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Outdoor Banner Printing – The 2-second Viewing Rule

Large Format Billboard Display

There are a few things you should know about outdoor banner printing. As I’ve sort of stated in the title, less is more in outdoor banner printing. I’ll also tell you about some of the latest developments in outdoor banner printing.

Depending on the size, and where your target audience is viewing your banner from, will determine the print quality.

Outdoor Banners – How to Most Effectively Utilize a 2-second Viewing

For instance, if you’re driving down I-45 at 75mph, you have about 2 seconds to scan a billboard. I call this the “2-second Rule.” Your potential customer is viewing most at 100 to 300 yard, so the print quality only needs to be about 50 dpi. If you were looking at it up close, it might be almost unrecognizable, but at a hundred yards from your car, the it presents quite a clear picture and message. If it has been designed with the 2-second rule in mind, that is.

custom outdoor banners displays One mistake I’ve seen advertisers make repeatedly in is to put too much copy on a banner or billboard that simply doesn’t have time to be read in traffic. The 2-second rule says that if your potential customer can’t read it in 2 seconds, well, you don’t really have a potential customer! I heard it described this way once. “When you’re planning outdoor advertising, don’t put the 23rd Psalm in your design; rather, direct them where to go to read the 23rd Psalm.” It makes sense…if you’re advertising a sale on tires, you don’t list all the tires and pricing on a billboard, you just say that there’s a big sale on tires, when, and where. You might also add a phone number or website if appropriate, but remember, you don’t have much time, and sometimes it’s hard to drive around the block to look at the sign again if you’re interested.

Of course, there are other uses for outdoor banner printing than just billboards. Announcing a short term sale, for instance. Let’s say you have a tire store, and you want to put Michelin® tires on sale the week of August 29 this year. It’s the first of August, and you want to get people who need tires thinking about your “Buy 3 Get 1 Free” event in a few weeks. Since you can’t afford a billboard campaign, you elect to hang a large banner on either side of your store which is on a high traffic street where cars travel at about 35mph on the average.

You still don’t want to do too much for this display…it’s likely smaller than a standard 48′ x 16′ billboard, but traffic is still moving by at a pretty good clip, so again, keep your info to what, when, and where (and maybe a phone number and/or web address). It’s still about 2 seconds of time to read your message, so don’t list tire sizes or prices on the signage. Let the customers come in or call or go to your website to get the info they’re looking for.

Possible Exceptions to the 2-second Rule

So, is there any time you’d use more info? Maybe. Let’s say you’re paying homage to all the donors to a new statue of your famous great-grandpa on the campus of a major university that he founded. You went out and stumped and got 17 people to donate $50,000 each for the statue, and you want to say thank you. So, at the opening ceremony, you stretch a nice sign between a couple of old oak trees and call attention to it during the ceremony.

But because this is a high dollar project, you didn’t want to just use a vinyl banner…after all, these donors put up $50K apiece, and who wants to be praised on polyvinyl chloride! So, I said I’d tell you about some of the more recent materials available. So, you go to your favorite shop and ask for an outdoor fabric item for ad display purposes. They may stare blankly at you, except one guy who says, “Oh, that’s dye-sublimated printing. We don’t do that.” Perfect! Not everyone has a dye-sub printer, so you know this is a special type, and you go online and find a printer who does dye-sublimated printing, and voila! You order the poly flag material with the 17 donor names on it and everybody’s happy.

Nylon is also used for outdoor banner printing, but it looks like nylon tent fabric, and while it’s great for some things, it’s still kind of plasticky-looking. Poly flag material definitely looks like a cloth fabric, which is why it is a favorite of many companies who want their print to have a classier appearance than vinyl or nylon. Discover more about vinyl banners in here.

What can you say about the 2-second viewing rule? What other tips can you suggest when making outdoor banners? There’s a comment form below. Feel free to share your ideas.


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Barry K. Brown

Barry Brown has been in the Sign, Banner, Decal and Display Business for over 20 years. It isn't what he thought he'd do with his life, but he says he knows too much now to do anything else!

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