Avoid messy and confusing layouts – use grids!

Ever noticed a leaflet or advert that looks untidy or that bothers you for some reason, but you can’t put your finger on it? It might be because elements in the design are badly aligned.

To avoid this, we’d obviously suggest employing a professional graphic designer, but we know from our survey (take part here) there are many reasons why people create their own marketing materials. Although they are not as comprehensive as the professional design tools such as Adobe Indesign and Quark Xpress, there are a number of applications such as Canva and Publisher which will enable you to create your own layouts. Whatever software you use though, we have some key tips to help you get the best result possible.

Grids, what grids?

Most of the time, you’re probably unaware of the grids that are used every day in graphic design. However, a design without a grid can really stand out, and for all the wrong reasons. Grids and guides are the secret tools that hold designs together and when used properly they greatly improve your layout. The images below show an example (albeit exaggerated) design without a proper grid and one that does use a layout grid.

Click to see the difference a grid can make

Click to see the difference a grid can make



The magic of invisible grids

Whatever software you use to create your designs, it should allow you to add grids and ruler guides to the page so that you can align content to them, but don’t worry about other people seeing them. Grids and ruler guides don’t print or appear in PDFs and JPEGS when you export your layout, they’re only visible to you when constructing your artwork. However, if the software doesn’t include an option to create guides you can improvise: Use the line tool to create vertical and horizontal guides to work to. Just remember to delete them before you print or export your file!

Examples of gridlines - click to view

Examples of gridlines (click to view)


Break out!

Grids and guides don’t have to be a straightjacket – they are designed to improve your layout not strangle it, and you can achieve some great results by occasionally breaking out of the grid. However only do this sparingly. If your layout breaks the rules more often than it adheres to them then effectively there are no rules and your layout will end up very messy and inconsistent.

Don’t ‘nearly’ align

One final thing to remember is that layouts that are nearly aligned look terrible. This is because they look like mistakes.

With every element in your layout you should either:

  1. Precisely align it with nearby and/or relevant elements in the design
  2. OR move it far enough out of alignment to demonstrate it is a deliberate design decision, and not an oversight or mistake
Never 'nearly' align something in your design

Never ‘nearly’ align something in your design


If you like the tips in this article, why not subscribe to our Design Tips emails? This is one of four subjects we cover in regular emails to our subscribers and you have complete control over what content we send to you.

And if you have any queries regarding guides or grids then give us a call, we’d be happy to advise.

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