Design Tips for a Great Magazine

When publishing magazines first-time publishers will, through inexperience, make a few technical mistakes building their magazine. Many magazines come through, some look great. Others, lets say… could use some help. The following tips for magazine design can make your magazine a real “page turner.”

Get Inspiration

Before you start your magazine, go to a newsstand and purchase a few magazines that catch your eye. Take them home and try to decide WHY they caught your eye. What is it?… the photos? the layout? the subject of the magazine? Use elements you like in other magazines to inspire your magazine’s layout. And do your best to not let the computer dictate your layout. The software works for you not the other way around.

Use a Great Masthead

The masthead is your magazine’s logo. It is most often located at the top of the cover and should be the first thing your reader sees. It must be legible and tell people about your magazine. You have looked at your magazine thousands of times but your readers have not. If the masthead is developed with illegible fonts, people won’t view it as you intended.

If your magazine is on the newsstands, there are other considerations of which you need to be mindful. Unless your magazine is on the front row, readers will see only the top 2″ of your magazine. Does that area in your design lock in the reader’s attention? Try testing your magazine by printing out the cover and putting another magazine in front with the top 2″ showing. Now take a look from across the room. This is how future purchasers will be seeing it.

Remember, your cover design will be fighting the other covers for attention. A well-designed masthead visually entices the buyer to choose one magazine over others in its category.

Use a Great Cover Photo

DON’T try to save a few bucks on the cover. A well-designed cover can get your magazine noticed and even more importantly, picked up! Therefore, all cover photos must be of a good, high quality photo (in the proper resolution).

Choose a photo that is interesting to your potential readers or which tells a story. Showing the unexcited face of an unknown person will not do much to get the potential customer to reach for your magazine. Choose a photo that is recognizable to your target readers or shows action, unusual colors, taken from unusual angles, or combinations of all these.

Remember, your magazine only gets one chance to make its first impression. Photos are powerful in making a good first impression.

Careful Font Usage

The choice of fonts can have a major impact on the overall professionalism a magazine conveys. Using too many font faces is visually confusing to the reader. He/she may have trouble distinguishing the stories from the ads. Not to mention that too much “stuff” can be tiring on the eyes.

Consider using only one to two font families in your articles; one for the headlines and subheads, one for the body text.

Research shows that serif fonts, especially small ones, are easier to read than san-serif fonts (serifs are the little tick marks at the end of lines in the letters). The eye tracks across the serifs of the letters making reading easier.

ALL CAPS are difficult to read. If you want to emphasize a word consider using bold versions of that font as an alternative. Stretching/compressing fonts look awkward. Consider the extended or condensed version of that font or even another font family.

Multi-column Layouts

One trick for having your stories look professionally built is to use a multi-column grid to the page. For regular sized magazines try using three columns, digest sized mags use two. Not only does it look more professional but text will flow better on the page and you will have more options for placing photos.

Don’t Be Afraid of “White Space”

Although it can be difficult, consider leaving some areas of the page blank. Stuffing as much as you can onto a page is visually overwhelming to the reader. Experiment with leaving some column white space in your new multi-column layout. Try running text in one of the columns only with a photo or graph covering the other two columns. Try starting your article halfway down the page with the top half being reserved for a photo. Experiment – computers make that easy.

Stay Away from the Edge

Many magazines that come through our facilities have layouts with text too close to the edge of the page. Again, don’t try to fill up the entire space. 1/4″ margin is the minimum suggestion but better 1/2″ or even more, page margin is suggested. Again, it looks more professional adding more white space and you will not worry about the possibility that text might be cut off when the magazine is cut down to size after printing.

Avoid Clip Art

Market research has shown that cartoons do not sell to adults. In this case you are selling the story to the reader. He has not read the story and is deciding whether to or not based on the graphics. If hokey, cheap clip art is used there is a good chance he will not read the article.

Of course if your article deals with child-related subjects then clip art MAY be acceptable.

Remember…It’s Only a Magazine

You have invested a great deal of time, creative energy and perhaps money in your magazine. Because of this, you will be dismayed to have your work judged harshly BUT it still won’t be perfect when your time deadline comes around. Keep in mind – you may be the only one that ever notices minor imperfections. You don’t hyper-analyze other peoples’ magazines – your readers won’t hyper-analyze yours! It is only a magazine…not a work of art.

Other Magazine Tips

Below are a few other tips that will make your magazine a little more successful.

Don’t Forget Contact Info

Now that you have a reader you of course would like them to be a long-term reader. We see many magazines come in that forget to tell readers how to subscribe. Your contents page is a good place to list the following info:

  • your physical address
  • your web and email address
  • subscription price
  • how to subscribe

Learn to Color Balance your Photos

If your photos look terrible and you have no clue how to make them look good… download this pdf explaining how to color balance your photos “by the numbers”. Written by Photoshop training expert Dan Margulis at Ledet it is great way to understand how color works (and consider Ledet’s Training to learn more.)

Now get to work and good luck. And consider using to print your magazine. Click here to receive a personalized quote.