About The Author
Spencer Reamy

As senior vice president of print and marketing logistics, Spencer consults with clients on projects and enjoys finding solutions to new challenges that arise daily. Spencer believes in mentoring and managing with a positive attitude while having direct oversight of the day-to-day print production, installation, and warehouse and distribution services in Dallas as well as implementing process and helping to guide the entire Print and Marketing Logistics division. Spencer joined Phase 3 in via acquisition of Gigantic Color has been working in the design and digital printing business since 1998. He is a graduate of Texas A & M – Commerce with a Bachelor of Science degree in graphic design. When not at work, Spencer enjoys reading or creative activities such as wood working and drawing. His Sunday nights have been spent organizing and planning for AWANA games at his church of the past 15 years.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Printing Large-Format Products



Even as our attention moves increasingly to the screens in our hands, the business case for large-format printing is still valid at certain points of contact. For example, if you have a brick-and-mortar location of any kind (retail store, office building, multi-family residential complex, hospital, college campus, or more) or you host an in-person event (conference, festival, fundraiser, or athletic event), large scale graphics are critical to attracting customers, building awareness, and creating a memorable experience for your brand.


Large-format printing can take the form of banners, wall graphics, floor graphics, window graphics, building wraps, vehicle wraps, flags, barricades, exterior and interior signage, point-of-purchase signage, billboards, murals, and more. These printed materials present visually engaging brand messaging on an impressive scale that will get your brand noticed.

However, your message can be muted by poor print quality, or the misuse of the materials used in printing. Large-format printing requires very specific parameters to produce the clearest and most vivid images and the most durable final product. This post will outline the most common mistakes to avoid when planning a large-format print project.


10 Common Design or Pre-Press Mistakes


  1. Not including a bleed as part of the design. In most cases, your artwork will be printed larger than ordered and trimmed to its final size, so the file needs to contain a bleed - an extra bit of image or background that extends beyond the trim area on all four sides. A bleed is required for most printed projects to ensure a consistent look and to avoid errant white space. A standard bleed is .25” for large-format printing.

  2. Placing critical elements too close to the trim edge. Because a large, printed piece is trimmed by machine, it's crucial to keep graphics, images, and messaging away from the borders to ensure they aren’t cut off by mistake. Make sure only the background image is in the trim and the bleed areas.

  3. Using photographic elements without enough resolution. Avoid blurry images by using image files that are at least 150 dpi. While that resolution is not usually high enough for small format printing, it works for large pieces because you are looking at them from a distance. It is essential to test your image before settling on the resolution because some images will look amazing on a small format printed piece and entirely different when blown up ten times larger.

  4. Using a font that is too thin or too small. Even for giant murals and banners, some fonts can be unreadable from longer distances due to their size. Just like you wouldn't use an 8-point font in a Word document, don't use a font that’s too small for your banner or poster. Also, very thin fonts can disappear into the background of a printed piece and script, or highly decorative fonts, can be almost illegible from a distance. Test the readability of all possible fonts before settling on one.

  5. Not outlining your fonts or including them in your art files. Using outlined fonts will ensure that your fonts’ appearance does not change when your files are printed. This is because outlined fonts are converted into artwork by turning pixels into curves and lines so that the type will print smoothly and not degrade when resized. Some design programs like Adobe InDesign or Illustrator will not automatically include the outlined version of your fonts in the design file, so you must embed the font files in the final artwork. You can package all the components of your artwork into a single PDF file.

  6. Avoid graphic file compressions. . The best digital file formats for large prints are TIFF and PDF. If your artwork includes compressed graphic files, it’s better to use ZIP file compression and not LZW to avoid image degradation.

  7. Using the wrong color system. There are several ways a designer can add color to an art file. The first is “spot color” which is when a specific Pantone color is specified and that color (or colors) is printed using predetermined Pantone matching charts on the printer RIPs. Specifying Pantone colors is best when color-matching is critical.

When the artwork specifies CMYK colors, also called four color process, the colors are mixed during printing process with formulas made from Cyan (C), Magenta (M), Yellow (Y) and Black (K) inks. There is a time a place to use each of these methods, but no matter which is being used, the print file specifications must match the printing method. Otherwise, your colors won’t print correctly.

  1. Not maintaining color consistency in a print file. Make sure all color elements are consistent and print-ready in any artwork file, specified as either four-color process (CMYK) or spot color (Pantone). Images or photography are one element that needs particular attention. Any embedded images that use RGB or LAB colors can create issues when printing. These files are designed to show colors in particular applications like on a computer screen or in the manufacturing process, but they are not suitable for print. Make sure your images are in the correct format before embedding image files into a design file.

  2. Not using rich blacks. Rich black is an ink mixture of solid black over a bit of the other CMYK colors (Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow), resulting in a darker and more saturated color tone than just black ink would produce. Standard black and rich black may look the same on a screen but won't look the same when printed. For best printed results, save all black elements and fonts in your art file as CMYK = 40c, 40m, 40y, 100k.

  3. Your scaled images aren’t proportional to the final print size. If your printer needs to enlarge an artwork image to your final requested print size, it must be appropriately scaled. Here's an example. Suppose you want to print a 240" x 120" banner, and you send your printer an artwork file that is 1/4 size and needs to be enlarged 400% for printing. The file's size is 60" x 28", which is enlarged 4x to 240" x 112". This is not large enough for your requested size. The original file should be 60" x 30".


Print Mistakes - Choosing the Right Product for Your Final Application


While the above design elements are critical to the quality of your final print, It's also important to consider how you plan to use the final product before sending your file to be printed. Not all large-format materials and production techniques are appropriate for every use case. Determining which printer and substrates will be used is essential to a successful final product.

This is why having a strong large-format printing partner like Phase 3 is vital to your success. When you work with an expert that understands the various processes and applications, the right questions will be asked, and the best solutions will be found for your needs.

We can usually determine the best course of action for you with a short consultation. Here are some examples of the questions we would ask.

  • Is the final product for interior or exterior use?
  • How long do you need the final product to last?
  • Do you want a gloss, satin, or matte finish?
  • Do you need an installer, or will onsite staff install the printed product?

Here are three common final application mistakes you can avoid with proper guidance.

  1. Creating a short-term final product for a long-term application. Printers have a wide array of print substrates at their disposal that are tailor made for specific applications. Items like permanent wall murals and vehicle wraps must always be printed on cast adhesive vinyls with cast laminates that will prevent shrinkage and withstand wear and tear over time.

  2. Choosing interior products for exterior use. Styrene, foamboard, and paper products are work well for interior projects but are not durable enough for exterior use. Also, toner-based prints fade quickly in direct sunlight. Using aluminum composite materials, UV ink, and protective laminates are better choices for exterior use.

  3. Deciding to skip professional installation. To guarantee the best results, don't print a product that needs a professional installer if you plan to do the installation yourself. You will not likely be happy with the results. Instead, there are products you can choose if professional installation is not an option. For example, you may select a rigid substrate with a user-friendly low-tack adhesive instead of a thin vinyl that is difficult to install.

Large-format printing can place your brand front and center in the minds and hearts of your clients, employees, and community. Make sure your print projects deliver the results you intended by leveraging the expertise of Phase 3's large print format team. Phase 3 was recently recognized for our work in developing a custom-wide format printing system that increases efficiency and improves equipment utilization without losing employee/customer interaction. We are proud to be considered innovators just for making our clients happy. For more information about our innovative printing services and our new ERP technology, please contact us today.