Check out these tips and techniques that will make your print design stand out, or help you improve the language you use to communicate with your designer.
1. Separate spaces with multiple background colors
Brochures can feel lifeless when every section uses the same background color.
Decide what information belongs together and keep the background on that information the same. Then, for information that falls outside of this group, try using a different background color, and a different font color to complement it.
Typically this means having a light background with a dark font in one section and a dark background with a light font in other sections.
For example, on a tri-fold brochure with 6 panels, you might use a dark background for your title panel, mission panel, and contact panel, and a light background for the 3 panels that discuss your services.
2. Support your headlines with icons
A flyer without icons can look like an essay with photos in it. Not very eye-catching and tedious to read.
Icons separate text, add context, and create visual interest.
Let’s say you have multiple groups of text outlining various product features. You can make each feature stand out with an icon to represent it. The same is true for any list: process steps, timeline milestones, competitive advantages, and more.
You can easily find icons from my favorite free icon store, Flaticon. For best results, I recommend downloading icons in SVG format. This format utilizes vector data for infinite sharpness no matter how big you scale the icon.
One word of caution: Make sure your icons are consistent. You can assure this by sourcing icons from the same icon pack or by adjusting the icon attributes.
Ensure the following attributes are cohesive:
- icon color
- line weight (thickness of lines)
- shape language (sharp corners vs rounded)
- complexity (level of detail inside the icon)
3. Create a coherent brand identity with a color filter
Color filters make ordinary photos instantly on-brand. You can apply photo filters using custom Photoshop actions, by using an app like Instagram, or just manually applying the same color curves and saturation adjustments to your images.
Next, try adding light or dark color shapes above your photos. Each shape should have a high opacity of 70% or higher. This will mute the colors in your image. It will also create enough contrast so that you can overlay text above the image in a contrasting color. With the color shape in place, now the image will provide a sense of context while still focusing the reader on your text.
4. Limit your color scheme to your brand colors
If you’re using more than 5 colors, your design can start to feel confusing.
Usually a brand’s logo will consist of 2 colors, sometimes 3. Hopefully your brand identity designer has already created a few color variations intended to complement these colors. (For example, you might have an extra dark version and an extra light version of a primary brand color.)
Save your brand colors to a color palette in your design software, and stick with them throughout the course of your design in order to unify your design.
Often you can use white or black in addition to your brand colors. However, if you already have a very light color and a very dark color in your brand color palette, then you’re probably better off using those colors rather than adding white or black to your design.
5. Use bold headers and simple, readable body copy
Stick with just one or two fonts. A single font can work very well if you just vary the font weight.
- For your headers, use a bold font. You can also make it a unique, creative font if you like.
- For your body text, use a regular weight font (neither thick nor thin) and look for a font that has good readability.
Here’s how I would approach choosing the perfect font.
- Follow your brand standards to make sure that your typography feels at home with your other branding.
- If you don’t yet have brand standards, check what fonts your website uses and match that.
- If you’re not tied down to anything yet, consider Avenir, Gotham, Helvetica Neue, and Montserrat. They’re all beautiful modern fonts.
- If you’re not satisfied, you can explore new typography trends or consult with a designer.
6. Maximize white space for a luxurious look
Some companies feel that they need to get every dime they paid for out of their print materials. They make the mistake of cramming text and photos into every bit of space available.
There’s a reason customers enjoy SUVs, limos, and first-class legroom.
Space makes customers feel secure, luxurious, and relaxed. It gives us room to breathe.
In design language, the “breathing room” that surrounds text and other graphic elements is called “white space” or “negative space.” In addition to giving every element a little margin around it, you should also have areas of the design that are essentially a visual void.
The more white space you use, the more people will perceive your brand to be luxurious. High-end companies often take this to the extreme to convey class.
To accommodate white space, limit your text. Use short sentences. Even phrases.
Use one photo or less per panel of your design. Make “less is more” your mantra.
7. Keep the design interesting with unique image frames
If you have a column of photos, your photos don’t have to reside in square boxes!
Find an effect that feels right for your brand. But keep in mind, a plain square hardly shows a brand at all.
8. Add interest to your design with a gradient
If your design feels just a little flat, try adding a gradient.
Gradients can create visual interest to make your design “pop.” They look especially nice when you contrast them with areas of flat white space.
9. Direct attention with lines and arrows
Thin lines can subtly guide the reader’s eye from one key point to another. This technique is especially useful in cases where a layout continues from one section of a trifold to another.
10. Feature your community, especially the people in it!
If you’re a local business, use photos of your city, building or – best yet – your customers. Consider also including testimonials or quotes by your customers.
People love seeing themselves in print and they also enjoy seeing others in their community featured. Furthermore, this approach will give your whole design an authentic, local feel. This is extremely important in building connection and trust with your audience.
11. Make your design pop with contrasting colors
Bold cold choices get people’s attention. For example: Black text on an orange background. White text on a dark blue background.
You can make any color work in your design. For background colors, choose either a very dark version of the color or a very light version of the color. Alternatively, you can use neutral colors for your backgrounds (light gray, dark gray, for example), and then use your brand colors inside icons, photo filters, or graphic elements.
12. Always write first and design second
One issue with templates is that often designers make up words to fit into an existing visual design. This is backwards.
Start with your message. Open a Google Doc and write out what you want to convey to your customers.
Pre-write first by jotting down headers and sub-headers. Then fill out the information under each subheader. As you plan your content, it will become apparent whether you need a flyer, door hanger, brochure, or booklet.
At this point, you can either continue on by writing what you need, or with with an agency to refine your message. Only after the message is solid should you begin placing it in design software and finding the right visuals to support what you want to communicate.