PNGs and signage

Hi friends,

I am a designer-illustrator who somewhat reluctantly takes on print work—I just find digital to be much less of a hassle (and I adore animation).

I am creating some signage for a client, including 22x28" paper signs to be slotted into an A-frame. It’s a collaboration event between my client (a laundry detergent company) and a laundromat.

The laundromat supplied us with their logo as a 8kb PNG. In the design I created for the A-frame, their logo is going to be 10" wide. Because PNGs are raster-based (right??) we could potentially run into a little aliasing / blurriness on the sign, correct?

It’s one of those situations where we are never in a million years going to get a PDF or EPS logo file from the laundromat, and the sign is only going to be up for a day, so it’ll have to do. But in the future, in professional print design, can you work with small-file-sized PNGs for large signage?

See images, my illustrator file zoomed into 400%, laundromat’s logo in navy blue.


If you enlarge it, you’re going to get blurry edges, yes. Whether or not those less-than-sharp edges are objectionable enough to warrant not using them on a one-day sign at a laundromat is another thing to consider. It might not be perfect, but is perfect a necessary requirement given the circumstances?

PNGs (or any raster file) will blur when enlarged. It might be less noticeable when using a photo, but it will still be less sharp than the original. The more it’s enlarged, the blurrier the images will become.

A highway billboard only needs to appear sharp from the distance it will be seen (many feet/meters away), so the PPI resolution can be much lower. A brochure needs to look sharp at about 18 inches, which needs a higher PPI. Something like your need is in the middle since people will be reading it from several feet away.

An 8kB PNG is awfully small. It sounds like something pulled off a website. It’s not good for many things other than a website. Vector imagery is always better for typography and other hard-edged shapes.

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My reaction to client supplied art is thus:

GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out, and

“If you insist, sign here.”

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How hard would it be to do a clean vector? If more than you are being paid for the work, then not worth it. But the bit you showed, unless there is a mile of text is about 10 minutes work.

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That pixelated version doesn’t look too bad - display signage is viewed from further away than regular print so it should look good enough.

I personally get this all the time and my first instinct is to recreate it. In cases like this I have to persuade myself that it’s not necessary.

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I love getawayability.

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He said these were sliding into a-frames. You walk right up to those things.
I saw a poster the other day, about 24x36 in a slide in frame on a wall outside a dental office. A picture of the staff on it at about 20ppi. Looked like crap as you walked by it cuz it was right next to the door. Bet the designer said, “but it looks fine from the parking lot.”
Not impressed.

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Oh this is exactly the sort of thing I get all the time - lots of small companies have a “logo” that was built in Paint that they’ve been using for years. When they want to move to a more professional sign that’s what I have to work with.

First, a TLDR: small PNGs are not what you want to work with for signage. You’ll have to judge each case on it’s own merits to see whether the image is acceptable. If it’s not, there are ways to mitigate the issue, but the best results are going to come from having a vector - whether the client provides one, or you make a new one.

If you’ve got a clean, vector looking graphic like the one you’ve posted above, you can try using the “Image Trace” function in Illustrator to get come vector outlines quickly, which you can then use as a clipping mask if the color content is complicated, or just fill with colors if they’re solid, simple tones. This isn’t a “good” solution to a low-quality logo - the lines from Image Trace are almost always a little janky - but it is a quick one that can make a decent difference. If that quick-fix isn’t good enough, that’s usually when the explanation of “billable time” comes in.

Funnily enough, sometimes people find another, better file after you tell them that polishing a turd costs extra. Sometimes they find the space in their budget to turn the turd into something of quality. And sometimes they decide that they’re fine with a turd, and I die a little bit inside when I send it to print knowing that I could make it better if I just… - but we get paid and move on.

I’ll point up at Eriskay’s post, because I really like the line “If you insist, sign here.” Going to tuck that away in my internal lexicon…

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Thanks for everyone’s input! And thanks for confirming my suspicions about PNGs and high-quality large-ish prints.

I have a NEW question, and if I should be posting this somewhere else, let me know.

I am now in the process of sending the artwork to a couple of local print shops, as a PDF. Saved from Illustrator, the A-frame PDF is over 25 MB. Not a huge deal, but makes emailing it to print shops slightly more complicated because it has to be sent over google drive.

Sometimes I use the “reduce file size” command in Adobe Acrobat to make PDFs smaller to email clients, but this is usually to show progress, sketches or digital work, not to deliver print artwork. If I use that command on a PDF that will ultimately get printed, am I going to lose image quality?

For reference, Acrobat just transformed my 28 MB PDF into a 400KB PDF…it’s very email-attachable, but at what cost?

Yes - do not do this.

You will lose quality.
sending over Google Drive, Dropbox, WeTransfer, Hightail or any other medium is perfectly acceptable.

25mb is not exactly a large email - but some email clients do not allow it.

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My last job was for a sign/car wrap company. We had 3 laundry mat clients. They never give you the right art and never will. Just redraw it, don’t charge them and save yourself the headaches. Let them know you did it because you care about their look. That way when they send you another crappy logo for something (and they will) you can let them know that this time you will charge them OR use the crappy logo. :grinning:

I’ve used a service before that will vectorize a logo for a few dollars. If you’re interested in that, I can let you know who I’ve used and had good results with.

Why are you sending the full resolution PDF to multiple print shops?
And are you sure the sign shop printing these wants PDFs for hand off?
(hint: many want native files for a number of reasons)

If you are just looking for pricing, a screen shot showing look and dimensions and specifying substrate should be fine. Just note a production ready file will be sent on award of job.

Heading off into a bit of a tangent, I’ll sometimes get work for various events sponsored by a dozen or more organizations — all of them needing their logos printed on whatever it might be.

GIFs, PNGs, JPEGs compressed down to a blur, Windows Media files, things pulled from websites, gigantic 32-bit TIFFs, tiny 48x48-pixel favicons, MS Word files, cellphone photos of the signs in front of their buildings — everything but decent vector files.

It often takes more time to deal with this unnecessary mess than the entire rest of the job.

You seem to confuse business with charity.

If I had to do it, it’d only be it’s a client of long-standing mutually-beneficial association. Anything else would be extra-billing, upon consent. Paper trail goes without saying.

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When a file is too big to email I use a cloud service like DropBox or YouSendIt (there are others). These all offer a free service up to a limit which helps. You will be given a link to email out - easy for the recipient, they just click on the link. Security-conscious people might not want to do this but if they know what it’s for and that it’s from you there shouldn’t be a problem.

Dropbox and WeTransfer are pretty trusted standards for file transfer.
Yousendit (now HighTail or more recently OpenText) has a bit of a problem because it keeps changing names. It should stop doing that if it wants to be a trusted upload source.

There can be issues with some larger clients not wanting their proprietary assets floating around on public servers though. If you are working under NDA, be very sure of your client’s file transfer protocol and web restrictions. Some of them might surprise you.

Most printers vendors, on the other hand, will have a file transfer link on their website these days. That’ll usually put your file in a secure server. But like I said, if you are just requesting a quote, a screenshot with dimensions and substrate are pretty much all that is needed. We don’t want your production file until you are ready to go.

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WeTransfer Pro (not sure about free version) - you can set the expiry date and passwords when sending the files.

It’s very handy.

You can do that with yousendhightext too. Even in the free version, though not sure about password .

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