Brochures are a colorful and informative representation of what you have to offer. Brochures have lasting power — customers think twice before tossing something that looks and feels nice. And, while it may feel like digital publishing is taking over the world, paper marketing pieces are still practical and important — so knowing how to put together a compelling, useful brochure you can hand to prospects is a valuable skill.
If you want to create a brochure that’s in line with your brand voice, interesting, design-forward, and professional, but you’re not sure where to begin, you’re not alone. The good news? You can tackle brochure design and look like a rockstar doing it. All you need are the right tips, techniques, and tools. Here are the fundamentals — key principles and best practices for brochure design along with an introduction to some amazing tools to help you strategize, design, and publish a brochure that meets your marketing goals.
Brochure Design — Principles and Best Practices
Identify the purpose and strategy for your brochure. Before doing anything else, sit down and write out the purpose of your brochure. Decide who your audience is, what needs to be communicated, and what your budget is. Will it be printed or only shared online? What is the print quantity? Balancing budget with length, quantity, and quality (of paper, printing, or binding) helps determine design. Preliminary strategizing is important for staying organized, but it’s also the best way to make certain your finished product is aligned with your brand and speaks to your target audience.
Brochure content (copy and images) and design need to work in harmony with the overall brand strategy and purpose of your brochure. Taking time at the beginning of the process to organize your thoughts is invaluable, and can save you time, money, and frustration down the road. If other team members are working with you to create the brochure — writers, photographers, illustrators, or designers, create an environment of collaboration to ensure the best outcome.
Set an interesting pace. Pacing is an important concept to understand as a designer. The right “flow” or pace of content and images is what creates engagement as readers move from one page to the next. A brochure is not a single image, but a story, and great pacing is the key. For instance, a full page of copy may precede a full page of images or a quote in oversized font. Keep it interesting by adding variety. And the cover? Think of it as the hook, grabbing viewers’ attention and compelling them to pick up your brochure and open it.
Keep imagery consistent throughout. If custom photography or illustration is not in the budget, stock photos work great. The trick is to choose images that are unique, but look like they belong together. Using imagery that’s in the same style throughout the brochure ensures design and brand consistency, and creates a polished look. Adobe Stock is great for image consistency because a variety of images are often available from the same photo shoot or photographer. Referencing a dictionary of visual terms and their explanations is also helpful for finding what you want, as is Adobe Stock’s “find similar” feature. Image resolution should be 300 dpi to maintain print quality, but if you are publishing online, bring the resolution down to limit file size and make it easier to download or email, and mobile friendly.
Choose legible typeface and font size. The most important thing to remember when choosing a font is to make sure it’s legible. Use body fonts for main copy sections and save display fonts (fancier fonts) for special purposes like headlines or titles. If your brand has brand identity standards, be sure to adhere to those guidelines for your font selections. Limit yourself in the number of different fonts you use (in most cases two font families is sufficient) and the different type styles and sizes.
Be sure the fonts you select look compatible with each other. For example, you may not want to pair two fonts that look too similar. Instead, pairing a serif font (one with extending features — or serifs — at the end of strokes, like Times Roman or Courier) with a sans serif font provides a good contrast and works better. Start building your type styles with the basic necessities such as body style and header style and then add new styles only when necessary. Too many type styles and sizes can make your design feel chaotic and disordered. Correctly sizing fonts also can be tricky for newcomers — unlike the 12-point font size we all use in Microsoft Word, the sweet spot for brochure body text is between 9 and 10.5 points. Anything larger looks clunky.
Make your content skimmable. Whether or not you have a perfectly articulated brochure, readers will skim the content. And that’s okay. Make it easy to flip through the pages of your brochure with small, easy to digest paragraphs. Don’t expect or require the reader to start at the beginning and read through to the end. Provide plenty of entry points such as callouts, captions, and lead-in paragraphs and be sure to balance content with white space — blank space without images or copy that offers the reader visual rest. Resist the natural urge to fill every page with words and images.
Review a hard copy. A common mistake new designers make is to view their design only on a digital screen through the entire process. A print brochure is meant to be printed, and viewing it online only makes it difficult to gauge aspects like type size, balance, and proportion. Be sure to print your brochure and hold it in your hand before finalizing the design. Then, when you print a near-final version, be sure to fold the brochure to experience the final product and have a proofreader make sure all the copy is correct, including captions and callouts.
Establish your design rules — and stick to them. Be consistent with your typography by making all your headers, subheads, and other type styles uniform. Align your content to a design “grid,” which will define your margins, spacing, and the placement of columns of text to make your layouts feel more organized and unified.
Design Tools — Product Tutorials, Stock Templates, and Design Management
Now that you know the “what” behind creating high-performing brochures — moving from concept to design to print, you’re ready for the “how.” There are some pretty fantastic tools that make it easy to learn while you create the brochure you need.
Get inspired. Even the best designers rely on others for inspiration, and there are plenty of resources for getting motivated. Check out these examples on Behance. Or search through templates on Adobe Stock.
Learn how. If you’re a visual learner, Adobe InDesign CC offers an easy to follow brochure tutorial that walks through all aspects of the design process from how to specify the number of pages in the document, to the number of columns, to setting margins. Additional tutorials show you how to add fonts from Typekit — where you’ll have access to over 4,000 typefaces — or how to save your project and project elements to Creative Cloud Libraries.
Start with a template. For step-by-step instructions on how to create a brochure, use the guided templates with instructional content that is available with the command+n (or control+n) keyboard shortcut for a new document in Illustrator CC. Starting with a template lets you skip some of the mundane steps in setup and let’s you move right to customizing each element to make it your own brochure.
Optimize images. Once you’ve found the perfect photo or illustration images and you want to create that unique, branded look for your company, Adobe Photoshop CC is your tool. With Photoshop, you can optimize and edit your photos or images, adjusting contrast or color balance to bring out the best in your design. In Photoshop you can also crop and change proportion, straighten photos, brighten dark spots, and even eliminate distracting elements from your images. Visual variety keeps your brochure interesting, even as you stay consistent with with your brand identity.
By using these design tips and tools, you’ll be well on your way to creating brochures and other marketing collateral that communicate your message with style.