I think the first thing you need to do is contact the billboard company and find out who prints the stuff that goes on it. I've done some fairly large posters, but nothing larger than 4 x 8 feet. These things are designed at scaled-down sizes and printed on specialty equipment in sections (tiled output). I suspect, but don't know for sure, that a PDF will be OK for delivery to the printer, so ID would be appropriate for doing the layout, but you really want to ask a lot of questions of the folks doing the actual printing, particularly at what scale you should be working and what they need for image resolution (it will be quite low at billboard size).
Thanks for the info Peter.
Does anyone have any suggestions as to what size I should make the document? Like I said, this will be going on a 20 ft. tall by 40 ft. long billboard.
As I said, you really should ask the printer. You'll probably want to work at 10% scale for something this large (I've forgotten waht the size limit is on PDF) but the printer should tell you.
You will absolutely want to contact the billboard company to find out the technical specifications. After having worked at an outdoor advertising company, I can share a few tips with you.... Scale is a tough question to answer because some companies use a 1 ft = 1 in. scale and others have a different scaling method. Some will provide templates either in PDF format or in all of the programs they work with. Try checking the printer's website, if there's no info, you'll want to get in touch by phone - which is usually a good idea the first time you work with a printer anyway.
Most companies will accept all the major file types: PDF, EPS & JPG included, but you want to make sure before you get too far into the project. Sounds like you have an idea in mind, so what I really wanted to mention to you was that billboards are unique design-wise. You'll want to keep in mind that you only have about five seconds to get your message across and it needs to very legible. If the sign is lit, then you want to make sure to use a color combo that will work well both day and night, and in different lighting conditions in between. Certain color combinations work better than others as do some fonts. As Peter mentioned, billboards are sometimes produced in panels. You will want to know whether the billboard you are designing for is going to be produced in panels or in one vinyl sheet. Back at the company I worked for (keep in mind this was quite a few years back), the cost of the billboard was affected by how many colors were used in each panel of the billboard, so this may be a good question to check on as well.
For some good tips on design and to get an idea of the types of specifications you'll be dealing with (but again, be sure to ask YOUR printer for their specs), take a look at these two links from Lamar Graphics. I don't have any connection with the company, but they are all over the U.S. so they are a good starting reference point.
Go to Creative Lab->Everyone is an Artist for some great hints about colors, graphics and fonts to use in billboard design.
For some examples of technical specifications, look at this part of their website:
Personally I would use AI. And as Peter says, you will be designing at scale.
There is a formula I have kicking around for when I was doing large banners. I cannonized it in an Excel spreadsheet. But I have never done a billboard. Last banner I made was 68' in length.
OK. they will need to tell you the average viewing distance if you want to get semi-accurate. They will need to let you know the sheet size for the tiling and any and all recommendations for your output.
But this is something quick and dirty. At 100' viewing distance and designing at 10% scale (but at the full size), resolution only needs to be 60 dpi at the lowest, 80 dpi at the outside highest. That will apply to any bitmaps you are using, any effects that are actually bitmaps once hitting the PDF, etc. Any resampling options in the PDF can be limited to that resolution.
But--make sure you talk to your rep and or the people actually tasked with ripping this job.
Take care, Mike
Thanks for all the info guys. The Adobe community is truly great!
I'll contact the printing company Monday morning and get the details from them. I'll probably work from home that day so I can get it completed.
Thanks again and I'll make sure to post here in the future if and when I have any other questions.