Auxiliary skills for musicians: graphics

Disclaimer: I am not a graphic designer and would not presume to teach you the best practices of graphic design. When it is time for your published book or CD, or you want to make a big splash with your new festival, definitely hire a graphic designer. But when you just need to knock out a recital poster or a social media post, here are some things to keep in mind.

Software

If you have the funds (or a student/staff account), by all means use Adobe’s Photoshop and InDesign. If you’re strapped for cash, I can’t recommend Canva enough. Canva is web-based, and you can do a lot with a free account. It makes graphic design easy through templates and easy-to-navigate tools.

Photos

Not all photos are created equal. Both JPG and PNG formats are technically “compressed,” but JPGs “lose” part of the data to approximate the image, while PNG retains the image data. See here for a better explanation. That’s why some pictures appear weirdly grainy (particularly around text) – they are compressed to a very low quality. Zoom in on photos to make sure you’re starting with something good.

Here is a JPG and PNG of the same poster, zoomed in so you can see the artifacts of the JPG image. It’s subtle but the PNG is a little sharper.

Click to view image. Zoom in for a better look.

Resolution is important as well. Despite every movie showing someone “enhance” grainy security photos, when you increase the size of a digital photo, you can’t make it any clearer. Start with as big a photo as you can, because you can always shrink it.

You may have seen terms like ppi and dpi. These stand for pixels per inch or dots per inch. On your computer screen, 72 pixels per inch works just fine. But when you print it out, it looks very grainy. The standard for printing is 300 dpi. Make sure to look for these labels when you download photos, and when you export your final results.

Text

Let’s say you’re making a flyer or social media post for a music performance. What do people need to know?

  • Name of event
  • Who is playing
  • Location
  • Time, date
  • Ticket cost
  • Contact info or QR code

Be sparing with other text. Maybe 1 sentence, like “Featuring new music by composers from Texas” (or, you know, something catchy). 

Rule-of-thumb: two different fonts, maximum, per image. Multiple sizes can be okay.

For shortening URLs (because you can remember me.com/performance/events/2021/may…) I like to use bit.do. It also generates QR codes, and if you have an account, you can see statistics for who clicked on the link.

Here is an example concert poster I made with a Canva template in about 5 minutes.

Colors

When thinking about color, for fonts or backgrounds, I’d start with a photo. Will this be a picture of you, or your ensemble? Something abstract, natural, related to the program? 

By the way, if it’s a photo from the web, please make sure it is free to use and not under copyright. I like to grab free photos from Pexels.com)

Find a striking picture first, and fit your text around it. Then find a color that works with the image. This may be a similar color – like a dark blue over a picture of the sky and clouds. Or it could be a complimentary color, like an orange over the blue. Check out a better explanation on the Spruce

Here is another 5-minute example. I found a cool piano picture with blurred out lights. Since it’s hard to read text over the piano keys, I added some yellow boxes to help with clarity. This also helps keep it cohesive. I chose a different font for my name, something modern but classy. The other text is in a more basic font for legibility.

Dimensions

Not all images will be the same shape! Be prepared to make a few alternative versions of your poster, since a “portrait orientation” flyer will be weirdly cropped on Twitter.

  • Print poster (North America): 8.5 inches wide, 11 inches tall (2550 x 3300 pixels)
  • Print poster (A4): 210 wide, 297 tall (3508 x 2480 pixels)
  • Instagram post: 1000 x 1000 pixels
  • Twitter post: 1024 x 512 pixels
  • TV/”digital sign”: 1920 x 1080 pixels

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Welcome and thanks for checking out my work! -adam

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