Large Format Advertisements

As the world continues to move forward towards digital, print is still king in many forms. From quick service restaurants and consumer packaged goods, to retailers at big box stores, large format printing is the avenue in which many brands seek to capture the attention of their consumers.

When working on a large format project, the very first thing to consider is the viewing distance. In a visually communicated world, impressions are highly important and therefore you should you understand the intended viewing distance you hope to achieve in your ads.

It is in the eyes of the beholder

The way our eyes work plays a very important role when it comes to viewing distances from afar. Without getting into the intricate details of how the optics in our eyes work, let’s simplify this.

Our eyes are unable to distinguish detail when viewing objects at a greater distance. Detail is lost because, as our angle of vision to that object becomes narrower, our eyes simply clump the details together and fill in the blanks. Large format printing therefore exploits this effect in order to achieve the clarity we see in large advertisements.

Let’s take a look at some real world examples. See Apple’s World Gallery campaign which all of the curated photos were shot by an iphone 6.

Asides from the excellent photography skills, you would normally attribute a phone camera to be only good enough for social media or personal use, but never would you think it’s good enough for massive billboards. What this demonstrates isn’t that professional photographers are overpaying for their equipment when they can shoot with an iphone 6. Instead, what it does demonstrate is the importance of viewing distance relative to the size of the advertisement. If you were to get an up close look of these billboards you would notice that it’s actually quite blurry and not the sharp image that you saw from afar.

Why is this important?

We often get the question of “what resolution should my creative artwork be?” and as a rule of thumb, we suggest a bare minimum that files should contain 300 dpi (dots per inch). However, more is not always better. The eye can only discern so much depending on the viewing distance and there reaches a level of indistinguishability when the dpi exceeds 400 dpi.

But I can see the dots on my screen!

Exceeding 400 dpi will have a drastically larger file size that carries a significant diminishing return in which most people cannot see. Especially if we’re trying to print a large graphic (think wall graphic, semi trailer fleet graphics, or billboards). Large files also make it almost impossible to work with when it comes to production trying to RIP it and thus it’s imperative to understand from the very beginning what the viewing distance is.

Here’s a chart that gives you a brief outline of some of the most common items, and the viewing distance that you can discern a noticeable difference under ideal conditions:

Item Size Viewing Distance Resolution (dpi)
Postcard 4″ x 6″ 8″ 859
Letter 8.5″ x 11″ 14″ 491
Poster 36″ x 48″ 60″ (5ft) 114
Transit Bus Shelter Ad 47″ x 68″ 82″ (7ft) 83
Billboard 588″ x 168″ 661″ (51ft) 11.2
Semi Trailer 576″ x 120″ 588″ (49ft) 11.7


Need help?

When in doubt, be sure to ask your printer what they think would be best and if necessary ask for a 100% sample of the image to ensure you get the clarity desired. If you’re uncertain about any aspect for your next large format piece, send us an email and we’ll gladly give you a helping hand.