Producing flyers, posters, sales sheets and handouts is an essential part of any business. If you have decided to take on designing them yourself there are some basics you should nail down first. Remember that the most important thing is to communicate your message effectively. Before you even download a design program, know what your goal is in creating the document. If you don’t know what your goal is you will waste lots of time and energy producing something that is confusing.
Designing any document will be infinitely frustrating if you start out in the wrong program. There are lots of options out there, some that come with preloaded templates and guides and others are a complete blank slate. Choose a program that works for you and your budget. I will say that if you are going to be doing a lot of design work yourself that it is worth investing in the professional programs and learning them.
Canva is a free, drag-n-drop web application that lets you create everything from Facebook banners to multi-page PDFs. It is a great program to get your feet wet, but has lots of limitations. Depending on what your branding looks like, you may not be able to replicate styles like drop shadows or gradients you have in other marketing pieces. Most of the design that comes out of Canva, looks like it came out of Canva, which has a flat, trendy look. What I like best about Canva is the free built-in, library of highend photos and icons.
This is a middle of the road program that you install on your computer. It is has templates to get you started, built in photo editing, and interactive PDF features. Unlike Canva, it will take a little bit of learning to really leverage all the features of this program. The main drawback to PagePlusx8 is that it is not supported by the design/print industry. So if you printer asks to see the original file it is likely that they will not be able to open it. It also means that if you ever hand off to a designer in the future, most likely the designer will want to rebuild the file in InDesign or Illustrator.
InDesign is the industry standard for document design. It is packed full of features and has a huge support network if you ever have questions. It does take some time to learn, but is well worth it if you are going to be doing a lot of design work inhouse. You can create interactive PDFs (the ones with links and buttons and forms), set-up guides, auto-number pages, set master pages, and more. Because this is the industry standard, if you ever have an problems your printer or designer will be able to step in and help seamlessly.
If you have ever tried to do anything other than write an essay in Microsoft Word, you will know what a terrible experience it is. Word is not supposed to be a document design program. You are asking too much of a program that was destined to be used for your business plan. It’s a little like trying to use a screw driver as a hammer.
I have seen a lot of sales people try to use PowerPoint to layout documents. While this program seems to be better equipped for document design, it is not it’s job. PowerPoint is intended to design digital presentations. So if you are designing a document for print your beautiful images will no longer be high resolution. No bueno.
Plus, like Word, PowerPoint seems to fight you when you want to do anything more complicated than a few text boxes and an image. The program ends up getting bogged down and takes forever to export files.
Margin: The space between the edge of the page and the content.
Bleed: When a design goes all the way to the edge of the page, most printers require the elements that go to the edge to bleed over. Most of the time this bleed is .125inches, but it may be more or less depending on your printer. The document you send to the printer should be your final document size plus the bleed on all sides. For example, if you have a 8.5″ x 11″ flyer and a .125″ bleed, the document you send to the printer will be 8.75″ x 11.25″.
Safe Zone: Most printers will give a safe zone for documents. Anything outside the safe zone may get cut off in the final product. So, anything important, like text and logos, should be inside the safe zone.
Grid Column: A guide for content to be aligned to.
Gutter: Space between grid columns
Guide: Guides are used in the design process to align content. The can be vertical or horizontal.
If you do nothing else, use a grid. If you have ever seen a a poster that doesn’t quite look right it is probably because they ignored the grid. A grid creates order and flow in design. It is the difference between a slick looking flyer and amateur hour.
Typically a grid is an equal number of divisions in-between the margins of a document with a gutter or space in between each division. In the example below you can see a four column grid with an eighth of an inch gutter between each column.
The number of divisions depends on the content. In general I start with a four column grid for a standard, letter-sized document. If I feel like the content looks really boring or static I will increase the number of columns and play with the content to get something I’m happy with.
If you poke around graphic design books and articles you will see that a lot of people talk about “breaking the grid”. It is a technique used to draw attention to an element and create tension. If you aren’t comfortable in design I recommend sticking to the grid. Let it be your hard and fast rule.
Each element on the page should align to the edge of a gutter guide. In the example below you can see that the title and text at the bottom fill all four columns of the document. The photo and green color blocks bleed off the edge of the document. The grey boxes each fill two columns and the text below them only fills three columns.
Using columns in this way creates a sense of order, especially when you have a lot of content.
Make sure you pay attention to how elements land vertically on the page. If a box and text are close to lining up make adjustments to either line them up exactly or not align at all. When things don’t quite line up it create tension and makes it more difficult to look at a document. You can see in the example above that I dropped a guide over the text and the heart to make sure that the tops lined up.
When things don’t quite line up or are a little off center it affects the perceived quality of the design. Be intentional and pay attention as you are working to keep everything squared up. Below you can see an example where the elements are not aligned and the same layout cleaned up and on a grid.
Pick one font with lots of weights (bold, italic, semi-bold, light, etc). Using too many fonts on a document gets overwhelming if you don’t know what you are doing. When in doubt use one font. For example you might use the bold weight of a font and make it large for the main head line, use the regular weight in a small size for the bulk of the copy, and light weight font in pink for a quote on the bottom.
In the example I used one font for the title and one font for all the other text. The numbers, paragraphs and call out on the bottom are all the same font, but with different weights: bold italic, regular, medium.
Put together a plan so you won’t have to redesign your logo three months later. Get my four step guide to put together your strategy before talking to your designer.