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Brochures 101: Ten Brochure Design Tips for First Timers

written by: Tara M. Walsh•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 2/24/2009

If you need to create a brochure and it's your first time doing so, there are some universal truths to keep in mind as you go through the process. Here are ten tips that will help you produce a brochure that delivers the message you want.

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    Maybe you've got a friend running for city council who's asked you to create her campaign brochure; maybe your non-profit organization needs you to make a brochure for an upcoming fundraising event; or maybe you’d like to create a slick brochure showcasing the landscaping masterpieces your gardening business has created. Whatever the reason may be, if you need to create a brochure for a small or home business, and this is your first time tackling such an endeavor, there are some universal truths to creating a brochure that delivers the message you want.

    1. Use Color:

    Yes, color is expensive, but it's worth the investment. Skimp elsewhere to be bold in your brochure. I’ve heard it said the average mail recipient will spend seven seconds looking at your brochure on the way to the garbage can (oops, sorry, I meant recycling bin). You're competing with all of the mail in the box and your brochure needs to be noticed. Nothing says look at me like a splash of color.


    2. Use Photos:

    Don’t bog down your brochure with a lot of boring text. A generous helping of photos and other attention-getting graphical elements like headlines and use of bold will keep your audience interested.

    3. Use Discretion:

    Most people look at images first, then headlines, then body copy. Because of this, try to get your most important information and selling points across in the images and headlines. And remember: brochure recipients who have never heard of you or your organization don't want to be introduced to you via a Ph.D. dissertation. 

    4. Use Less:
    The most important rule of design that will get your audience's attention during those crucial seven seconds is, Less Is More. Stick to three fonts or less for your brochure. Century Schoolbook, Century Expanded, Georgia, and Palatino are good, legible choices.  Many people prefer to select a type "family" and use its components for different brochure elements (body text, headlines, captions). A type "family" includes specifically executed variations of a single typeface. For instance, the Arial family includes Arial, Arial Black, Arial Rounded MT Bold, and Arial Narrow.

    5. Use Consistent Typefaces:
    Don't fill the small spaces of a folded brochure with big headlines that look like filler.  Be consistent in your use of typefaces and sizes for headlines, body text, and captions; size 14 or 16 for headlines, size 12 for text, and size 10 for captions.  

    6. Use White Space Judiciously:

    Break up the text with bullet points and keep paragraphs short.  Use adequate line spacing to make your brochure attractive and legible, and don't crowd elements on the page or push type together.

    7. Use the Mail Panel to Your Advantage:
    If you're mailing your brochure, use the mail panel space to include every bit of contact information you have: your return address, website, logo, and if you have one, your mission statement on the left side of the panel. 

    8. (Don't) Use the Fold:
    I can't tell you how many brochures I've seen where a photo is creased by a fold, or the text runs into a fold. You don't want your message in the fold. Whatever fold you're using (bi- or tri-fold, z-fold, etc.), when you have your final design for proofing be sure you fold the brochure to check that your layout is correct. 

    9. Use a Proofreader:

    Your hard work is wasted if your brochure has spelling errors, poor production, design mistakes, or incorrect information. Ask an independent person, preferably a professional who is in your target market to scan the brochure for any mistakes or design flaws. Also, ask the person to provide honest feedback and inquire if the content stimulates their interest. And if your brochure includes information on an event, be sure you confirm the date(s), time, and place before you send that brochure to the printer. If you’re on a tight budget, triple-check that vital piece of information for accuracy--you don't want to pay for reprints! And finally, know the ‘chain of command’ for error-checking. If there is more than one person who approves communications such as brochures, create a list and be sure everyone who needs to has signed off on the final copy--literally signed on the final copy before it goes to the printer. 

    10. Use a Professional Printer:

    Yes, you can print your brochure from an inkjet using glossy brochure paper so this final tip really comes down to a decision based on your budget.  But for crispness, a professional printer is the way to go.  If you're looking to save some money, get your brochure professionally printed, but do the labor intensive steps yourself--folding the brochures, and affixing seals, labels, and postage. While professional printers can perform these steps for you, if you have the resources to do them in-house it's a good way to keep your budget in line.

    This article targets those who find themselves suddenly tasked with creating a brochure for the first time, but the information contained herein represents just the tip of the iceberg. For example, I haven't touched on whether, or if, you should use stock templates versus pro designs for your brochures. And what kind of color should you use -- big questions yet to be tackled. Look for upcoming articles on the Bright Hub Desktop Publishing channel on these topics as well as step-by-step guides to creating brochures with some of the popular software options available.

    Meantime, if you've created brochures at your workplace, I'd like to hear from you. Please add your tips or comments and visit our Desktop Publishing Forum to add your voice to this site.