How to Work Down and Dirty with DIY Video

There’s no substitute for experienced professional video production and post-production. The quality you get from a professional director, crew and top-notch gear goes a long way and can make your messaging really stand out.

However, making movies isn’t cheap by any stretch. Often times you might not have the budget for a professional crew. It also isn’t quick — with writing, scouting, shooting, editing, and final delivery make up a long, tedious process. That won’t cut it if you need something on a really tight turnaround.

If that’s your case, here are some tips and best practices you can follow to produce a DIY video — whether it’s a video abstract, didactic slide presentation, on-demand speaker training module, or training for users on a new portal — that can pass as professional and get your message across.

Writing Your Script

  • Don’t wing it
    Make a script and get it pre-approved by all stakeholders, especially legal review.
  • Practice, practice, practice
    Make sure you can recite it comfortably and comprehensibly.
  • Convert it to bullet points
    Come shoot day, put your laptop up as close as possible to the camera and use it as a confidence monitor.
  • Start with a nice intro
    Then, after you’ve recorded the rest, redo the intro over again. Why? You (or talent, if you’re filming someone else) be warmed up already, and this time will feel (and be) smoother, and more personable.

Getting and Using Your Camera

  • These days, there are lots of options
    There are laptops’ built-in webcams, DSLR digital cameras — even the iPhone 11 can film 4K video, the standard for TV and movies. This will largely depend on what you have available — or, if you’re making a long-term investment in video-making, go for it!
  • Always use a tripod
    This is true no matter what you use, so the video looks stable and professional. And if using a cell phone — have it in landscape orientation, this will avoid the black bars on either side.
  • Frame yourself or the talent nicely
    Shoulders and up is ideal, as you don’t want too wide of a shot — again, personable! Try to keep the camera level with whoever your subject is and not too high above or below.

Lights and Sound

  • Make sure the room is well lit
    The more lights the better, without your subject getting overexposed.
  • Pick the same color lights
    Each type of light has a different color, so don’t mix light types. This ensures a smooth and consistent light tone.
  • Make sure the room is quiet
    Chances are any background noise will be picked up. Lawn service mowing the lawn will be heard. Phone ringing down the hall will be picked up. That can’t be edited out — so be cognizant during filming!


  • Don’t expect perfection 
    Let talent (or yourself) take their time, and encourage them not to get upset if they mess up a few times. The great thing about digital is that you can keep doing over and over as many times as needed. If they do mess up, just have them redo that section or slide over, and you can then edit out the bad take afterwards.
  • Avoid jump cuts
    If the whole video wasn’t done in one take (and it won’t be — even professionals mess up) you’ll need to do some editing, and deal with cuts. A jump cut is when there’s a cut in the video, but the camera or talent doesn’t move — it’s jarring, and won’t look professional. Here’s how to avoid that:
    • Record your video twice from two different angles. One close angle, and then a wide angle.
    • If you’ve got a short script, two angles isn’t too much work. But if you have a longer script — One possible workaround might be to put up a graphic or slide on-screen to cover that edit.
    • It’s a good idea anyway to work in some graphics, stock photos, video, or slides in your video to add some visual interest and to help complement the key messages for your video — that could be a great chance.

Post-production and Editing

  • There are a lot of options for software too
    From iMovie to Camtasia to Lightworks, etc., how do you know which is best? Our two cents is that we’re pretty partial to Adobe, so we use and recommend Adobe Premiere — but yes, there are plenty of other low-cost options out there you can explore.
  • Avoid hokey transitions
    Unless you’re being tongue in cheek, try to steer clear of star and clock wipes. Less is more. A simple fade, or no transition at all (as long as it’s not jarring) should suffice
  • Export your video
    Once you’re all done, export it out a MP4 video file — there are also a lot of options for that file, but MP4 is as close as there is to a universal format nowadays.

And then…it’s a wrap!

Creating a compelling, professional-looking video on a budget and time constraint, without a crew or much equipment on hand, can seem like an enormous task — more effort than it’s worth. But if you’re willing to get resourceful, and follow the above suggestions, it’s not impossible.

Thanks for reading, and let us know how your videos turn out — and what came in handy for you working on it!

Update From CMW Regarding COVID-19

Creative MediaWorks is “open” and operating as usual. Our staff is safely working from home – executing our high standards of servicing our clients with quality, on-time deliverables. We have the technology to allow our staff to work from essentially anywhere which allows us to remain productive during this unique time.

If you need our help, we’re here as always and can be contacted by all the usual channels.

  • Our team members can be reached by email (recommended), or you can call their direct office lines or cells. Kindly leave a message if prompted to do so.
  • You can request a video conference with one or more of our team members.
  • As usual, we are accepting changes to existing projects as well as new ones.

As the spread of Coronavirus is disrupting our daily lives, we are striving to maintain as much normalcy as possible while following the necessary precautions outlined by our healthcare professionals. We are committed to implementing recommended measures to protect our community, employees and their families.

Be safe,

Creative MediaWorks, Inc.

Do the Right Things Right

We’ve learned a lesson here at CMW that we take any opportunity to share with others.

For everyone to minimize cost of quality, we must do the Right Things Right.

“Do the Right Things Right” might seem a bit obvious or redundant if you don’t know the full context. We know that for the sake of quality and budget, we want to do the right things. And we want to do what we’re doing right…right? Right. Right Things Right.

Okay, okay — before that gives you a headache, let’s look at the alternative. Because not enough businesses, companies, or people do! In order to do the Right Things Right, you have to make sure you’re not doing the opposite — or anywhere in between.

Doing the Right Things Right is a matter of breaking up what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. 

Take this table.

Say your priority for this week is drafting new social media content — and it’s a good priority. Your online presence has been lacking, and it’s just what you need for a marketing boost. You’ve got your priorities agreed upon, and know the right thing to do.

But, time gets away from you and you rush the content — now it’s sloppy, or maybe not even ready in time. You knew the right thing to do, but did it wrong.

Let alone if this shouldn’t have even been a priority to begin with — if your social media content isn’t stellar but can wait, while your new logo design hasn’t even been touched. Now it’s the end of the week and you’ve got a low-quality result on something you shouldn’t have even focused on in the first place. You’ve done the wrong thing wrong. But, if your social media content turns out great — some sharp new Tweets and informational videos for Facebook — that’s good. Except, again, it was never a priority. You’ve done the wrong thing, even if you did it right.

Now we have three different scenarios — none ideal. What do they all have in common?

They cost you.

Because in the time that you were spending not doing the Right Things Right, you were wasting quality, and money. Whether that was on low priorities, or rushed priorities, you weren’t doing the Right Things Right, and now everyone will have to pick up the slack.

Until you really draw your attention to this, it can be hard to spot when it’s happening (and when it’s happened in the past). One practical tool is really using the table.

Fill in the table with tasks categorized into each square — and total the number of hours spent on each.

Next, convert those hours into percentages of time to calculate your Avoidable Cost of Quality. This will underline exactly how much your mistakes are losing you.

  • Write your estimated % of time for each category in the boxes on the left.
  • Write the percentage of time doing “Right Things Right”.
  • Subtract your RTR percentage from 100%, and you have your ACOQ %.
  • Review ACOQ (all items, except RTR).  Write % that are imposed Rework.

Imposed rework includes fixing mistakes or redoing work due to lack of planning by yourself or others.  

Planned rework will include early drafts that are reviewed with others, changes made after test runs, etc. — these are the improvements you can make once you see just how much not doing the Right Things Right will cost you!

Learning to recognize these patterns can be an adjustment, but one that’s worth it — and worth money! This is to efficiently minimize the cost of quality, without sacrificing any of it. After all, you never want to skimp on quality — you want to save it. By following this idea, you will.

Yeah. It can seem complex. But what it all comes down to is this: to know you’re doing more of the Right Things Right than the other three categories, you have to track it — measure it — and then work to improve it. If you’re like us, you’re working on dozens of tasks a day. Anytime you find yourself ordering a “Re-do” on a task that should have been done by now, you know you drifted into the other boxes on the chart.

So…do the Right Things Right!

Best Video Email Practices To Get Your Content Clicked

According to a test by SuperOffice just last month, just including the word “video” in a subject line increased email open rates by 6%. Just the word! Well, typing out the word’s convenient enough — and there’s easy (albeit small) traction right there.

But actually including videos in your email adds an engaging, interactive flare that will up your click-through rates even more, and help your video abstracts, MOAs, and animated presentations get seen.

We want that for you, which is why we’ve collected some of the best practices to boost your email with a professional, appealing video.

First of all, it’s important to remember: video won’t play by default in most email clients. There are, however, some solid workarounds to that issue.

Static Play Button

  • The static play button is a solid and clear indication that a video can be played, without the expectation of it playing automatically. The play button sits over a static image, that when clicked, will take a user to a landing page where the full video can autoplay.

Animated GIFs

  • A static play button points to a video, but it doesn’t do you any good if you actually want to liven up an email with moving images. That’s where a GIF is your best friend. It provides the illusion of video on an animated loop without actually embedding one in the email.

Make sure you’re not overusing GIFs — in excess, they can be distracting and disorienting. But when relevant and well-placed, they can be fun and engaging.

Animated Play Button

  • Animated GIFs give you some movement but don’t link to a video, and a static play button will be, well — static, but does link to a full video. If you’re looking for a happy medium, you’re looking for an animated play button. This will add a little motion to a video link, such as a looped buffering ring around the play button — that makes it more enticing. When clicked, it will again lead to a landing page for the full video.

Can I Still Embed Video in an Email?

  • If none of these are quite what you’re looking for, and you think a full embedded video, not a GIF or a landing page link, is going to be your best bet — there are some pros and cons to consider.
  • Pros: Yes, a video embedded directly adds impressive flashiness to the body of an email. It might likely guarantee your video gets viewed more if people don’t want to click on a link.
  • Cons: It’s a little bit of work — You’d have to use HTML5 to code it in. But, it is doable! The only issue after that is that many email recipients won’t be able to view it because of a compatibility issue with their email client. Namely anyone using Gmail or Android devices will merely see a fallback image.
  • If you’re sending an email internally and know your email client, or if you’re sending to any team that’s using a specific client that will support the video — go for it! Compatibility issues are just something to be aware of on large email lists. Your email deserves to look clean and professional!

Now, there’s a catch to all of this: Video in email is an incredibly popular marketing trend right now — but do you need it? Not necessarily. When done well, video is absolutely attractive and a great way to boost interaction with your content. But an email can be aesthetically pleasing with a nice slick template, great content, and popping graphics alone. 

So whether or not you decide to engage with video in your next email campaign — make sure your content is optimized for email, it follows best practices for CAN-SPAM, and you’ve thoroughly tested it across all devices and email clients.

Your Wish List, Our Command: 24 Questions for Your PowerPoint Template

One of the many specialized services we provide here at CMW is designing PowerPoint templates. If you’ve worked with us on a PowerPoint project before, you know how our attention to detail, consistency, and tastefulness create streamlined and organized presentations. And if you haven’t — we’d love to help!

But as much as our extensive graphic and online experience in design and layout make us the perfect people for the job, each individual project is different — each one has its own requirements, specifications, and challenges to meet (you can count on that customized, personal service!). And that means that one of the most critical pieces of the process is communication.

We’ve discussed on the blog before how important communication is. In “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”, we pointed out the simple idea that if a client hasn’t communicated a need, or the supplier hasn’t asked — it won’t be in the final product, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Then, step one of the LEAD Quality Process model was LISTEN — listen to a client’s needs. Communicate!

Communication becomes even trickier when working with a client who is servicing another client. We’ve experienced this with our PowerPoint template service. We need as much information as possible to ensure a completely satisfying product — but without direct communication, details might get lost in the shuffle — and that is a sacrifice of quality.

But fear not! CMW is and has always been about solutions. We have design solutions for you — and we have the solutions to the challenges we come across in our own process, always evolving and improving. That’s the idea behind our PowerPoint Template Design Questions, a comprehensive list that a client can fill out, or have their client fill out — to convey their precise vision. A wish list, if you will. Take a look! 

  1. What is the primary purpose of this template design?
  2. What is the key message that you want to communicate to the viewer?
  3. Will this template be used for one or multiple presentations?
  4. Who is/are the presentation(s) directed to?
  5. When you envision the template, what do you see?
  6. What feelings or specific keywords would you use to describe your visions?
  7. Is there something you’d like to base the look off of?
    • Style-guide, website, drug logo, corporate logo, current branding, area of disease, science site of disease, MOA, existing artwork, new artwork, other
  8. What type of template is required?
    • Corporate, clinical, professional, cutting-edge, scientific, marketing, high design, sales, other
  9. What are your strengths as an organization?
  10. What is your company / the drug’s image?
  11. What image would you like to portray?
    • Clinical, classical, technical, sophisticated, fun, other
  12. What kind of look do you prefer?
    • Feminine, techy, iconic, bold, masculine, edgy, other
  13. Are there specific images you would like incorporated into the design?
  14. Do you have any color preferences? What you’d like to see used / what colors should not be used?
  15. Can you provide samples of what you dislike?
    • Previously used PowerPoint template, websites, brochures, ads, etc.
  16. Can you share up to 5 images/themes that you like or “Inspire” you when you think of what you want this template to be)?
  17. What logo(s) should appear in the design, if any?
  18. Are there any corporate guidelines or restrictions that apply?
  19. Would you prefer a light or dark background?
  20. Will you require a meeting theme slide, walk-in slide or special title slide(s)?
  21. Can you provide a rough draft of the presentation content?
  22. We will do both widescreen, 4:3, or both?
  23. How will this presentation be viewed? Large screen, laptop, iPad?
  24. What will the content consist of? Text heavy? Charts? Or more open, lighter content?

Click here to get the downloadable PDF.

We are confident that a specific and thorough list like this will create much stronger and clearer communication between client and supplier, and vastly improve the quality of a final PowerPoint product. We want (and you want from your client) as much to work from as can be provided — because that means the final product will meet every last satisfaction! These questions, when answered in full, can cover all the bases — and make that happen.
So the next time you or your client is in need of the perfect PowerPoint template — call CMW, and we’ll get the process started with these questions. Communication is key. We want to listen to you! Your wish list is our command.

The LEAD Quality Process Model: ANSWER & DELIVER

Hello again! If you’ve been following, we’ve been sharing with you the steps of a tool for quality control that we at CMW believe in, called the LEAD Quality Process Model. LEAD stands for:

L: Listen

E: Evaluate

A: Answer

D: Deliver

It’s a simple (yet still thorough) layout to help you accomplish the most (and the most, most effectively) out of each phase of a project or problem that needs resolving — basically, anything that requires a high-quality solution. We’ve discussed steps one and two, Listen and Evaluate…now, it’s time to complete what you started. It’s time to Answer and Deliver.


  • Develop a solution that meets the requirement or solves the problem
    • Make considerations before creating a design
    • Flow chart the new design
    • Develop a contingency plan/prevention checklist

The first two steps were about receiving, then analyzing, a requirement or problem. Now, of course, it’s time to solve it. Answer the call! 

The solution should show a step-by-step system or process that meets the customer’s needs, eliminates the root cause of the old problem, and avoids creating a new problem. There are a few key elements to consider before creating a design, basically an action plan for the solution:

  • Customer needs & quality/service level criteria
  • Past successes and failures
  • The purpose that the design is intended to meet
  • Data on existing related products or processes
  • Competitive products or services

Ultimately, the goal is to prepare to create a solution, but not determine the outcome before more discussion with customers and more analysis — a repetition of Listen and Evaluate. Like we said, the four steps are simple, but they must be done thoroughly to be successful; in this case, it can mean retreading old ground to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.

That being said, when you’re ready to actually develop a design, here are the steps you can start with.

  • Identify needed work steps
    • Develop a contingency diagram/prevention checklist
    • Identify additional steps necessitated by customer needs/expectations
    • Review all material from analysis (including Pareto data and/or root cause)
  • Use a flowcharting method to design the new or improved process
  • Set process measure guidelines to gauge effectiveness

Let’s break each of those down. First, developing a contingency diagram or prevention checklist can be not only be a powerful and practical tool, but also fun. Basically, it’s a form of reverse brainstorming; start by being as negative as possible — How can we be sure this plan fails? Say, release every employee’s cats onto the company computers. Alright, bad example. Then, turn each fiasco around by thinking of steps that would prevent the disasters. Remember the 1-10-100 rule, and when we talked about finding root causes instead of “firefighting” — focus on prevention over fixing!

Flowcharting, as seen in the last step, is also a useful tool in this phase. As a basis:

Refer back to Evaluate for more flowchart examples — several of these visual aids and exercises can be applied across the board!

Finally, you’ll want to set process measure guidelines so that you have a way to gauge how effective the solution is. Provide data used to monitor and improve the process, focusing on a few key pieces:

  • Execution
  • Efficiency
  • Quality

Quality! At the end of the day, of course, that’s what this is about. Quality is what you need in the final product — speaking of which…


You’ve Listened, Evaluated, and Answered…all that’s left to do is Deliver on what you’ve been working towards. This is it. You have all the data and problem-solving done to create a solid, finalized action plan. For just one example of a template:

While poring over your work to write out the plan, if there’s a single thought to bring it all together cohesively, let it be: Focus on the customer. That includes Primary and Secondary (revisit Listen!) That is who all of this is for, whether you’re actively solving a challenge for a product or service being given to them, figuring out a requirement for that product, or making your day-to-day office environment more conducive to ultimately benefit the audience you serve.

From facilitating effective communication between you, your suppliers, and your customers; to taking the time to scrutinize the numbers and data available to you to look at common issues and their root causes; to having enough information gathered to respond to the problem at hand; to laying out a direct and exact action plan to solve it — we hope the LEAD Quality Process model can help you in your endeavors as much as it’s helped us. Smaller steps and critical details can get lost in the chaos of a complex project — focusing on it one phase at a time makes for a more effective workflow, and, most importantly, helps you prevent the same problems from cropping up again. 

So give your customers and employees the quality they deserve…go forth and LEAD!

The LEAD Quality Process Model: EVALUATE!

Earlier this month, we shared with you the first step in the LEAD Quality Process Model, a system we use to ensure the best quality in all of our projects. We know how important quality is to you as well, so today we’re focusing on step two. To recap, LEAD stands for:

L: Listen

E: Evaluate

A: Answer

D: Deliver

Just four steps that, if done well, can save your project. Revisit our last blog to learn to Listen, then let’s break down how to Evaluate.


  • Gather data for requirements and/or measure the extent of the problem.
  • Analyze the data and understand why the problem happens or what requirement is needed.

You’ve thoroughly communicated with and listened to your customer and know exactly what they’re looking for, which means you know any and all challenges of the project, and its requirements. Now you can evaluate all of these elements to start working.

For this step, we find visual plans to be extremely helpful. They’re effective for organizing steps, data, and/or laying out an ultimate action plan. Here are some examples of pictorial views of a project.

Issue: Define steps to go to play golf

Issue: Transfer of files between Creative Department and Imaging Department


This one might be a little less intuitive. The Pareto Diagram is named after Wilfredo Pareto, an economist in the 19th century. Here’s how to create one.

  • Identify an 80/20 pattern (20% of categories cause 80% of events)
  • Create categories & define them
  • Sort data into appropriate categories
  • Depict data on a bar chart in descending order
  • Identify the important few vs. the trivial many
  • Select the category which is responsible for the majority of events being examined

Here’s a personal example from CMW from when we noticed a two-level 80/20 issue.

Issue 1: Of the 3 possible final processes for inkjet prints, mounting, encapsulating, and trim only (no finishing), Mounting (30%) accounts for approximately 70% of the work.

Issue 2: Within the mounting category, here are 9 possible substrates CMW stocks to mount to.  In this case, enduraplast, foam & gator (33%) accounted for 97% of all mounting in the sample. 

These are two great ways to map out an evaluation of an issue. However, there may also come a time when you’re faced with an issue that keeps coming up again and again and again. If you know how to handle it — that’s great. But for the long run, a key part of evaluating an issue like this must be examining the root cause, defined as

  • The basic factors which contribute to a chronic problem.  A high quality product/service design must address these factors, if it is to succeed.
  • In a world of “firefighting”, seldom is time spent to determine and address “root cause.” This is a major reason why problems crop up again and again.

Luckily for you, in keeping with the theme, we’ve also identified a visual aid to help with finding root causes.


The Ishikawa Diagram, also known as the Fishbone Diagram, was the work of Japanese organizational theorist Kaoru Ishikawa. If you’ve never seen one before, here’s the gist.

  • Write the Issue you want to address to the right of the fish’s “head”.
  •  Begin asking “why did this problem occur?”
  • Take a sub-bone and ask “why?” (5 levels) or until you feel you have gotten below symptoms.
  • Keep asking why by continuing to brainstorm sub-causes until all ideas are exhausted.
  • Review completed Fishbone Diagram and determine major patterns of potential causes.

Don’t firefight if you don’t have to — fix the problem at the source.

A thorough assessment of your requirements and/or problems for a project — or just in any day at the office — as well as an accurate analysis of the appropriate data, will give you confidence and clarity moving forward. Invest the time to dissect an issue, whether that’s just mapping out a timeline, or digging for its root cause. You’ve listened well to your customer — now evaluate what you’ve been given.

Bonus Exercise: Make a Chart or Diagram

Use any of the example charts and diagrams from this post and apply them to your own projects. Trust us — they work!

The LEAD Quality Process Model: LISTEN!

It’s no secret that here at CMW, quality is our top priority. We’ve shared with you before some of our best advice for making sure it’s a priority for your business too. But today, we want to show you one specific process model for ensuring quality — that’s the LEAD model. LEAD stands for

L: Listen
E: Evaluate
A: Answer
D: Deliver

Just four steps that, if done well, can save your project. Over a few posts, we’ll break down each step and show you exactly what we mean. As they say, let’s start at the beginning…!


  • What does the customer want? What are his or her conditions for satisfaction?
  • Define the requirements and/or problem.

First off, strong customer-supplier communication is integral to the quality of the final product. Note here that you are both a customer (to any supplier you use for your own resources) and a supplier (to your customer).

There are two types of customers in this situation: The Primary Customer and the Secondary Customer. The Primary Customer is the customer whom you must satisfy at this moment in time. They evaluate the quality of your work, they often have the power to stop/approve your work, and they may add value and pass on the product to others.

The Secondary Customer is other customers whom you must consider at this moment in time, and in the future. This includes the ultimate recipient of your products or services, so your work must be in alignment with each of their needs. They may also require different packaging of results than your Primary Customer.

Now that you know who your customer is, you need to listen to them; establish customer empathy. Here’s how:

  • Listen to the customer and let them talk
  • Get the background and clear expectation they have now
  • Create a connection with them that you really do care
  • Be understanding – they are the customer!
  • Present action(s) that will meet their expectations
  • Demonstrate to them that you heard them and, if required, acknowledge action to keep an issue from recurring

There are some questions that will help you further in this process. Learn to ask:

  • Who is my primary customer at this moment in time?
  • What must I do to meet their needs and expectations?
  • Does my customer understand their own needs?
  • Does my customer understand their customer’s needs and expectations?

This is where knowing exactly who your Primary and Secondary Customers are becomes essential — as well as recognizing your place in the customer-supplier chain. Remember, your roles will reverse within a single project. And at all times, you need to understand what the next link in the process chain needs to meet the requirements of the external customer…As a supplier, here are your (and your supplier’s) supplier responsibilities:

  • Survey customer needs
  • Discuss needs and agree on criteria
  • Negotiate specific service
  • Meet negotiated criteria and deliver product/service
  • Ask for feedback; “How Did I DO?”

As a customer, here are your (and your customer’s) customer responsibilities:

  • Understand and communicate the needs of your own ultimate customer
  • Respond to survey and articulate needs
  • Request service – negotiate specific service
  • Supply input that meets negotiated criteria
  • Supply feedback on satisfaction

As you can probably see, listening plays a key role in all of these responsibilities, because they’re about effective and thorough communication. You don’t know what you don’t knowso learn to ask, and prepare to listen. That way, you’ll know how to move forward — but that’s the next step…

Bonus Exercise: What Are Your Main Products and Services?

It can be helpful to map out exactly where you are in the process chain to orient yourself. Use this simple chart to list your top three of each category: the product or service you provide, your Primary Customer, the supplies/resources required to make that product or service happen, and your key suppliers.

Product/ServicePrimary CustomerResource NeedsKey Suppliers

Setting Up Design Files for Large Format Printing

Tips to Avoid Blurry Images or Artwork

You need a poster, a banner, a schematic – and you’ve sent the design file to your large format printer, but you get an email back: “Your image must be 300 DPI or else it will be pixelated.” Sound familiar? If so, let’s break down what exactly your printer’s telling you –  and what you need to consider to get the absolute best quality from your large format prints.

Designing to Scale

First off, the printing process will be much smoother, and less at-risk for mistakes, if you set your file up at full size. That being said, every graphic design programs has a different size limit. InDesign’s maximum dimensions are 216 inches (18 feet); Illustrator’s are 227.5 inches (19 feet) and PowerPoint’s are 56 inches (4.5 feet). If the final output size is greater than the design program’s maximum dimensions, you’ll have to design your file at a percentage of the final print size – either 25%, 50% or 75%. The percentage you use depends on the final size. Your printer will scale the file proportionately larger to meet the final print size, so communicate your scale and print size with your printer to make sure you’re on the same page. Miscommunication and mistakes can cause quality to slip in the final print.


When you’re scaling, you want to make sure your scale doesn’t tamper with your image quality. There are two types of images – raster and vector. This is where that warning about pixelation comes into play. Raster images are composed of pixels, those tiny squares that appear when zooming in too far – think old arcade games – P for Pac-Man. Pixelation refers to the blurriness of a raster image when it is viewed at too high a magnification – like a large format print. When scaled up, raster images can blur depending on the resolution, especially if you are designing at a percentage of the final print piece. JPG, GIF and TIFF are examples of raster file formats. 

Vector images, such as EPS and AI are what we recommend for large format printing. Using mathematical calculations that form lines and shapes from one point to another, vector images don’t pixelate because the equation recalculates to accommodate zoom. Vector images can be scaled limitlessly, which makes them perfect for a large format.


Your printer warns about pixelation, but they also mention DPI. That’s resolution. Dots per Inch (DPI) are the number of individual dots that can be placed in a line within the span of 1 inch. Pixels per Inch (PPI) is the same measurement but is used in reference to raster images. We recommended that all images be 300 DPI at the final size of the piece. While 150 DPI can work for some large format pieces, 300 DPI is the preferred image size. This doesn’t mean you cannot include images that are lower DPI. Just be sure to again let your printer know – that way, they can make recommendations to get you the best quality. Communication is the key.


Your scale, image type, and resolution are compatible to large scale printing, but you want your quality color too. When setting up color, make sure your images and other artwork are CMYK (Cyan Magenta Yellow Key) for print. Also make sure the links across all platforms are the same IE same Pantone color from Illustrator to Indesign. Setting up CC libraries can help make sure the color is the same across the board.


You also need to take margins into account; often times margins should be larger for large format printing. The standard margin for smaller pieces are ¼ inch. However, when scaled up for large format, this looks too cramped. You’ll typically want to increase your margin to 1.5-2 inches; within that range you can use your best judgment based on the size of your project and the look that you’re going for. Also – note that the standard bleed of ⅛ inch is sufficient for large format printing and does not need to be increased.

Working at a scaled percentage

Finally, you need to revisit the scale of your project. If the project you’re printing is going to end up larger than your design program’s maximum dimensions, you’ll have to work on a scaled down file.

The maximum dimension in InDesign is 216 inches in either direction. For Illustrator, maximum dimensions are a little larger, 227.5 inches in either width or height. In addition, there is a maximum file output increase of 400%, meaning you can’t scale anything down smaller than 25% of the final size.

While working on your images in Photoshop, make them half the scale and double the resolution, so a 120 x 80 inch photo at 100 ppi becomes a 60 x 40 inch photo at 200 ppi. When you link the images into your banner in InDesign or Illustrator, you will need this half-size image because your document is half the final size. 


One more thing! Before you save your final file for printing preparation, check your preflight channel to make sure all of your links and fonts are in order. If there is a red dot in the preflight panel, that means there is an error. Make sure there are no errors and the dot is green before saving and exporting your file. After that’s done and you’ve reviewed the rest of what we’ve covered, your file is ready to be sent to the printer for a quality final product – polished instead of pixelated.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

There are lots of old allegories and anecdotes about ignorance and wisdom.

“Plato’s Cave” is a particularly interesting one. In it, a group of people have spent their whole lives facing a wall in a cave, watching shadows on the wall cast by a fire and giving names to each of them. It’s all they know; the shadows are these people’s reality. 

It’s not until someone is freed from the cave and walks outside to see the depth of trees and animals and other people that they realize the shadows are just a projection of actual reality. It’s a little grim and archaic, admittedly — modern adaptations like The Matrix give it a fresher flare for sure. 

But, all of these stories are about being blindsided because we thought we knew something. When, really, you don’t know what you don’t know.

You don’t know what you don’t know” sounds…obvious. Right? 

Sure, it is. But it’s also critical. Keeping this mantra in mind as you work on a project will help you each step of the way — here’s three things that keeping this in mind will help you with:You’ll know what your client wants.

  1. You’ll know what your client wants.

You’re working on a project for a client. They’ve told you what they’re looking for, what the end product should look like, and you’re sketching out action items to get the job done.

When the time comes to present what you’ve got to the client, they cock their head, and say, “It’s missing something.” It’s a surprise requirement — something you didn’t even think to ask about. And while it’s easy to blame the client for the miscommunication, the relationship is two-sided. You need to know what you need to know to complete the project you’re working on. 

And you don’t know what you don’t know. So be prepared to ask! We’ve said before that communication is key to quality. Even if it seems like an odd question, it doesn’t hurt to ask if it means you’re getting the full picture and avoiding missing key details.

  1. Your client will know what they want.

That being said, asking questions and facilitating this kind of communication of course benefits the client as much as it does you. For example, you’re working on another project, and this time around, you ask: “Are there any colors you absolutely don’t want to be used?” The client cocks their head, but this time in a good way. 

They weren’t expecting the question, but “Come to think of it…” Turns out the color red wouldn’t have great associations for this project. Now, not only are you avoiding a mishap later on, but the client will appreciate that you’ve actually given them a clearer, more precise idea of what they’re looking for — just by communicating.

  1. You’ll give them the quality they deserve.

If you have a business, and you’re seeing clients, customers, or patrons, chances are you have impressive skills, experience, and wisdom in your field. We’re not denying that at all — those are your greatest assets!

The truth is, though, that no one knows everything. Here at CMW, we’ve been doing what we do for 30 years, and we’re still learning, accumulating new information and constantly trying to improve the way we help clients. It takes self-awareness and humility to admit that no experience will ever truly be enough to know everything that could possibly be thrown at you. And when you are blindsided by a new challenge, even in a type of project you’ve done a thousand times, it can come back to bite you in the final product.

Your top priority should be giving a client the highest quality you can give — if you’re not able to handle a request they give you, because of an incidental gap in knowledge or skill set, an open mind is essential to adapt to the situation, and find a solution. And an open mind is saying I don’t know what I don’t know.

Bottom line:

Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it doesn’t require attention. 

You don’t know what you don’t know” is one of our simplest but most effective tools in completing any project. Think about it:

  1. If you haven’t asked your client about a detail, it won’t be in the final product. 
  2. If your client hasn’t thought of something in their planning, it won’t be in the final product. 
  3. And if you think you know how to deal with a special request when you actually don’t, it won’t be in the final product. In any scenario, you’ll be presenting something that’s not the best work you can do — and isn’t what the client wants.

Communication, detail orientation, and self-awareness are all, in this case, essential to exceptional project results. Ask questions, check in, and check in again. 

Your client will appreciate your thoroughness, because it benefits you both. If there were a Matrix-style red pill that would illuminate everything, let you read your client’s mind, and give you an arsenal of every business skill in the book — that’s what we’d be blogging about. 

Yes, you don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s okay as long as you know it.

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