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Do I really need a rebrand?

It’s very difficult for a small business owner to be subjective about their own brand, particularly if it has never been thought out properly in the first place. Many brands have evolved from something that was only meant to last until ‘I can afford to get it done’.

Maybe you’ve made it through your first couple of difficult start-up years, you’ve established your target markets and secured some clients and now you’re thinking is my brand really working for me? Does it say who I am, what values I have and what I do?

An easy way for you to decide is ask yourself a few simple questions.

1. Has my company evolved and is my brand relevant to where I am now?
When you start a new venture, unless you plan well and have a clear picture in your mind of where you want to be, you can easily stray from the path you should take. Ask yourself: am I where I wanted to be when I started the business, has my company evolved in a different way and do I need to change my brand to reflect this?

2. Do my competitors have better ‘brand quality’ than me?
Now you understand a little more about your marketplace, does your brand make you stand out against your competitors or do you merge into a muddle of similar, nondescript services, each vying for attention but not one saying ‘I’m the one you need. Pick me!’.

Or maybe there is already a comparable rival with a better brand than you who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest purely because they have kept their brand in line with their business?

3. Does my logo work on my business cards and website?
Does your logo look out of place on your smart new website? When you are networking, do you feel a little embarrassed when you hand over your business card to someone (especially in comparison to your competitors)?

Do my bigger competitors have a better brand than me?
Compare your brand against bigger companies than you and ask yourself do I need a refresh to compete with them? They may have more resources, but by carefully picking a good designer, you can give the impression to your potential clients that your company is just as serious and professional as they are.

Who to choose for your rebrand
If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of the questions, it’s time to rebrand. This is not as expensive as you may think, but be careful of the larger agencies who have correspondingly large overheads which they have to pass on to you, the customer.

They sometimes view smaller businesses as a bit of an irritation and often pass your work onto a junior designer. In effect, you’re paying handsomely for the privilege of helping to train someone!

Therefore, for the best value for money, choose a smaller, experienced designer/agency who has been recommended to you personally and that you can trust to recreate your vision in an effective and stylish way.

Think of the potential loss of revenue this is costing you and having a profession brand refresh looks like great value for money.

For more information regarding my rebranding services, contact me today:

Phone: Carl Waine on 07870 566890
Email: fireflydesignservices@gmail.com

Framing artwork the easy way – 1

How do you frame your artwork if you have a limited budget but still want a professional look? Buying a standard sized frame and mount is the most cost-effective way approach and is a fraction of the price of a custom-made frame.

There are many ready-made frames available that will enable you to display the majority of the artwork you have; whether you look in the high street or the internet, you will find a huge range. I, and many artists, produce the majority of artwork for print runs to standard sizes so the client can pick their own frame yet still keep within a reasonable budget.

What should I look for?
For the front of the frame – the ‘glass’ – try and get high quality acrylic or actual glass – if it is safe to do so – as it will display the artwork much more attractively than a cheaper version would. I would recommend buying frames that include a ready-made mount as I think it adds a professional look and helps the artwork ‘breathe’.

The ‘mount’ is the card surround that actually frames the picture and the internal dimensions of the mount must be matched to the overall size of the image you want to frame.

Get your sizes right
Generally speaking, there are two systems in use for standard size frames and mounts: metric and imperial. The metric sizes use the ‘A’ series of sizes, each size being approximately 70% bigger or smaller than the previous one and these are usually referred to as A3, A4, A5 etc.

The imperial system uses standard size frames based on photograph dimensions: 7 inches by 5 inches, 9 inches by 7 inches etc. and are usually shown as 7″ x 5″, 9″ x 7″ etc.

The sizes refer to width first and then height, so a 7″ x 5″ frame is longer than it is tall or ‘landscape’, whereas a 5″ x 7″ frame, termed ‘portrait’, is taller than it is wide.

Standard SizesFrame and mount sizes

First of all, get your artwork – a print, original watercolour, pencil drawing, photograph etc.  – and measure the size that you will see in millimetres and inches until you arrive at a standard size that corresponds to the table above. This will be the internal size for the mount.

It is important to remember that you can ‘hide’ some of the image behind the mount card if you don’t want it including as long as it doesn’t detract from the overall look of the image.

After you have settled on a internal mount size, only then can you buy your frame. The internal sizing dictates only what you see; generally speaking, the outside of the mount will be one or two sizes bigger. For example, a picture that needs an internal mount A4 in size (297mm x 210mm) may well have an outside mount size of A3 (420mm x 297mm).

These sizes are usually stated on the display sheet that is inserted in the frame before you buy it, but if you are not sure, either ask a shop assistant to measure it for you or take a tape measure with you.

The next in the series: adding your artwork to your new frame.

Online copy: can you do it yourself?

Whether it’s world or local news, social media posts or text on a company blog page, the vast majority of reading and writing is now performed online. You can promote your own business by quickly seting up blogs and social media platforms, but do you have to you pay someone to do this or can you do it yourself?

You may think writing is only for talented, creative individuals who do it for a living, but this is far from true. Most small business owners can write decent copy providing they follow some basic guidelines. None of these are mandatory, but they provide a good foundation to help get your point across in a structured, professional manner.

Find out who you are writing for and grab their attention
First of all you need to establish your target audience. Is it a general interest piece aimed at a wide audience or focused on a specific sector and subject? Is your audience well informed or will you have to lead them carefully through the article and support their lack of knowledge?

With the vast amount of internet content available, web viewers are far from patient. Right at the start of the piece, give them a brief outline of what you want to say but try to capture their attention with some powerful, relevant points.

Business people, in particular, have little time to sift carefully through a piece, so don’t waste time and get to the point. Remember, if the first few sentences don’t interest them, you’ve probably lost them for good.

How should I write it?

  • First of all, keep it simple and make it easy for your audience to skim it, especially if businesses are your targeted readership.
  • Bullets and lists will help this, as well as pull-quotes highlighting certain points by using a distinctively different formatting style.
  • Make sure your chosen subject is something your audience will be interested in and, if possible, directly relates to your business.
  • Engage with the audience and write clearly in a way they understand but does not patronise.
  • Keep your paragraphs short, cut any unnecessary text and get to the point.
  • Your sentences should also be relatively brief or your audience will switch off before you get your point across.
  • External links should be kept to a minimum. They break up the flow and take the viewer away to another page; once there they are unlikely to return.

A picture speaks a thousand words
It is widely known that people often understand images far easier than words and supporting text with pictures helps in several ways. Images can capture the viewers attention, help explain complex subjects and add an extra level of care that helps the viewer ‘buy-in’ to the author’s copy.

For complicated subjects, infographics can really help as they display elaborate concepts in a simplified, logical manner. However, even quite simple images can keep the article alive and aid explanation.

However, if at all possible, don’t use standard, boring, stock images as this often gives a mass-produced, uncared for look. You are looking to convey a carefully crafted, thoughtful approach that reflects your business, so if you must use stock images, try and change them a little to fit better to your article (check the licensing conditions on your particular images before you do this or get advice from a graphic designer).

Create a structure
If you have hundreds of really good ideas rushing around in your head, fighting each other for prominence, structure is essential; it brings order to your writing. It may sound daunting, but it is actually quite simple to put into place. However, once created, you must stick to it.

After you have decided on your subject, the following list shows a work process that will help keep everything on track:

  1. Choose an eye-catching, relevant picture. Treat each article image almost as importantly as your home page imagery; it must reflect the content of your copy and not just be a random, irrelevant image.
  2. Create a thought-provoking first paragraph. This must capture the reader’s attention immediately so be brief; outline the article and get to the point within the first two sentences.
  3. Prioritise a list of your top ideas. Make a numbered list of importance, ranging from the most essential, important idea to relatively small, supporting facts and figures that help keep their attention.
  4. Fill in the main feature with supporting copy. Once you have established your ideas list, supplement the first idea’s title by using examples and supporting copy that will help the viewer understand your reasoning.
  5. Add images or pull-quotes. Additional imagery will help get the importance of certain aspects to your viewer, explain complex subjects and break up swathes of copy. An alternative to images is to use pull-quotes such as the example below, but don’t over do them:

    This is an example of a pull-quote. Use them to break up copy and give the viewer a place to rest but don’t add too many.

  6. Create continuity. Keep applying the above principles to all levels of your ideas as you go down the list; continue to add to each idea as you did the first, adding details and substance to each subject as you go down.
  7. Keep writing. Let the article gradually evolve until the list is complete. In effect, start using your top idea on the list and continue until you’ve completed your list.
  8. Finish with a conclusion. Viewers generally like to know that the article has finished –to stop them searching for the next page! – so to finish the piece with a definite conclusion. This is usually a short summary, with an invitation to read previous or future articles or to possibly contact you for more information.

To summarise

  • Use simple language and think of an interesting subject related to your business and that of your target audience;
  • Don’t forget to keep to the structure you’ve created;
  • Get to the point quickly and be consistent;
  • Use images and quotes to add interest;
  • Try it; you have nothing to lose!

If you need any more help regarding this or any other related subject, please contact Carl Waine at fireflydesignservices@gmail.com

 

Being Print-Aware: 3. Image Conscious

The third post in the series deals with file types and why you should create and use files in specific formats for certain tasks. As well as helping self-printers/designers, this article will hopefully help clients understand the limitations designers have to contend with when using differing file types and the restrictions these impose. 

Raster or Bit-map Images
When you take a photo on your phone or camera, the image resolution is often referred to as a certain number of megapixels and the more megapixels, the better the image quality (generally). For each image captured, there is a corresponding, finite number of pixels. This is a raster or bit-map image.

The image above, shows a typical raster image on the left and a simulation of the pixel grid (right), that also shows what would happen if the image had been enlarged from a smaller size (the image starts to break up).

These pixels – or dots – form images by arranging them in a grid. each one of which is ‘filled’ with a dot of a specific colour. When you’re looking at these images on your screen, these dots are referred to as pixels whereas in print they are still spoken of as dots (for more information, also see here).

Raster images are the most commonly used file type; they are used extensively by both web designers and photographers alike, and seen as pictures in books, magazines and other printed media everywhere.

Advantages:

  • They are used where a wide range of colours and gradients are required, often with subtle variations and a high level of detail
  • They offer more control when modifying in an editing program – such as Adobe Photoshop – because each pixel can be changed individually
  • They are ideal for most web images, photographs and images – including logos – that require a great deal of detail that is not possible in a vector file

Disadvantages:

  • They cannot enlarged without loss of picture quality
  • File size can be huge; very large images require powerful computers to edit them and they soon take up storage space
  • Layers sometimes have to merged to reduce the file size but the image then becomes more difficult to edit

Vector files
A vector image is formed in an entirely different way to a raster file. Rather than consisting of a finite number of pixels, a vector graphic uses a system of points, each of which has a definite position on something similar to a graph;  x and y axes co-ordinates that record positions and properties that can be specified, such as values for stroke and fill colours, thickness etc.

When a vector image is enlarged, the computer knows how to scale the co-ordinate positions, still fill with the colour specified, the stroke size etc., and creates a version where no quality is lost (see above image simulation).

With a raster image, the computer has to ‘guess’ how to make the image bigger; how to fill the ‘holes’ that enlarging creates usually leads to a loss in detail and quality.

Advantages:

  • Vector files can be enlarged infinitely, with no loss in quality.  This is particularly important in logos which may be used on a website to the size of a lorry or bigger.
  • Everything contained within a vector file is ‘recorded’ mathematically, so the file size is (usually) low, certainly when compared to a corresponding raster image
  • Extra layers created in a vector file can be kept rather than merged, retaining their editability.

Disadvantages:

  • They do not have the same range of customisable, special effects and features that raster files have (realistic dropped shadows, photo-realistic effects etc.) and though these can be simulated, they take a great deal longer to reproduce as a vector
  • They tend to be more used for images that incorporate restricted detail (more simplified, ‘poster’ effects) and not photographs that include detail or subtle shading

So which should you chose; raster or vector?
Generally, raster images should be used when you require an image to have a high level of detail – such as a photograph – and you’re either convinced it won’t be enlarged greatly and will accept the loss in quality if it is.

Vector images, however, should be used for graphics that require very much less detail – usually logos – that may need to be enlarged at some point, but need to retain their quality and clarity.

The vast majority of our logos, for instance, are generated as vector graphics so the client has the flexibility to use them as they need. We can still include a high level of detail within a vector file (see below) but this is quite a specialised process, so seek the help of a designer, especially if you’re looking for a high level of detail but in a vector format.

 

Finally, if you plan on creating a vector image yourself – and don’t have the necessary expertise to produce a highly detailed version – the design of the finished image needs to be kept as simple as possible.

For any more information on anything print or design related, please email us at fireflydesignservices@gmail.com or using the comments box below.

 

 

 

Being Print-Aware: 2. Talking About Resolution

This is the second in our series of posts to help small businesses and self-printers who would like to understand how to avoid the common, everyday issues that face designers and printers when preparing files for print. 

You have a bit of a problem. Your business cards have returned from your printer and the logos look very blurred, even though they looked fine on your computer monitor before you sent it to print. Your checked your colour was set up correctly (see here) so what’s happened? File corruption? Have your printers messed up somehow?

The chances are that you – or your designer – have created your file at an incorrect resolution for print, or designed a logo specifically for the web that isn’t suitable for printing commercially.

So how do you fix it? Is there some sort of magic reformat/resample button to make it bigger? Do you tell your printer they have got it wrong and get them to change it?

First of all, don’t think you can just resample the image – make it bigger using your image creation program – or drag it out bigger on the page, because this will still cause quality issues (such as the blurring on the right ‘Logo’ image above).

In addition, any decent commercial printer will usually prepare the artwork correctly but they can only work with what they are supplied. The blame usually, therefore, lies with the client/designer.

Therefore, it’s up to you to make sure that the file supplied is of sufficient quality to be printed before your send it to print. Although this example is a purely a print issue, it’s useful to be able to understand both web and print requirements.

It’s all about dpi (or ppi!)
The issue is likely to be low resolution. Before we start discussing actual numbers, resolution is referred to by the terms dpi (dots per inch) and ppi (pixels per inch). Both are fairly similar in real-life, and for the purpose of this piece, can be viewed as interchangeable.

dpi – is generally used for printed images while ppi refers to the ‘screen dots’ – or pixels – that you will see if you look very closely at a computer monitor or television screen.

Let’s look at resolution from a web perspective first.

What resolution figure should I use for my web logo and images?
Historically, 72ppi has been used to refer to web images and is derived from early monitor resolutions that were generally 72ppi (it is more complicated than that, but we’ll leave that for another post!).

However, today’s high resolution monitors – such as Apple’s Retina displays – make this figure pretty much obsolete, and though it can be used as a rough guide, it’s best to be as accurate as you can.

How do I know what my web designer needs?
The short answer is: ask them. A good print or web designer should be able to do all of this resizing for you as part of their services but, as some do charge extra, charge by the hour etc., you may decide to source the images yourself to save yourself some money (Firefly Design Services think this should be done by ourselves – not the clients – as we can do it quickly and efficiently, and we rarely charge  unless it is a large number of images).

You really should be working with the pixel size that your web designer/developer needs (referred to as pixels or px). Think of the computer monitor as a being made up of a grid of dots and within that grid, there will be parts of it on your website that need filling with images and text. Your web designer should be able to tell you what they want in these sections as a size in pixels (for example, an image of 300px wide x 200px high to fill a space of that number of ‘dots’).

Please note: If you’re doing your website yourself, say, on a Wix or WordPress template, when you upload the image it should resize it automatically (although sometimes this can generate large storage sizes that may soon exceed your hosting plan!).

Ideally, you will also have an application like Adobe Photoshop, and save the file by going to the ‘Save for Web…’ option. Photoshop will then format it to be ‘web-optimised’, which is basically creating a version tailor-made for the web.

So what does my printer need?
Your printer needs a version of your logo that will initially have been set-up at the finished, physical size as a minimum of 288dpi to 300dpi. It is rarely effective to use a logo that has been taken directly from the web and resampled in an image program from say, 72ppi, to 300dpi as ‘artificially’ making the logo bigger from a small size usually makes it blurred.

Why is is it so high for print?
To keep things (relatively!) simple, if you use the old guide we discussed of 72ppi as a basis for the web, if you have a 288px x 144px image, it would roughly occupy a 4 inch x 2 inch space (approx. 10cm x 5cm) on a 72ppi screen. However, if it were then to be resized to a 288dpi file for print, it would only occupy a printed size of 1 inch x 0.5 inches (2.5cm x 1.3cm).

As you can see from the figure below, if you first design at 72dpi, then convert it to 288dpi, it vastly reduces the print size.

This is because if you relate it to a ‘dot’ system for printing it is much finer – more dots per inch– than that on even the highest resolution screens.

If you remember that roughly speaking, a web image you see at full size on a screen will reduce to a quarter of the size in print. This is quite a simplistic way of viewing it – screens are now generally much higher in resolution – but it will serve as a good guide.

Start the right way
So, how do you resolve this issue? Ideally, you stop the issue at source. When either you or your designer start to create your logo and you think there is a chance you might print it, design it for print first and reformat/resample it down as necessary.

If you have had a logo designed and it’s not good enough for print – and don’t have the skills or software to recreate it at a higher resolution – contact a designer who can sort it for you. We find that this sort of ‘redraw’ service is very popular for clients who have used a designer who isn’t aware of the print requirements (currently, many designers are very knowledgeable of web but not as print-aware. We know each discipline well and always design our logos to be equally suitable for both).

Whenever possible, get your logo designed as a vector, which is an infinitely scalable file (it does not lose quality whether recreated for the web or printed on the side of a lorry!).

A good designer will usually give you a range of logos in different formats, including a vector file (all of our logos whenever possible are designed in vector format, and also supplied in a full range of web-friendly files, too).

We’ll come onto vectors and file formats in a later post, but if there is anything you need to know in the meantime, please email us at fireflydesignservices@gmail.com or using the comments box below.