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Brand Images 102: Principles of Strong Design

· Artist Services,graphic design,Support Artists,Collateral

It’s no secret that images are important as a visual artist. Strong visuals represent your work well. They’re usually the first thing a buyer, gallery owner, or festival juror sees, so you absolutely must have high quality images, ideally photographed by a pro who understands how to bring your piece to life on camera.

Understanding the why, how, and what behind getting high-quality images of your work will give you a leg up over the other artists out there. Luckily, we discussed that in Brand Images 101: The Basics Every Artist Should Understand. You’ll definitely want to read that if you haven’t yet as it’s full of great information about the visual elements you need as an artist.

Come to think of it, you’ll want to read about the importance of having clear visuals as part of your collateral materials, too.

To recap image basics: you learned the importance of having strong images to represent your work. You know how to frame the shot correctly based on whether you’ll use it to highlight the item or how to use the item. Then, you learned how to light it. We also discussed in importance of a logo and how to make sure it represents your brand as well as why you need headshots.

Getting more in-depth about images today, this post is going to discuss file types and principles of strong design.

File Types and Quality

There are a lot of acronyms swirling around out there. The goal here is to make sure you understand what it all means. You’ll also know the best file format for you to use based on what you need it for.

Vector versus raster images

Vector files use mathematical equations and geometric primitives (points, lines, and shapes) to create art that is clean, camera ready, and can be scaled infinitely without any loss of quality or fidelity.

Vectors are source files for logos, charts, icons, or graphics with a hard edge. Because of their clarity, quality, and ability to scale, vectors are ideal to send to the printer.


The file types associated are: .ai, .eps, .pdf, .svg


Raster files use a dot matrix data structure representing a generally rectangular grid of pixels, or points of color, viewable via a monitor, paper, or other display medium.


Raster files are output files for most web graphics that are displayed on a screen. Hi-Res files can be printed at 300dpi.


The file types associated are: .jpg, .gif, .png, .tif



Even though everyone refers to anything that ends with “per inch” as DPI, the application makes a difference between DPI and PPI. DPI stands for dots per inch. Similarly, PPI stands for pixels per inch. DPI is a print version and PPI is the screen version; prints use dots whereas your screen uses pixels.

DPI is used to describe the resolution number of dots per inch in a digital print. The higher the number of dogs, the better the print will be. Note I said print. Saving a .png file at 300dpi to display on your website will look no different than the recommended 72dpi for web applications.

As a rule of thumb:

  • 72dpi is the resolution for web files

  • 150dpi is the minimum for paper printing

  • 300dpi is ideal for high-quality printing

Get organized

If you don’t have an inventory system, now is the time! Seriously, might as well while we’re getting organized. Not only will things be easy to search for on your computer (because who remembers what IMG_132323.jpg is a picture of?), it will give you an archive of your originals and good images.

First, separate the good images by individual works. You might want to rename the files with the artwork’s inventory number and the word ORIGINAL. Be sure to save the high quality original files somewhere safe! This is your archive.

Make a Hi-Res and Low-Res folder on your computer. These contain the edited images you’ll use for applications or web presence.

Hi-Res images should be 300dpi .jpg file used for prints. Make sure it is no more than 8 x 10 inches. You will use these for your portfolio and send them to press that request images. Be prepared now instead of waiting until it’s too late and you have to send something that’s...meh.

Low-Res images can be 72dpi .png or .jpg files used for Internet images. Make sure it is no more than 800 pixels wide. This size is also ideal to send via email for a quick reference. 72dpi is never recommended for printing due to pixelation and other forms of digital noise. Digital noise refers to any visual distortion. It may look like specks in your photograph and be described as “grainy.”

Be sure to save a PNG version of your logo with a clear background.

Principles of Strong Design

There are seven principles of strong design. When you’re designing anything, take these into consideration. Make sure you’re using them to create a well-composed image of your work! Knowing and embracing these will give you a professional edge.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to break rules, try to only break one of these per design. Too many and your composition will look childish instead of intentional.


Alignment creates a sharp, ordered appearance ensuring elements have a connection with each other. Think of things lined up neatly (all OCD-style) with right angles and sharp corners.


Hierarchy gives visual weight to most important elements. It tells the eye, “Go here first, then here next, and finally here.” You can do this through larger or bolder fonts, higher positioning, or framing the focal point.


Contrast with visual elements is just like any other contrast. When elements are in opposition to each other, it sets them against each other. It’s like black and white, thick and thin, modern and traditional, etc.


Repetition helps tie together different elements to help them remain organized and more consistent. It’s also why I’ve been harping about making sure all of your brand elements use the same colors, fonts, etc. When your customers see things over and over, they’ll associate you with them in their mind.


Proximity is when similar or related items are grouped together by color, font type, size, placement, and so on. Things that are grouped together are perceived to have more similarity than those spread apart.


Balance signifies that elements have been evenly distributed throughout the design. It pulls in elements of proximity and alignment to ensure things look equally weighted throughout.


Color is largely responsible for dictating the mood of a design. It’s also why your brand colors must represent something. Color, along with fonts and patterns, set the tone and help to convey that message.


Space gives your design room to breathe. Parts of the design that have been left blank are just as important as the elements filled with color, text, and images. Space allows your eye to move around the design instead of being bombarded with all the elements.

And Now...Design Something!

Clear and concise visuals are key to presenting yourself as a professional visual artist. Your graphic elements don’t need to be fancy, but they should be clean, consistent, and easy to understand. Most importantly, they should clearly connect to you and your brand.

Professional-looking brand images not only document your work, but act as your currency in the art world when applying to exhibits, grants, and residencies. The quality of your graphic elements and images directly impacts your collateral materials and professional pathway.

The content of this post was developed in collaboration with Casey Droege Cultural Productions.

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