Graphic Design Basics

Graphic Design Basics

Learn some basic entry level graphic design training. These how to tips will introduce you to some design tips that will help you generate a better design for your custom printed products through our website. Great tips for the entry level designer to help build a strong foundation.

You will learn the importance of color selection, why keeping your design simple is a good idea and more. If you're a professional designer and would like to help add to this section please contact us and let us know what you feel like is missing. We often times use suggestions for new content on our website.

See our other Design Tips for more tips and design help. If you need help using our Design Tools then you can either checkout our How To Tutorials or our Design Tool Tips page.

Introduction

Graphic design is a process of communicating in a visual format. Many professional designers will take a written concepts and translate it into a visual metaphor that communicates the same thing in writing. Consider the concept of "Love" and what it means to you. A designer will likely chose shapes, colors and supporting text to help communicate what that means to them or their client. They might use a shape like a heart, words like passion and/or colors like red or pink. Because everyone has their own opinion no two designs will communicate the exact same meaning or be interpreted the same by people who view the results. Use these Design Basics below to develop a strong foundation for each element that goes into design theory.

Color Theory

Poor Example

good color exampleGood Example

See our list of available colors for all color options.

The use of color is a highly studied science. In most cases colors are used to help trigger emotion. Colors imply a feeling or subconscious emotional tone. Red for instance conveys a few different things; like anger, hunger, danger, and more. Picking the right color with the right message and the right fonts are important. For examlpe: If your message was about love you wouldn’t want to pick a black color for your design and might instead want to pick a red color. This is why most Valentine's Day greetings are generally red. Color selection is important and should be taken seriously. Color theory uses three basic components: The Color Wheel, Color Harmony, and Color Emotion.

COLOR WHEEL:

The color wheel is an organization of colors based on color relationships. Red, Yellow, and Blue are primary colors while Orange, Green and Violet make up secondary colors. If you haven’t already figured it out, secondary colors are simply made from combinations of primary colors. And the third color category is called tertiary colors. These colors include Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet and Red-Violet. Tertiary colors are made from a side-by-side combination of primary colors and secondary colors. The ending result is a third color that bridges the gap between primaries and secondaries. Use the following image for an example.

Color Wheel showing all colors and how they relate to each other.
COLOR HARMONY:

Color harmony relates to colors relationship status. Within color harmony there are 3 main categories that colors fall into. Analogous, Complementary and Monochromatic. TIP: Nature produces natural color combinations that work well together. When in doubt, look out (out of the window that is) for great inspiration for your color usage in your designs.

  • Analougous Colors:

    These colors are neighboring colors on the color wheel; usually in sets of three. For example Yellow, Yellow-Green and Green make an analogous color scheme. Analougous Color Examples

  • Complementary Colors:

    Colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel are considered to be complementary colors. Complementary Color Examples

  • Monochromatic Colors:

    When various shades of the same color are used the color scheme is called monochromatic. In other words; one color. Monochromatic Color Examples

Colors behave differently when used together. When looking for tips on selecting the right colored background you’ll want to think about legibility and ideal viewing distance. Sometimes an analogous color scheme will work for close proximity designs but when you want to pull in an audience from longer distances you might want to consider something with a higher contrasting relationship; like complementary colors. The following image will explain.

Color relationship example

Notice the legibility of the same red letter “A” in each example. The same red color was used but due to color relationships the visual display of the red letter appears different to the eye. As you can see the most legible version is the colors with the highest contrast.

COLOR EMOTION:

Many colors can be have a positive and negative meaning. The colors you choose in your design all have emotional connections that often derive from nature. When you look at the color of the sun, or daylight you feel fresh and renewed. This color also filters into plants and animals. As humans we have been conditioned to respond to different colors based on common uses in nature. You will find that most colors will have a positive and negative meaning.

  • Reds = Action, anger, confidence, courage, decline, joy, leadership, longing, love, passion, rage, sexuality, vigor, willpower, wrath.
  • Pinks = acceptance, calmness, contentment, feminine qualities, friendship, love, passiveness, relaxation, romance.
  • Browns = earthy, masculine qualities, natural, solid, stability, wholesome.
  • Oranges = action, aggression, creativity, curiosity, comical, deceit, desire, distrust, domination, pleasure, sexual passion, warming.
  • Yellows = awareness, caution, clarity, creative, energetic, freshness, intellect, jealousy, joy, pureness.
  • Greens = ambition, advancement, balance, cowardice, earthly, fertility, freedom, growth, greed, jealousy, life, protection, restful.
  • Blues = brightness, calmness, cooling, electric, inspiration, integrity, government, health, healing, knowledge, power, seriousness, softness, tranquility, understanding.
  • Purples = frustration, imagination, gloom, romance, sadness.
  • White = angelic, beginning, charity, cleanliness, coolness, goodness, innocence, light, perfection, positivity, purity, simplicity, sterile, virginity.
  • Black = authority, contrast, death, evil, elegance, fear, formality, grief, mystery, negative, power, prestige, strength, unknown.

KISS

Keep It Simple Silly! When in doubt subtract as much as possible. If it doesn’t have high importance - consider removing it. Don’t try to do too much or over think it. Sometimes less is more.

K.I.S.S is an acronym for Keep It Simple Stupid. Some people supplement Stupid with Silly or other "S" terms that do not feel condescending or belittling. The basic principle of the kiss philosophy is to not over work something. Sometimes less is more and the KISS school of thought supports this notion.

Hierarchy

Hierarchy is an important element for design layouts that gives order to content and design elements like text, pictures and more. Consider the importance of every element in your design and then organize them based on importance. Consider what you want people to see and know first then what should be noticed second and so on. The most important elements in your design should carry the most weight and be noticed first. You can organize your content through text weight, size, color relationships, placement and more.

Ultimately you want to guide people viewing your design so that they digest the information in order of importance. In the end you will develop a design that is memorable and looks good.

Design Window

Design windows are commonly used in graphic design techniques when designable space is limited. The design window can produce depth in your design and can also create a direction you want people to look. Ultimately this technique helps draw people into your design and may help entice them to learn more. The design window will prematurely cut off a design element, wether it be text or images. The following image is a great example of the design window technique in use.

Create design windows where artwork bleeds into the design. A “design window” is similar to the effect of looking outdoors through a window. You know there is more to what you see beyond the window however the interior wall prevents you from seeing the rest of the picture. Design windows are great design tools because it leaves a little to the imagination for the viewer, initiates interest to draw viewer in closer and causes interaction with your audience. Design windows help draw in viewers from further distances.

Spell Check

Always check your spelling – consider having someone spell check your work. We currently do not offer spelling checking. Misspellings in customers’ orders are considered intentional and we leave them as is. If something seems obviously wrong we may contact the customer to confirm that it was an accident but is not a guarantee. Many times in the past we have found that misspellings are intentional for various reasons like the following: Pranks, Inside Jokes, Various Meanings, Company Names, a play on words and more.

Product Size

Remember the actual size of your product. The design tool may make your decal look larger than actual size. Don’t forget to remind yourself of the overall size of the product you’re designing. For instance if you were creating a 3”x6” oval decal you wouldn’t want to add a whole paragraph of text and expect people to read it from very far away. Even though you may be able to easily read it in the design tool.

Homework

Do your homework and pre-size your decal before starting your design. You can do this by cutting a piece of paper in roughly the size you were thinking about ordering. Tape this size up on the surface you intend to apply your decal to. If your surface happens to be a car window stand back from the window and review the size in question. You may also want to add text to the roughly cut shape to see how legible the text is.

decal sketch
Stay Inside the Lines

If you are using a product with a predefined shape stay inside that shape. Otherwise any part that goes outside the shape will be cut off and not be included. If you’re uploading your own graphic and attempting to have full coverage please allow for a full bleed in your design. A quarter inch is ideal for full bleeds. In other words you can have artwork fall outside the shape if desired but all elements outside of the shape will be cut off.If you’re not attempting to have a full bleed you should stay away from the edge of the products shape. Attempt to leave at least ¼” area between the edge of your product shape and artwork unless you use a full bleed. Some products like license plate frames will have a printable area that should be respected. We cannot currently print outside of the printable areas on license plate frames.

Design Tool Stay Inside Lines Results Example
Backup Plan

Can’t find what you’re looking for or can't seem to do it yourself through our design tool - you may need to hire a graphic designer. Sometimes what you have envisioned will only be possible through the help of a graphic designer. They will be able to create a file for you based on your needs. You can then upload that file through our design tools.

Custom Shapes

Looking for a custom shape we don’t currently offer? Email us. If reasonable we might be able to add a new shape to one of our categories that wasn’t already available. Vinyl decals can have just about any shape imaginable while static clings, car magnets, license plates and frames have strict limitations.

Viewing Distance

Text sight distance diagram will help give suggestions on text size. Ideal viewing distance and text size relationships are connected. At 50 feet you need at least 2” text to be legible. The font selection is based on a simple serif font like Arial. Serif, scripted or specialty fonts are not likely to follow the same font size to distance relationship. Distance may need to be reduced or size may need to increase for these types of fonts. Remember to keep it legible based on the ideal viewing distance. Sometimes you just need something to draw in viewer’s attention then the ideal viewing distance will be shortened. Without that initial attention grabbing thing people may never see the smaller text. To learn more about viewing distance or see larger example please see our size selection tips.

viewing distance diagram

Balanced Designs

Balance your design. Balance is important because without it your design will evoke feelings of uneasiness or tension. Balance can be as formal as symmetrical formation to something more casual through asymmetrical formation. Symmetrical balance is similar to what you see in a mirror. Your face is, for the most part, symmetrical. You have two eyes, two ears and one nose. If you were to draw a line down the center of your face you would have two equal halves. This method is very straight forward and doesn’t take rocket science to master. Asymmetrical balance is far more difficult. You can balance two elements without looking the same. Color, shape, size, darkness, placement and more all play a factor on asymmetrical balance. Some designers refer to a third form of balance called Radial symmetry. We like to think of it as balance through central perspective. With radial symmetry the focal point starts in the middle of the design and works its way outward.

Negative or White Space

Use negative space to your advantage (aka white space) Don’t be afraid of white space or negative space. These terms are largely synonymous in the design community. White space or negative space is a strong tool used for hierarchy and bringing attention to something more important. A good example of white space is like the following image. You can also think of white space or negative space like a near empty canvas with one or two small elements. The unused area is considered white space. Though many feel this area needs something else if you fill it with something it detracts from what you really wanted viewers to look at in the first place.

Font Selection

Text Weight

Thick fonts are easier to read at further distances. You may want to review the following diagram to learn more about viewing distances. We have found serif fonts with high contrast can be viewed easiest. A 2” font at 50 yards is a good starting point. You can divide or multiple by a factor of 2 to see what size your text needs to be in order to be legible from a predetermined distance.

Don’t be afraid of big bold text. Sometimes when someone gets started with a new design they limit themselves from creating something really dynamic because of content limitations. Sometimes the text itself can be artwork.