The 5 design basics for making a magazine ad


By: Tiffany Fischer

More and more, companies prefer the ease and lower costs of digital marketing as a substitute for regular print marketing. But while social media and digital advertising have taken over the marketing world, print advertising is still an effective way to reach your target market.

Related: 5 ways to monetize your online magazine

Studies show that nearly 80% of consumers act on messaging they've seen in magazine ads, compared to 45% of consumers who act on online advertisements. Ultimately, it appears that print ads have more of an influence on your consumers' buying decisions than electronic ads. In fact, as many as 60% of companies still use print magazines as part of their marketing. So, if you're still using print advertising, you're in good company.

How to design a magazine ad

What goes into the creation of a good magazine ad? Aside from understanding who you're trying to reach and using your ad to specifically target that audience, we've assembled some basic design principles that will help your ad stand out from your competitors.

Use color to your advantage

Start with your primary colors on your color wheel (pictured below) and use the color wheel to see which colors provide the best contrast. Complementary colors work well together and can be found opposite each other on the color wheel.

How to design a magazine ad

You can also use colors in triadic harmonies, pictured below:

How to design a magazine ad

To mix up your color scheme, you can use different hues, shades and tones of the colors you've already chosen. Notice the use of different blues in the ad below:

How to design a magazine ad

Don't use too many bold, bright or loud colors on your print ad. Otherwise, the focus might be drawn away from the main message of your ad. You can use bold color for accenting or to make a certain message or image stand out, but use it sparingly. In the following ad, pay attention to how Nike uses the color red to highlight its brand:

How to design a magazine ad

Create a sense of balance

While your design doesn't have to be a perfect mirror-image on both sides, it should have some sense of balance that creates unity and ties your whole design together. An easy way to create balance is to use the rule of thirds. This rule states that if you divide the image into thirds, you should center your main focal point on the outer vertical line and center it on the horizontal lines. This makes your photo more dynamic and interesting to look at. An example is shown below:

How to design a magazine ad

If you're having a hard time finding the right way to balance your design, try viewing your layout under a grid. This will help you create an underlying unity and structure for your design.

Use the right font

Make sure your font size is consistent throughout your design. Sans serif font is typically used for headings. Serif font is used for body text. This is a sans serif font:

How to design a magazine ad

This is a serif font:

How to design a magazine ad

Using sans serif versus serif fonts can provide contrast between your heading and your paragraph type. You can also contrast type by using different:

  • Colors

  • Sizes

  • Structures

  • Thickness of the font

  • Typeface

  • Weights

Apply the Gestalt principle

Simply put, the Gestalt principle says that the human eye sees objects in their entirety before perceiving their individual parts. You can use this principle to help you make a better design. There are five parts that make up the Gestalt principle:

  • Figure/Ground: Similar elements (figure) are contrasted with dissimilar elements (ground) to give the impression of a whole. In the following example, the creator used the dark background to bring the bright colors of the pear to the front.

How to design a magazine ad
  • Similarity: When objects look similar to each other, people perceive them as a group or a pattern and will see them as belonging together. Since we recognize the dogs in the following ad are similar, we immediately assume they are part of a group.

How to design a magazine ad
  • Closure: Our brain will see patterns and fill in the blanks, even when certain information is missing. The image below is not actually a picture of a pair of eyes, but of hundreds of little dots. However, our brain pieces together this information and uses the patterns it already knows to create a pair of eyes out of all the little dots.

How to design a magazine ad
  • Proximity: When elements are close together, people will perceive them as a group and will see them as belonging together. These two kids with their arms around each other are about as close as they can get, and because of that, we automatically recognize that they are part of a unit.

How to design a magazine ad
  • Continuation: Using direction to move the eye from one object to another. Notice that because all of the band members are facing the same way, and we can tell they are moving, it automatically draws our eye in the direction of their movement.

How to design a magazine ad

Use signs and symbols that are significant to your consumers

Certain signs and symbols have certain meanings associated with them. You can use this to help your consumers create associations within your magazine ad.

How to design a magazine ad

For example, this symbol is widely recognized as the peace symbol. It's used across all mediums, throughout pop culture, and can even be found on t-shirts. Another example would be using a stop sign in your ad. This automatically sends a subconscious signal to the reader to stop in their tracks.

Best practices for magazine ad design

Here are a couple other general tips for creating a magazine ad.

Write a good headline

Writing a good headline takes time. Don't just go with the first one you come up with. Take the time to craft a headline that catches the reader's attention and draws them in.

Use powerful images

Think about what images you're going to use and what you want those images to convey. Make sure your images look professional and aren't pixelated.

Use engaging copy

Keep it simple. You can let the images do most of the talking here, and chances are, there won't be a lot of room for copy. Be concise, point out a problem, then identify your solution to that problem.

Proper logo use

Your logo will need to be included somewhere, but don't make the mistake of making it the most important thing on the page. If possible, let it become part of the overall design. And, don't hide your logo away in the copy — give it some space so it stands out.

Include a call-to-action

Ask yourself what you want your readers to do because of your ad. Include a call-to-action at the end of your copy that encourages them to take action and gives them the resources to do so. For example, if you want them to go to a specific landing page, provide a link and use smart copy and design to entice them to click.

Well-designed print ad campaign examples

Here are a few recent favorites we've come across that demonstrate these five design basics and principles.

World Wildlife Fund print magazine ad


Mucinex print ad


Pedigree print ad


Composting print ad


The Vote Needs U print ad


Key takeaways

Print is a classic form of marketing that never goes out of style. These five basic design principles and best practices will help you get started on your magazine ad design. You can get an even better head start when you use one of Lucidpress's magazine templates.

Ready to design your own magazine ads? These free magazine design layouts are a great starting point.

Free magazine templates

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Tiffany Fischer

Tiffany Fischer is a senior at BYU majoring in public relations and minoring in nonprofit management. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, cooking and singing in the a cappella group she performs with on-campus.

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