It’s not uncommon for a church’s graphic designer to be whoever has a camera, a good computer, and a little spare time—even if they don’t have graphic design training. After all, the majority of churches don’t have room in the budget for a full-time or half-time designer. But that often results in church graphics not looking quite right, and you not knowing how to fix it.
As a senior designer at Faithlife, I’ve made my fair share of graphic design mistakes over the years. In this article, I’ll disclose 7 common mistakes, and then share principles that can correct those missteps—and start creating good designs.
The 7 Design Mistakes You Might Be Making in Your Church Graphics
Mistake #1: Using too many fonts
This is the easiest mistake to make, since we have so many great fonts available. You can find them all over the place. Our temptation as designers is to use all those fonts in our church graphics and designs.
But that’s actually not a good idea. Here’s an example of something I did in the past and that I’ve seen others do:
Do you see the four different fonts? Each of them looks great—but when you put them all together, it’s like a peanut butter and jelly and ketchup and mustard sandwich.
So here’s a rule of thumb:
Limit yourself to two (sometimes three) fonts per slide or graphic. Personally, I try to keep it to two fonts, but there are a few exceptions where you could use three.
Now, when you’re choosing font pairings, these principles can help:
Pair a serif font with a sans-serif.
Serif fonts have the nice little accents on the top and bottom of characters (common examples are Times New Roman and Georgia). Sans serif fonts don’t have those accents—they’re usually just straight lines (such as Arial or Helvetica). Opposites attract when it comes to typography.
Contrast size and weight.
When you’re picking font weights—especially when you’re using the same font— skip a weight. In the image below, we have the bold version of this font on top, and the bottom is the regular version. We skipped the semi-bold or medium options altogether.
Don’t pair highly stylized fonts.
Each font can be really nice on its own, but when you put two stylized fonts together, they’re too loud. They both want too much of your attention. So, in the case below, we could leave the headline font and then take that second line a nice serif or sans serif font to make it easier to read.
Whatever you choose to do with your headline or your subheadings, make sure to carry it across the entire graphic piece you’re designing, whether you’re creating slides for the sermon or laying out bulletins or setting up branding for a special event. That doesn’t mean you can only use two fonts total in everything—you can experiment and try different fonts for things like your camp promotion or Christmas cookie-making party. Let those be creative and fun. But within one piece, like slides for a sermon series, try to limit yourself to two or three fonts within your church graphics.Pro tips when creating graphics for church sermons or promotionals: limit yourself to two fonts per slide or graphic, use contrast, and always choose images of high quality. Click To Tweet
Mistake #2: Not considering contrast
What happens when you add text over a busy background, like a beautiful stock photo of leaves or candid picture of people in your church? In the example below, you can’t read the text because there’s no contrast—what we’re trying to communicate is getting lost. That’s why contrast is so important.
Now when we add an orange layer that’s semi-transparent, it gives us a nice backplate between the typography and the image. I chose the color orange to support the photo’s fall color theme, and it gives us a nice, readable contrast between the white font and orange background.
You might think, “As long as I don’t have a busy background, I’ll have good contrast on my graphic.” Not so! You need to consider color and value, too. Let’s say you have red text on a black background. Your eyes will be pretty strained reading it. But if you put white text on a black background, you’re pulling from opposite sides of the spectrum, which makes it more readable.
2 CONTRAST TRICKS
- First, pay attention to the feeling of your eyes as you look at a graphic. Do you feel like you have to strain to read or understand what’s being communicated? That’s one way to know if your church graphic is working, though it’s not the only thing to consider.
- Second, if you squint when you look at your image, you can get a good sense for whether or not you’re getting enough contrast depending on how it looks.
CONSIDER CONTEXT IN YOUR CHURCH GRAPHICS
Now, when you’re thinking about contrast, you’ll also need to think about context—that is, where you’re using your graphics.
For example, if you’re creating your service slides, you’ll want to consider the screen you’re using, the lighting in the room, the projector, and so on. Depending on your setting, using light artwork could eliminate the contrast you need for your church graphics to be legible. If your room washes out your slides, you’ll want to go with something like a dark background and a bright white or bright yellow type, so you’ll still get good contrast.
When you’re creating slides—particularly if you’re not at a place where you can check them on the projectors—you can account for that washing-out effect by adding a white layer on top of your artwork and reducing the opacity to 50 percent. That will mimic the lighting in your room, so you can get a good idea of whether it will work during your services.
Mistake #3: Neglecting readability
The biggest thing to remember with church graphic design is that you’re trying to communicate a message. But when you make some of the mistakes here, you’re hindering people from seeing that message.
That’s why readability is so important.
Now, before we really get to readability, we need to talk about legibility—they’re close, but not quite the same. Legibility asks, Can you distinguish one letter from another?
For example, you might be looking at a beautiful, script-style font, but if you can’t read it, we’d say it has low legibility—meaning you’d want to choose a font with high legibility instead. Equally important: because of the way you’re using a background, you’re not getting the contrast you need for legibility.
On the image below, you’ll see four different treatments of the text on three different backgrounds. You can see how some of them look better on some backgrounds than others. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to legibility, though you can see in the third example, the black stroke (black outline around the type) works on all three backgrounds. That’s the best trick for achieving high contrast and high visibility. It’s subtle, but it has quite an impact.
We suggest you also check out 7 Custom Church Graphics Subscription Options.
Mistake #4: Making too many things important
We’ve all done this one—it’s difficult to focus on the main thing with so many competing priorities. But the most important stuff can get lost when we do too much.
That’s why you need to create hierarchy. Simply put, you’ll need an order of importance for what goes in your church graphics. In this example, you can see what I did to create hierarchy:
- The big idea—the thing that sticks with people best—is on the first line so no one can miss it.
- The second line is the supporting message.
- The third line is a bit more copy.
I’m using three different fonts here (see mistake #1), and using size, font weight, and font treatments to create hierarchy.
This is only one example of how to establish hierarchy—your graphic will look different, and you can try using different tools to create hierarchy, such as a mix of color, size, weight, and fonts.Remember to us hierarchy in your graphics. For example, the big idea on the first line, the supporting thought on the second line, and details on the third. Play with font weight, size and treatment to create hierarchy. Click To Tweet
Mistake #5: Creating imbalance
To know where we’re going with this church design mistake, you’ll need to know a few key terms when we consider your graphic:
- Symmetry is when your designs are aligned and balanced in the center and on both sides.
- Asymmetry is when they’re imbalanced, or when all of the weight is drawn to the left or right side of the image.
Both symmetry and asymmetry are good tools, but if you’re using asymmetry, you have to commit to it. You can’t push everything to one side where no one can read it, but you also can’t put it just slightly off-center—it has to be on the side.
At the same time, you’ll need to make sure you’re keeping everything aligned, whether it’s aligned on the left, right, or center.
Using symmetry, asymmetry, and/or the three alignments will keep your design balanced and easy to look at.
Mistake #6: Using copyrighted images without a license
This cardinal sin could get you into more trouble than just making a bad design. You can’t use any image you find on the internet. Many images you find in a Google search will come from news outlets or other sources that charge for the use of their photos or graphics. Using those could get you a cease and desist letter from a lawyer and a hefty bill to cover the cost of the image.
However, there are some great ways to find free or inexpensive images.
- Unsplash: Many generous photographers contribute their work here for anyone to use for free. There’s a lot of good stuff on this site, and it’s easy to search.
- Faithlife Media: My team and I actually spend a lot of time building out the media library specifically for churches because we want churches to be equipped with good artwork they can use, and not feel like they have to find something online that’s lower quality or stolen. We add nearly 10,000 new pieces of media every year, from premade graphics to church stock photography and sermon series. (Note: it’s included in Faithlife Proclaim’s Pro Media.)
GETTING THE BEST IMAGES
Before we get to the last mistake, I want to give you a little warning about stock photography. You probably know that the free images for churches can be pretty corny or outdated. Maybe it looked good in the past, but it’s not so good anymore. But when you’re putting imagery on your church website, you need to make sure you’re reflecting your church well. People can tell if you’re just copying old images from random corners of the internet, and they can tell if photos of people, for example, don’t feel true to your church.
Whatever you do, make sure to prioritize authenticity. If you have staff or volunteer photographers (not just anyone with a camera—someone who knows how to use it well), you can work with them to get the kind of photos you need for your website or events. But if you don’t have the kind of photos you need, you might find something useful in Faithlife Media, since it’s all modern and church-focused.
Using original images? The 5 Very Best Hybrid Cameras For Churches In 2021
Mistake #7: Choosing images of low quality
If you’re familiar with the term “resolution,” you may know what we’re talking about here. Simply put, resolution refers to how sharp an image is. When something’s in high resolution, you can see it really clearly. When something’s low resolution, it’s going to look pixelated, blurry, or that sort of thing.
When you’re creating artwork, sermon slides, or announcements, you’ll want to have images with a high resolution. That’s why I recommend using a photo library like Faithlife Media or Unsplash.
FILE TYPE MATTERS
In addition to resolution, you’ll also want to consider the file type of your images because it has a lot of bearing on image quality. For example, GIFs have a lower color capacity (or low quality), so you’ll want to avoid that. But JPEGs and PNGs are the most common file types, and they usually keep their quality well. Also, the TIFF file type is really good for print graphics.
There may be a few exceptions to the rule against low-quality images, like when overseas missionaries send a low-resolution image for something huge like a slide. But generally, using high-quality images is one of the easiest mistakes to fix when it comes to graphic design.
Want to learn more about church graphic design? Pick up our free guide, 49 Tips for Using Color in Your Church Graphics. Inside, I share even more suggestions for how to reflect your church and catch everyone’s eye with beautiful designs. Enjoy!