Knowing the difference between large format vs. small format printing gives you the edge in visual branding and marketing strategies. Each of these printing formats offers advantages and disadvantages. The more you learn and understand about each one, the more informed conversations you will have with your Bay Area printer of choice.
Ultimately, the goal is to create engaging and visually pleasing prints, signs, or products that capture the attention of your target audience.
What’s the Difference Between Large and Small Format?
First, let’s compare the basics:
Large format printing is typically 18-inches wide or wider, and the products can be up to 100” wide – just over 8-feet. Anything larger than that, such as a billboard, and the prints are considered super wide or “grand format.” To create prints that larger, printers require specialized print machines and materials. As a result, a large-format project will almost always cost more than its smaller format counterpart.
Small format prints can encompass anything from a small postcard and standard letter-sized paper up to larger, ledger, or poster-sized paper or materials. While many small format projects can be accomplished on a high-quality home printer, others still require professional printing equipment that accommodates larger paper sizes or a variety of printing media.
Examples of Large Format Printing Products
The process for large format printing is much different than smaller formats, largely due to the different machines required to get the job done. Historically, large format printing was done using lithography and screen printing, and these techniques continue to be used in the 21st century. These methods yield the clearest and highest-quality prints, but the longer setup time and processing required can make them a more expensive endeavor for smaller quantity projects. That said, once you get over a certain threshold, lithographic/screen printing methods are actually more affordable than digital printing options.
Many of the large format printing processes today are completed using digital printing technology, using commercial printers that are much too costly and space consumptive for DIY print jobs.
Here are examples of the most common versions of large format prints.
Vinyl banners are some of the most common types of large format prints. Used as temporary signage, to announce a sale or promotion, or to draw attention to a new product or service, vinyl banners work great both indoors and outdoors, in all seasons, and can be rolled up and stored for annual and seasonal events. Click Here to read more about using banners to support your business.
While vinyl is the most common material used for banners, printers can also create banners using cloth, mesh vinyl, or other flexible materials. Standard banner sizes are:
- 6’ w x 3’ h
- 5’ w x 3’ h
- 4’ w x 2’ h
You can hang banners from the ceiling or walls of your business, between two posts, from the existing poles or posts on your streetscape (HOA-, business park- or town/city regulations permitting), across a street or alleyway, or attached to a fence line.
Rapidly becoming the most prominent versions of large format printing products, vehicle wraps are one of the smartest ways to advertise your business 24-hours a day, and throughout your target-geographical markets. High-quality vehicle wraps require virtually zero maintenance and utilize your company’s colors, logo(s), and contact information. They can be applied to small Smart cars or a fleet of full-size vans, trucks, and semi-trailers.
Many small business owners use partial wraps and offer employees a “rental” payment if they’re willing to apply them to personal vehicles – a win-win for both entities. Read Car Wrap vs. Paint to learn more about high-definition car wraps and how this large format print option can boost business all day – every day.
Corrugated plastic (yard) signs
Often seen staked in lawns or empty lots, corrugated plastic signs are smaller members of the large format print family. Measuring 24” wide by 18” corrugated plastic signs are one of the most prolific examples of large format prints, promoting everything from political agendas, real estate offerings, or the property owner’s security alarm company. They are 4mm thick, lightweight but durable, and can be easily pushed into a lawn or planter bed using small wire stakes, mounted along the backside of the sign.
A-frames (sandwich boards)
Operating like mini-banners of a sort, A-frame or sandwich board signs are a great way to advertise current, timely promotions, new hours, seasonal info, or the daily menu. Most often they are set out on the storefront sidewalk sidewalks during business hours and then taken in again at the day’s end. Sandwich boards can also be used for temporary directional signage or specific parking instructions. Standard A-frames are 24” w by 36” h.
Rigid signage can be printed on virtually any hard material, including wood, aluminum, plastic, and acrylic. They are light and extremely durable which means they remain aesthetically pleasing for longer durations. Rigid signs can be mounted directly on a storefront or building. They’re also mounted on poles along streets or property lines or used on interior walls for directional signage. Rigid signs are most often found in one of the following sizes:
- 24”w X 18” h
- 60”w X 36”h
- 18”w X 18”h
- 24”w X 24”h
Window graphics are another wise option for businesses. They take your blank, transparent window spaces and add color, style, and marketing opportunities galore. If you rent space in a typical strip mall or business park, window graphics help to dress up a plain Jane commercial building. Your window graphics can also be designed to provide a level of privacy and to diminish the glare for interior workspaces.
Additional examples of large format prints include:
- Flags, multi-shapes, colors, feathered, etc. to hang on poles or exterior locations
- Wallpaper or architectural signage
- Cardboard cutouts
- Maps, diagrams, and charts
- Custom orders
While most large format printing is done for businesses and organizations, there are also creative ways to use large formats in your personal life – such as banners or signage for weddings and special events or to turn some of your favorite photos or digital images into canvas works of art.
Examples of Small Format Printing
Anything that can be printed from your home or workplace, the desktop printer is an example of small format printing. You can print flyers, mailbox stuffers, invitations, business cards, photographs, and more with a simple switch of materials or ink choices. Even so, the quality of these prints does not come close to the quality provided by a professional small format printer.
Industrial printers produce unrivaled print and color quality, can produce large quantities in a short amount of time, and they are accompanied by professional design assistance, which can take a decent design idea and exponentially increase its visibility, legibility, and aesthetic appeal with a few tweaks here and there.
Some of the most common small format printing projects produce:
Even in this 21st century era of digital contact files, business cards continue to abound. They are typically produced using 14 pt. Cardstock or as useful, 20 mil vinyl magnets. Because business cards are produced and sold in bulk, they are extremely affordable, especially when bundled with an additional print order.
There is something more compelling about a palm-sized, tangible record of your business name, important contact information, etc. Most importantly, handing a prospect or client a physical business card is a step towards building visible brand recognition because your company’s colors and logo immediately make an impression in the recipient’s mental database.
Versatile in terms of their size and usability, postcards are used for direct mail campaigns as well as countertop offerings or to hand out at tradeshow booths and presentations. They come in standard 5.8” w x 4” h and larger 5” w x 7” h formats.
The good ol’ fashioned promotional flyer will never go out of style. They are typically made in three sizes:
- 4” w X 6” h
- 5.5” w X 8.5” h
- 8.5” w X 11” h
Created on standard paper stock or higher-quality, glossy, color stock options, flyers can be posted anywhere and everywhere to advertise upcoming sales or events.
Brochure design requires an expert eye to create compact and visually appealing promotional or educational material that encompasses a wealth of information. The right spacing, imaging, and content selection make all the difference between a brochure that’s effective and one that’s so busy or cluttered it requires too much effort to read and decipher.
Bi-fold, tri-fold, or even multi-page pamphlet-style brochures are printed on lightweight cardstock in either 8.5” w x 11” h or 11” w x 17” h sizes.
Stickers and other promotional items
Bumper stickers, logo stickers, and a wide range of promotional items (cups, pencils, staplers, fidget toys, etc.), are all small format offerings that get your brand out there into the visual world. Your small format printing company can show you a seemingly infinite variety of options for more creative and engaging brand-customer interaction.
Ready to take your new large vs small formatting printing knowledge and put it to use? Contact SpeedPro East Bay and let’s start planning new ways to promote your brand to the right target audience members.