Design Basics: 12 helpful tips for novice designers

Posted on August 23rd, 2021 | Tags: Design, Graphics, Paper Size, Printing

We offer a full design service here at Copy Express, your’s truly being one of the designers, but in the true kiwi tradition of ‘giving a go’ a lot of people like to try their hand at designing things by themselves. For those novice designers, this article is for you; a quick guide to help you avoid the common mistakes that every learner makes.

Use our integrated design studio

If you are reading this blog article then you’re already on the Copy Express website. Part of this website’s system is an integrated desktop publishing software. It’s set up already for designing print ready files for our most common products (and the range is being added to all the time.) Just select a product, scroll to the bottom of the screen, click on the custom design button, and you’ll be taken to the design studio. Depending on the product we also have a large range of ready made templates to which you can choose from as a starting point for your design, and they are all free.

Use templates for your program of choice

Don’t want to use our design studio software, that’s alright. We also have a range of templates you can download instead. You can also download a range of templates from the internet too from various sources (far too many to list here.) Many computer applications come with a selection of ready made templates for use. There are a few things you need to be aware of before you grab that template. Make sure they are designed for your software, or have a version for your software. Many templates aren’t designed for NZ standard size (most often are configured for the US formats of paper.) If the templates are from a commercial stock image supplier or online design service, you will have to buy the print ready version to use and many come with limits of where you can use them or how many prints you can make before you have to relicense them again.

You want to use a US size template for your design?

Depending on the work being printed we will confirm with you if you want to use a non metric size for your printing before we start. This is because certain sizes found in US templates don’t work within our standard printing sizes. For example half US Letter is 140mm x 215mm in size making it taller and thinner than A5’s 148mm x 210mm. Depending on the size of your template we can: print at that size but not fit as many on the printing sheet so we have to charge you more per flyer, or scale it down to fit within the metric size and trim off the unprinted parts. If you’re unsure contact us first and we can work with you to find the best solution.

Common Paper sizes

Here’s the quick table of the common paper sizes and what you will need to put in your computer if your preferred program doesn’t list the size.

Use ForSizeCompared to an A4 Long Edge in CMShort Edge in CM
Business CardNZ1/1095.5
Small FlyerA61/414.810.5
Small FlyerDL1/3219.9
Large FlyerA51/22114.8
Flyer / PosterA4129.714.8

Want to add bleed to any printed item?

Just add 0.5 cm to each measurement of your page and set your margins to 0.8 cm on every side and you will have a document with 0.25cm bleed all sides and everything important 0.5cm from the edges of the finished document. All you have to do then is stretch out what you want as the background to fill the new page so none of the blank page shows. For example, to make an A6 flyer, set your page size to 11cm ×15.3cm with 0.8cm margins, send that pdf to us and we will give you back the perfect A6 flyer.

Accidentally used slide show or photo sizes for your designs instead of metric standard sizes?

Not a problem, we can just scale it to fit the nearest standard paper size. Modern slideshow templates are made for 16×9 widescreen tvs, the older ones are formatted 4×3 tube style tv. Most photos are a 3:2 ratio. So how do we make it work? If you want your printing the same sort of size as an A5 flyer that’s 21cm x 14.8cm, a 16×9 widescreen file will print at 21cm x 11.8cm, 4×3 slide will be printed as 19.7cm x 14.8cm, and a 6×4” photo scales to 21cm x 14cm.

Common font sizes

Setting standard sizes when it comes to type can be a bit of a challenge, as what works for one font family won’t for another. There are a few common rules that seem to work with every font to give a good look.

  • 7-9 point: Best kept for minor details as many people have trouble reading type that small
  • 10-14 point: Great for general text, especially where you need to be easy to read, like contact details or long blocks of text.
  • 16-20 point: For important information you need to stand out. Use it for chapter / section headings or key selling points of a product.
  • 24 point or larger: This is a really big type so save for headline stuff where you want to shout things out to grab people’s attention.

How to get the best images for printing off the internet

If you want to use an image from the internet in your design you need the biggest one you can find to make sure you get the best looking print. If you are using the image search in Google, click on the search tool button and where it says ‘size’ click on it and select large. Using Bing’s image search, where it says ‘size’ click on it and choose ‘extra large’. When using stock photo / image sites, go for the largest you can find, the commercial ones will say how large the image can be printed as part of the sizing. A better way to get the best images for print is going to the various image sites. There are both plenty of free and paid sites that will not always supply you with much higher quality images, but you have the licence to use it, which you might not if you just grab them out of the search engine results.

How big can you print an internet image and have it still look good

While there’s a bit of art to figure out how big you can make an internet image, we do have a basic rule of thumb that can help. If you want the image to be passable, divide the number of horizontal and vertical pixels by 8 to give you how many millimetres it will be. Take the same image and divide each side by 12 and that’s how large it can be for photo quality.

An image 1920 x 1080pixels in size:

  • 1920 ÷ 8  = 240mm  & 1080 ÷ 8 = 135mm ⇒ 24cm x 13.5cm in size at passable quality
  • 1920 ÷ 12  = 160mm  & 1080 ÷ 8 = 90mm ⇒ 16cm x 9cm in size at photo quality

Formatting shortcuts for text

Don’t use spaces to align text, use the tab key [Tab ⭾] to insert extra spaces. Tabs automatically line up items on every line to the same point no matter how many characters are in each block of text. Another way is to use tables, just like one I used to set up the paper guide. Use [⇧ Shift] + [↵ Enter/Return] together to start on a new line but keep it with the previous one so they are part of the same paragraph. Need to put text on a new page, don’t just keep adding more lines as most programs let you use [Control] + [↵ Enter] to start on a new page. Need newspaper style columns but your application doesn’t support text columns. Use a table of one row and as many columns as you need, and insert text and images inside the cells.

Setting up documents with more than one page or side

Wanting to do a double sided or multi page document like a book or folded leaflet. Let us worry about how to set everything up, just create every page or side in the order you want it to be read. Do not try and lay it out in what you think the page spreads are going to be as the systems we use handle that automatically and can allow for the special factors that can affect how your book looks when we print them.

Making a folding document

If you want to create a brochure that’s a sheet folded in half or thirds there are three ways to go about it. First way is to make a document that is several pages setup at the folded size. For example to make A5 folded to A6 you can set up four A6 pages and put the content in reading order. To make an A4 folded in to DL, you’ll need six DLs (99x210mm). If you want to spread content across the folds most design programs have the ability to add rulers or guides, what you need to do is not just put the rulers where the folds are but add internal margins to match the outer ones. So if you are making the A5 folding to A6 with a 5mm outer margin then the center margin must be twice the size of the outer margin or 10mm so it looks even when folded. The third option is to use text columns. Text columns allow you to set their width and gaps between them. Divide the page up with the number of columns that match the number of pages when folded, and the gaps between are twice the size of the outer margins for a balanced look. For A4 folded into DL, with an outer margin of 5mm you set a text block that has columns with the width of 89mm and gaps between 10mm.

This is just a starting point to help you, the novice designer, get going and avoid the common issues that can trip you up. If you still have problems, there are more articles on this website that cover specific issues and how to deal with them, or explain a particular style of printed product in more detail. Also you can rely on us to help you out if you have problems, we are just a phone call or email away. In the end if you do find it all too much, you can pass the job on to us and we can do the little finishing touches that make it work at a low cost to you. That’s what Copy Express is all about, your partner for printing and marketing who is there to give you the help you need only when you need it.