The Space Between

No matter what sort of document you’re planning to publish through MagCloud, it’s important to understand the role that white space plays in your design’s aesthetics.

White space, also known as negative space, is the unused space between text and graphic elements within a publication. It gives the eye a place to land and rest, and implies significance to the content you place on a page.  Some would argue that this empty space is as important as the text and graphic images of a page and that it can make, or break a design. So let’s explore why it’s so important.

Balance and Harmony in Print Design
White space is an integral element of design, as it enables a state of balance to exist between the design objects. It also plays an active role in the effectiveness of a layout; it can highlight important elements and support the overall hierarchy, leading the viewer around the page as the designer intended. The empty space on a page can be every bit as important as the space occupied by graphic elements, and thoughtful use of white space can give a page a timeless, tasteful, and professional appearance.

Check out this example below of a Small Business Brochure that has been reworked to better showcase their photography while still including valuable messaging.

Balance and Harmony in Print Design
Give your photos room to breathe. Highlighting photography doesn’t mean you have to fill a page edge-to-edge with your image. Leaving empty space near an image leaves room for the consumer to pause and use their imagination beyond the frame. The second layout has the same written content, and even had room for a 3rd photo.

De-clutter Your Page to Get Your Message Across
Clutter on a page is a lot like clutter in a room–it’s distracting and can overwhelm you, or in this case can overwhelm your reader. But when space is at a premium, white space is often abandoned in order to get as much information on the page as possible. It’s important to keep in mind that a page crammed full of text or graphics with very little white space runs the risk of seeming busy, cluttered and in turn difficult to read. It can also cheapen the overall image you are trying to portray.

Large blocks of text, with little breathing room, tire the eyes much more quickly than those that are adequately spaced with healthy kerning (spacing between characters) and leading (spacing between lines of text). A crowded layout runs the risk of being overlooked by readers simply because it puts strain on their eyes, and in turn, their patience.

With that in mind, when you are designing your next publication, keep in mind a goal of making the end viewing experience as easy and pleasant for your readers as possible. Just like you would tidy your house for guests, de-clutter your pages to make them inviting for your readers, helping them feel more relaxed and encouraging them to spend time lingering over your content.

Use White Space to Convey Your Message
Step away from the edge. Asymmetry and putting content on the margin, when done deliberately, can have a powerful effect on the reader, but when overdone, it can leave the reader feeling on edge. Text that gets too close to the edge of a page can leave the reader feeling like they are going to fall off the page. What’s worse? If you play it too close, content could get trimmed off during the binding process. In this example above, we re-worked the layout and narrowed the columns to make it easier to read.

Focus on the Negative, Just This Once
There aren’t many situations in life where focusing on the negative is a good thing, but when it comes to print design, you’ll find it can lead to positive results. Take a look through your favorite magazines to see which designs strike a chord with you more frequently. Chances are, you’ll notice a theme. You may start to notice that highlighting and separating text and graphics with white space imparts more value to content.

After you’ve explored other print designs with this focus on the negative space, be sure to revisit some of your own designs, we’re sure you’ll find ways to tidy up and balance your content with a little more breathing room.

Focus on the Negative
Which would you rather read? When dealing with text-heavy content, you don’t need to fill the page from margin to margin with tiny, single-column text. Take a step back and look at the page from afar. Does the content look digestible? Ask yourself “Would I want to read that?” Narrower columns are easier to read than wide ones that span an entire page. 

Get Inspired by Other MagCloud Publishers
For more great examples, check out these MagCloud publishers who really know how to use white space to their advantage:

Hacker Monthly
Snapixel Magazine

Think you have an exemplary use of white space in your MagCloud publication?
Share it in the comments section below!

Get The Most Out Of Your Images

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but if that picture is grainy or squished, it’s not going to be saying anything good. To help you include images that speak volumes in your next MagCloud publication, this installment of our Design Blog Series includes a short list of image DOs and DON’Ts:

DON’T use images copied off a website
Aside from the potential copyright issues associated with taking images off of websites, photos used on the web are almost always screen resolution, or 72 pixels per inch (ppi, or more commonly, dpi). This is roughly a quarter of the 300 pixels per inch that is the recommended resolution for printing. If you use an image less than 300 dpi in your MagCloud publication, you run the risk of getting a noticeably pixelated, or ‘fuzzy-looking’ image in the print copy.  The lower the resolution of your image, the more noticeable the pixelation will be, so a 72 dpi image off the internet will look very ‘fuzzy’ in print.

DO use images from your camera or stock photography websites
Images taken with a personal camera or purchased from a stock photography website like iStockphoto will generally be high enough resolution for printing.

An easy way to check if your images are high enough resolution for printing is to open your final PDF and zoom in to 350% on-screen. If an image still looks clear at 350% zoom, like the 300 dpi image on the below left, then this image will look great in your printed copy. If an image looks pixelated at 350%, like the 72 dpi image shown below right, then it will likely look pixelated in your print copy too.

300 dpi vs 72 dpi at 350% zoom

It’s also good to keep in mind that if you double the size of an image, the number of pixels per inch will drop by half. This is because doubling the size of an image doesn’t change the number of pixels in the image, it just increases the number of inches that the pixels have to fill. For example, if you have a 1” x 1” 300 dpi image, which is 300 pixels by 300 pixels, doubling it in size to 2” x 2” means that there are now 300 pixels for every 2 inches, making it a 150 dpi image.

DON’T squish or stretch your images
You have a rectangular photo, let’s say 4” x 6”, but you want it to be square in your MagCloud publication. Sound familiar? One solution would be to just squish or stretch the rectangular image into the square size you want, but here is the inevitable result:

Stretched/Squished Example

DO scale and crop your images
To avoid squishing and stretching the subjects of your photos, the better option is to use scaling and cropping to resize your images. Scaling your images maintains their aspect ratio (the ratio between the width and height of the image), keeping a rectangular image as a rectangle, then the image can be cropped (i.e trimmed) down to the size you want, like so:

Scale/Crop Example

In Adobe InDesign, QuarkXpress, Microsoft Publisher and Apple Pages, you can crop images by creating an image placeholder in the size you want, and then placing your image into the placeholder. These programs allow you to adjust the image independently of the placeholder, and the placeholder will “crop” the image in your final publication. In Microsoft Word and Microsoft Publisher, you can use the Crop Picture feature to manually crop the image itself down to the size that you want. Both methods will help you avoid stretching or squishing your subjects.

DON’T use images that are really dark with low contrast

Your computer screen is brightly back-lit, but unfortunately print publications are not. As a result, details that are dark or low contrast on screen may not be as visible in your printed copy. Overall, you can expect the print you receive to appear darker than what you see on screen, so it’s best to avoid using darker images or those with very low contrast to begin with. If you want to try lightening or increasing the contrast in your images in a photo editing software like Photoshop, check out these photo retouching tips and tricks.

DO embed your color profiles

To get the closest representation in your print copy as compared to what you see on screen, make sure that you embed the original color profiles of your images in the final PDF. We’ll dive more into detail on this next week in a post on color, but in the meantime check out our Getting Started page for downloadable instructions on how to do this in your design program of choice.

We would love to hear your favorite tricks for getting your images to standout. Please post them in the comments section below.

Design Blog Series

We realize designing a great looking publication can be time-consuming and a bit tricky so for the next month we’ll be doing a series of blog posts sharing some of the MagCloud team’s favorite design tips and resources.

These will range from guidance on how to create a MagCloud-ready PDF, to design do’s and don’ts, as well as the latest trends in fonts, color and content layout.

Tomorrow we’ll kick off the series with a post on how to work with trim size when creating a MagCloud-ready PDF.

Let us know in the comments section if there are any specific topics you would like us to include in the Design Blog Series.

Happy Designing!