The Vistaprint Guide to Sign Design

When it comes to attracting attention for your small business, signs are an effective way to get your message across. We know that creating a sign can seem daunting, so we assembled our Vistaprint in-house signage and design experts to invent a guide on everything you need to know for selecting and designing a sign. Are you ready to start catching the eyes of potential customers? Let’s get started!

How to pick the right sign type

Overwhelmed by the sign options? Don’t be – the first step is simply determining what business need your sign will fulfill. To set you up for success, our signage experts have come up with some examples, and the products you’d need for each. If you’re:

  • Outfitting your store or office, posters and window decals will grab the attention of people browsing.
  • Preparing for an indoor event, like a trade show, banners, retractable banners, tabletop signs and foam boards will complement your booth well.
  • Preparing for an outdoor event, like a craft fair, banners, yard signs and flags will catch the attention of traffic – even at a distance.
  • Showcasing a sale, banners, posters, foam boards, retractable banners and tabletop signs are effective ways to make your promotion clear and noticeable.
  • Spreading general branding and awareness, banners, posters, car magnets, yard signs and flags are the right products to display your logo, contact details or any other information you want to reach your potential customers.

Now that you’ve determined what business need your sign is fulfilling, start to think about where it is going, and ask yourself some key questions. Will this sign will be used indoors or outside? If it is going to be used outside, how long are you going to be leaving it there? Will it need to withstand certain wind conditions? Will it need to stay out in the rain, or do you plan to bring it indoors overnight? Whether you are using this inside or out, how durable do you need this to be? In an ideal world, how long would you want this product to last? Are you going to bring it with you to multiple trade shows across the country, for example, or will you just be using it once or twice for a special occasion?

As you’re looking for a specific product to meet your signage needs, it is very important to keep the answers to these questions in mind as you shop. Different materials can withstand different types of elements. For example, if you know your sign will see some rainy days, we recommend selecting a material that will resist rain, like vinyl or corrugated plastic. Rainy conditions would also indicate that you should stay away from lighter, non-water resistant materials like poster paper. If you’re up against anticipated windy conditions, you want to make sure you select a product that is either heavy on its own or can be securely weighted or tied down.

Be sure to think through how you are going to hang your sign, or to what material you are going to need to attach it. Need to utilize window space? Check out window decals, or signs that can be attached via suction cups. Have poles or a fence available? Make sure to get rope or zip ties to secure the sign in place. Don’t have anything available? Choose a free-standing sign or sign stand.

Your final location consideration should be your product’s physical size, especially as it relates to the amount of space you have available for this signage. Keep in mind that the larger your font size, the easier it will be to read your message – you want to select the largest size of product you can without overwhelming the space. For example, if you are selecting a window decal to merchandise store hours or a sale or promotion, make sure to measure your window space first before thinking about the product’s design. Another example could be a banner that’s being designed to hang over an entryway. You would want to make sure that you select a banner that fits nicely within the awning space. Too long and you may have trouble hanging it, too short and you’ll sacrifice your messaging space.

How to design your sign

Once you’ve decided which sign fits your needs and where it’s going, you’re ready to start designing. While customizing a large product can seem intimidating, our design experts gave us their master tips that anyone can use to create an effective sign:

  • Use a big and bold font. Typography is important for getting your message across, and using a heavy typeface provides higher contrast to make it more readable and bold. When designing a sign, avoid script fonts with elegant, thin strokes.
  • Write a simple message with a large enough font size to reach your expected audience. Large signs are not meant for complex messages. Stay away from educational content, but instead use signs to share promotional, brand or event focused messaging. Don’t try to say it all at once – pick the one message you want to convey to customers and make it a quick read. The larger your font and message is, the faster people will understand it, whether they are in a car or just walking by.
  • Create high contrast to make your sign eye-catching. For example, if your logo is a light color, it needs to be on a dark enough background to be seen. Also, think about contrast in context of the sign’s location. If you’re hanging a banner on a brick wall, it won’t stand out of its red.
  • Know what substrate is best for your images. If you’re highlighting art or photography and you don’t expect glare, glossy will work best for making those shots standout. Otherwise, matte is your best bet for a readable sign.
  • Choose a vector file type for a logo so it can be scalable at any size and a high-quality PDF or JPG file for imagery. We support a variety of file formats for uploaded designs:
    • Adobe Acrobat 9 Document (*.pdf) (recommended)
    • Adobe Illustrator CS3 Artwork (*.ai) (recommended)
    • Adobe Photoshop CS3 Image (*.psd) (recommended)
    • Bitmap Image (*.bmp)
    • GIF Image (*.gif)
    • JPEG Image (*.jpg,*.jpeg)
    • Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 Document (*.ppt)
    • Microsoft Word 2010 Document (*.doc)
    • PCX Image (*.pcx)
    • PICT Image (*.pic,*.pict,*.pct)
    • PNG Image (*.png)
    • PostScript Document (*.ps)
    • TIFF Image (*.tif,*.tiff)
  • Upload a high-resolution photo or logo. The larger your banner, the higher resolution you’ll need for your photos. If you get a resolution error, don’t ignore it. Your images will likely have the right resolution if they are:
    • Photos taken on a quality camera.
    • Stock photography.
    • A logo designed by a professional designer or using our design services.

If you already have a logo that you want to use but the resolution is too low, you can use our logo-recreation services to get the logo re-done in a format that can be stretched out.

For some visual examples, here are some successful (and less successful) retractable banners – here you can see the importance of the design tips above.

Armed with these expert tips, you should be ready to create an eye-catching banner. Even if you skip a step, our satisfaction guarantee ensures that you’ll end up with a sign you’ll love – so don’t let the fear of designing hold you back from amplifying your message for your business any longer.