Billboard Critique


We have been working through designing a variety of different billboards for our business. We are trying to decide definitively on a color scheme and style to have across all the billboards. For you guys that have done work like this before, what works? Should we be contrasting text and the background and going for something bold and flashy? Have the text being more subtle and really make the image pop? Any thoughts, ideas, considerations, and criticisms are appreciated.

The main things we are trying to advertise is our Chuckwagon Supper and Show, and our Pancake Breakfast. Everyone likes the pancakes billboard so far, but we are having some disagreements over the color choices. Thanks!

The pancake photography is great.

Should it be “ALL YOU CAN EAT PANCAKES 99c” ?

I’m not sure about the colour schemes, is there an existing branding or are you designing this now? I think the blue is nicer on the eye but the yellow is louder. Louder can be better for billboards that cars are driving past quickly.

I like the tripadvisor #1 Rated bit, but the tripadvisor logo under the phone number in the last design is a bit weird (looks like the phone number is for tripadvisor.

1 Like

Have you scoped out the billboard locations to see what else is going on in the vicinity?
For instance, your light blue billboard, is it going to get lost against the sky or is it against a fairly dark, dense backdrop. If against the sky your lettering will be lost.

How long did it take you to read this sentence?
^That is how much time you have to get your point across to someone 100 feet away going 60mph.
Do you need a phone number at all? Is your hierarchy going to get your main info read (like the name of the place?) Trip advisor is nice, but with 10 seconds, you might want to save it for the website.

Do you pay 99¢ and get all the pancakes you want to eat? Or do you pay 99¢ for EACH PANCAKE you want to eat? Makes a huge difference.

If you just emphasize the pancakes and not the text, I’m going to assume I should go to the nearest IHOP.

That bright yellow and vibrant red-blue are going to be difficult to print. The yellow in CMYK printing is not all that vibrant and anything approaching Reflex Blue doesn’t exist. These look like they were designed in RGB.
The light blue is apt to head band.
Be sure to get a proof.

Do not forget your bleeds and safeties.
Your text left and right are very close to the wrap. Printing billboard sized things is not an exact science. The print could be inches longer or shorter in the feed direction (which in this case is the width.) Be sure you are following the billboard company’s template exactly.

1 Like

Great questions.

@Buda We don’t have a definitive, universal set of colors for the brand. The website has a similar blue and orange theme, but then our brochures are a strange purple color. The bright yellow has been used in the past (see below) I understand what you mean about the phone number. We have two different designers working on this project currently, first three being from one, last one being from the other. The person who has the final say in the matter is really leaning towards that bright yellow and black for visibility. Personally, I think it’s a bit overpowering.

@PrintDriver We own all our own billboards, and they are in all sorts of different places. Some are against the sky, others on the sides of buildings. You pay .99 cents for all the pancakes you can eat. We don’t absolutely need a phone number up there, but we are also more popular with the older generations. The whole idea with TripAdvisor was to catch their eye (the traveling public) with a logo they were familiar with, and to have the name closeby so they could look it up. These were designed in RGB. What do you mean by head band? We are in an initial design phase, and have not consulted with the printing company and their template. We have the aspect ratios close to what they are, and are just trying to figure out the right theme/colors first. These would be printed on vinyl flexfaces. Here are some of the potential locations. We would putting these initial designs on the larger, double-billboards. How would you emphasize the text, or otherwise improve the coloring/design?

I was in the Black Hills last fall. We stayed in Rapid City, and I remember driving by on that stretch of highway. So as I understand it, these billboards are primarily for people like me: hungry tourists driving up Highway 16 on the way to visit Mount Rushmore.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember your billboards, but a big stack of pancakes with syrup might have caught my attention. What I do remember is a sign for Reptile Gardens.

Anyway, these people you’re trying to attract are cruising down the highway, and you’ve got, what, three seconds to communicate a convincing and mouthwatering message. The big stack of delicious-looking pancakes take about one second of well-spent time, and now you have two seconds left before they get distracted by driving and signs about snakes and lizards. In other words, keep the text large and keep it bare-bones simple.

It’s unlikely anyone will remember the phone number, and even if they do, they’ve passed the turn off before they can call. Same with the web address. And why do you need to spell out pancakes? You already have a huge stack of them. Why do you need to say “All you can eat?” The stack is more than anyone could eat anyway.

If it were me, I’d keep it totally simple: the stack of pancakes, a big 99¢, the words “3 miles ahead” and the name of your restaurant. That’s it. That’s all you really need.

But… You have a whole collection of billboards of different sizes and placements along the highway, which provides a strategic opportunity. The first sign(s) could whet people’s appetites with the big pancake photo, and the subsequent signs could reel them in now that their mouths are watering by providing just a bit more information on where to get those pancakes.

You need to think through this sequence of billboards in a strategic way and from the viewpoint of your target audience. The signs need the same color scheme, the same typeface, the same general layout and mostly the same imagery. If they’re all different, like they currently are, you lose the opportunity to build a sequence of recognition from one billboard to the next. In other words, each billboard should build upon the one that came before it by being instantly recognizable and supporting the same message.

As for colors, there’s a reason why so many fast food places use reds, yellows, oranges and browns. First, bright colors demand attention. Second, there’s something about those colors that seem appetizing in ways that, say, blue is not.


Mr-B and Buda covered this so well…

Aren’t billboards usually horizontal?

Also, I strongly advise you to loop in the printer now, rather than later.

1 Like

If you’re referring to my comment re: feed direction and horizontal, not all billboards are horizontal, but more importantly the feed direction is where all or most of your fitting error will come in. That is the direction the media is going through the machine. The machine may be a 3 or 5 meter machine in width, but can feed up to about 135’ in length. There is heat involved, either pre-heat and or dryer heat, or maybe UV lamps of some kind, plus there is the tension weight of the rolls.

If you have a set width of say 240" of billboard and have your text all the way out the the edges of that 240", there is always the chance the print will run long by inches and your text will get clipped.

Head banding is striping in the print. Light blues are notorious for head banding. This isn’t the same as gradient banding as no gradient is involved, but it looks similar. It just happens sometimes with large blocks of a solid color when digital printing.

Does your printer want these in RGB? While a printer may ask for you to keep your imagery in RGB if that is where it started, they usually want the file set up in a CMYK color space.

On the imagery, once you convert and save an RGB image to CMYK, the larger gamut color information of the RGB image is lost forever. You won’t get it back by reconverting a CMYK image back to RGB. A printer may want to convert your imagery to their custom machine profile to give you a better image, and the RGB image has more color information to start with, making a better profile conversion.

On the solid colors however, the machine is still printing in CMYK. It cannot handle more than maybe 50% to 75% of the RGB color gamut (depending on which RGB gamut you are working in,) So your dark red-blues may shift purple. Your grays may shift green or magenta, your vibrant colors become muted. In your designs, your yellow and dark blue colors immediately screamed RGB. Those are not going to be reproducible in CMYK. Starting your color decisions in an unrealistic color gamut will only lead to troubles down the road when those colors can’t be realized.

1 Like

From a purely aesthetic point of view – which in no way negates all the real world advice that’s already been outlined on this thread – the one with the image of the pancakes and syrup works best. It’s a good photo and immediately conveys the message that this billboard is about where you can get food. For that, I also think the light blue background works better than the yellow one because it makes the pancakes stand out more.

1 Like

Pancakes and syrup need butter!

(IMO anyway. LOL.)

1 Like

@Mr-B That is exactly what we are trying to do! I am not surprised you didn’t remember the billboards as they have needed to be replaced for quite some time. I definitely understand the need for even fewer words. Our whole idea is to build that color scheme and to have that brand recognition, but no one can decide definitively on colors.

@DocPixel We will do that, and hopefully it’ll help with some of the colors/design issues.

@PrintDriver Thank you again for all the great feedback. The designs will be adjusted according to where we might lose some of the lettering, and I’ll make sure to have some extra space all around. Headbanding - gotcha. Is this someplace where we should throw in a gradient to break up that solid mass? Thank you for the lesson in CMYK - once again, will consult with the printer as to what is possible or what color format they need/use. How do other companies around us get those bright bold yellows and blues in CMYK, or do these other companies have different printer capabilities?

@schweta Those were my thoughts exactly. The pancakes contrast the blue background much nicer. Once I started working with pictures, I figured that it was equally important to have the pictures contrast with the background colors as well as the text.

To all:

What colors are going to work best in the case of these billboards? I plan to reduce some text and unnecessary little items to make it a faster read. It doesn’t matter either way - needs to be appealing yet visible. The idea with blue was to be a little more subtle, relaxed, an inviting (also matches the website), and the idea with yellow was to be bold, obvious, and attention grabbing. Old school says yellow and black, but all other modern billboards are different colors around our area.

The colors should generally be based on the target market. In this case, yellow and red are often associated with restaurants and food, so those are pretty safe.

You want high readability because you only have those 3 seconds reading time. So I think high contrast, maybe dark, dark red text on a lighter yellow.

Mr-B is absolutely correct;
“the stack of pancakes, a big 99¢, the words “3 miles ahead” and the name of your restaurant. That’s it. That’s all you really need.”

1 Like

If you have a good color printer, print out copies of what you have. Pin them on the wall, walk to the other side of the room and look back at them. This is about the size they will appear to be for someone driving down the highway. Imagine yourself as a hungry driver speeding past at 60mph, then judge for yourself which communicates your message most effectively.

If I were you, though, I’d consider a friendlier, more inviting, more tightly spaced typeface — maybe Myriad Pro Heavy lowercase. I’d also consider bleeding the pancakes off the left side of the billboard to create a little tension — as in they’re so big they can’t even fit on the billboard. I’d also consider a warm, friendly dark reddish background, like below.


A qualified “no.” Adobe algorithms for gradients are meant to be used on a magazine sized page, not a billboard. But the qualification on the “no” is that there are workarounds in Photoshop that often work on gradients to smooth them out. Nothing steps more than a white to light blue gradient, and you are likely to get a nice pink band somewhere around 25% from the zero point, if the blue contains any sort of magenta.

How do other companies around us get those bright bold yellows and blues in CMYK,

Choose wisely. I noted your colors jumped out at me because they are RGB builds. You can still do a “saturated yellow” or “bright blue” but you have to work within the constraints of the CMYK system. The yellow may have to be balanced with a bit of magenta and the blue may be more on the cyan side rather than the magenta. A lot of people spec their solid colors as Pantone Coated colors if they want something specific (understanding there are some colors out of CMYK gamut as well,) and work with their printer to make sure it’s reproducible. For instance, McDonalds Yellow and Hewlitt Packard Blue have specific Pantone Coated callouts.

Alright - with all the helpful advice, I’ve come up with a few more options. Went ahead and made it all simpler, and came up with three high-vis options. Thanks for all the help so far guys - looking forward to some great insight and learning something else new!

Middle one.

One more for consideration:

I think either the yellow or red one will work, but I’d lean toward the red one. I would avoid black.

I’m going to say yellow.
Moving the pancakes is working really well too.

Thanks everyone for all the great feedback. We are most likely going to go with whatever bright yellow our printing guy can print. Would it make sense to throw a border around the pancakes to make them stand out a little more from the background, or just leave them looking as is? Thinking back on what @PrintDriver said about gradients getting printed - was thinking of a thicker border and fading it out into the background, and not sure if that would work large scale.

The new ones look great and certainly an “eye catcher” and easy to read.
About the border, IMO no way would I add a border to a great image.

©2019 Graphic Design Forum | Contact | Legal | Twitter | Facebook