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Some of the best examples of how not to use text or pictures in a document can be found in the most unfortunately obvious places – on posters, covers and assignment front sheets. I have yet to find an original image that is suitable for these purposes without some adjustment, and often considerable adjustment. That’s simply because images don’t arrive in the proportions that match the dimensions of an A4 sheet. Another factor is that A4 has right angles, straight edges whereas many illustrative features people may wish to use do not.

Then there’s the use of fonts, or rather the misuse of fonts.

There are more than just Arial and Times New Roman! (More about this elsewhere.)

The right proportions
An A4 sheet of paper is about 8.5” wide and 11.5” deep. These proportions are not far off those for a photograph taken by most digital cameras so if you want to fill the whole page and have a portrait-type picture then you may be lucky and find it moreorless fits.

However, most times the picture you want to use is a landscape-type, broader than it is deep or a completely different shape like square or, even if it has about the right proportions, you want to fit it within some margins and it still doesn’t fit. That’s because typical margins of about an inch will reduce the area to be filled to about 6” by 9” and that’s quite a different ‘shape’ to the whole page.

A section of this picture was extracted and saved as a separate file and then inserted in Word for the background to a poster.

So, you need to do something with the picture. You need to find part of it which still suits your purpose and is the right shape, in proportion. Then you crop the image so that the bit left is the right dimensions. Some image editors make this easier than others but, however you do it, you’ll find a bit of trial and error necessary. For those good at arithmetic, if you work on a ration of 1:1.4 you won’t be far out for the whole page. To fit within margins try 1:1.5.

Check that the quality looks OK by resizing the selected bit to the height you want. Small pictures may be unacceptable if you try and stretch their pixels too much although a good image editor may try and fill in the gaps with appropriate colours to maintain a decent image without pixellation (showing too many squares).

A similar result could be achieved using the crop tool on the Picture Toolbar in Word – but it is best to use this for small adjustments at the end rather than taking large chunks out of a big picture as the file size of the original is unlikely to be affected. For large images like those need to fill a page, it is better to work in an image editor and then save the file with as much compression as you can get away with quality-wise.

Some pictures, and clip art is a good example, have transparent areas which means that they don’t have straight edges. Plonking these on the page in a corner seldom works very well and can look decidedly amateur. A little careful cropping, however, can create the ‘corner’ you might need, or a ‘slice’ which will look a lot better.

Examples of these techniques are shown below.

clip art in the corners, vaguely-centred text, Times New Roman bold is all a bit too familiar!

exactly the same features and text but visually much more interesting

nice picture but Arial font really doesn't work and should never be stretched

same three elements but fitting so much better - and using Arial Black (which needn't be black)
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page updated by Andrew Hill, Dunstable College 24 July, 2006