and well, voila!

Nympheas by Claude Monet - public domain image made available by LACMA

Bonus Tip: Remember Width x Height

When communicating your output size to your designer or print vendor, always state dimensions as width x height. It’s industry best practice and ensures that you don’t end up with a horizontal or landscape output when you really wanted a portrait or vertical format.

BonusTip #2: Use the Ruler

Typically when working with a vendor to produce large format graphics they’ll send over a PDF proof for you to review along with a virtual “swatch” intended to demonstrate the resolution and output quality. Be sure to open the Ruler Tool in Adobe Acrobat (Go to View>Rulers or use the short-cut: Ctl+R) and check the actual physical dimensions of your proof. If you have any concerns about resolution or size, ask! Better to get it right the first time when a tradeshow deadline is looming.



Los Angeles County Museum of Art Public Domain Images

Further Reading:

What’s New With Print? Digital is Big. No, Really Big.

The Proof is in the Proof

PDFs vs. Source Files

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