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Sign Designers Benefit from Stock Photography

Photos increase a readers interest in viewing what you or your client is promoting in your signage or ads, and therefore increases the likelihood the information in or on it will get read.

By Trent Mueller

Photography and Signage are inter-related and compliment each other in many ways in a business. A good photograph when transposed onto signage is eye catching and increases the recognition power of the people towards a particular product or service. It is a well-known fact that every commercial enterprise requires the service of both the photography and signage industry.

Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

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  • Today, photography is more important than ever precisely because of the Internet. Each of us is now a skimmer, not a reader. A good photo accompanying a news story, for example, or a good shot on a brochure cover screams: "Read me, now!" A photo will increase attention on what you or your client is promoting or selling, and therefore increase the likelihood your story will get read.

    For this reason, stock photography is becoming more widely used in the sign industry. As technology becomes increasingly affordable, more sign companies are adopting uses for stock photos in digital sign production.

    Stock photos, or generic, pre-selected photos, are most useful for large format output. The high quality photo printing allows sign companies to easily create beautiful photo-realistic backgrounds on wall-signs, murals, and banners, without having to even pick up a paintbrush.

    Vinyl decals can also be created from stock photos. Such companies as Art Signs in Coos Bay, Ore. have used such techniques for creating multi-colored photo-generated vinyl decal backgrounds. Using their sign making software on their Mac G4, they simply import a photo from a stock photo disk, then trace to create vector outlines from the bitmap photo.

    >From the outlines, they then can simplify and consolidate various parts of the photos, while maintaining the integral design elements and color layers for a nice photo representation in the vinyl. The end result is impressive, and would be more difficult without the help of a stock photo collection.

    Acquiring stock photographs
    Easy-to-use graphic design software, digital cameras, quick printers, and other quick fix, low-cost solutions to graphic communications have abounded in the past several years.

    These advances in technology have brought the possibility of in-house graphic production to the masses and encouraged it, but the question is: while it seems economical on the outset, will this do-it-yourself technology be a help or a hindrance to your company's image?

    Sometimes it is better to sub out this portion of your signage design and go to the professionals. Where can a sign designer buy stock photos? There are numerous sources of stock photographers who have the know-how, optical equipment, professional lighting, cameras and digital accessories that you may not have and may not want to keep on hand because of costs. Seeking professional stock photographers is like going to a health specialist: you trust in their expertise, knowledge and experience.

    Clarke Systems Architectural Signage Systems Wayfinding ADA

    However, there are some stock photography providers that should be avoided, either because of poor quality, bad reputation or high pricing.

    To save your budget, use the big stock photo agencies like Getty or Corbis sparingly. These companies have great photos, but may charge upwards of $500 to $1000 or more for a single photo.

    Further, these companies tend to ask multiple questions about your intended use of the photo and how many people may be seeing it- which may be difficult to determine as a component of a sign outdoors.

    To avoid the hassle, choose “royalty-free” CD-ROMs. These collections typically cost from $199 to $599 for around 50 to 100 photos. It is still pricey, but there are no questions asked about usage and its per-photo cost is so much less. Many of these can be found on FotoSearch (

    Another source to be careful around is the clip art category. Clip art collections such as Art Explosion, ClickArt, or Hemera Big Box of Art may advertise having “high resolution” photos, but most are actually low resolution and unsuitable for professional high-quality use. To ensure that you are getting “high resolution” photos, make sure the resolution is 2000x1500 (approximately 8.5MB) or higher.

    Clip Art CDs generally avoid stating the photo resolution, but may only state “24 bit color” ­ which does not mean much, since all photo collections in these days are 24 bit color. The true, professional “high resolution” stock photos, however, always list the photo resolution- which is more akin to what you typically need for professional sign design uses.

    Where to look
    There are many good bargains out there, but it will require some leg-work. A few to consider include Turbo Photo (, which is offering 30 or more royalty-free CD-ROMs with prices ranging from $19 to $29.

    Another company, Comstock Images , has a wide selection of images organized by category and Masterfile Corporation, offers rights-managed and royalty-free images.

    Everyone is looking for the unique, the special, and the different. Believe it or not, the general public knows good and bad design when they see it. From billboards to business cards, design can tell them at a glance whether they are looking at something from a high-class establishment or a bargain basement closeout center. The trick of design is not portraying yourself as one if you're the latter.

    In advertising, it's the perception you are selling. Therefore, when your company releases any kind of sign that is sub-par, it reflects on the company as a whole. The result is fewer and smaller sales, or at best, the company will stabilize and simply not grow.

    There are thousands of photos to choose from daily on the Internet alone. Obviously, the boring photos don’t get used and the ones you want are the ones that will provide what your customer is looking to create. By putting in the extra effort to provide the best in photo selection for your client, you stand a very good chance of keeping that customer for life.

    Look for a reliable stock photography source that will provide quality images while backing up the product with any support you may need. This may require some homework on your part, but with the resources listed here and a little bit of surfing, you may be on your way to establishing a partnership that will pay off handsomely for both of you.

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