Making the most of PNG

Earlier this year we introduced a new image format for our pictures called PNG. It’s a clever file format that is transparent rather than having a white background like a JPEG. If you can imagine it’s a bit like the difference between a picture printed on white paper and the same picture on OHP film. You could lay the films on top of each other and still see the pictures below. If you did the same with the paper prints they would cover each other up.

For the geeks among you PNG stands for Portable Network Graphic and is pronounced “Ping”. There are two very strong reasons to switch to using PNG Photosymbols. The first is that you can place them on different colour backgrounds opening up new design opportunities. The second is that you can combine two or more Photosymbols next to each other, even overlapping them. So how does this work in practice?

Let’s look at colour backgrounds first. Front covers in particular can benefit from a strong colour scheme. It can help your information stand out and be recognisable. Here’s an example of a poster in white. Then that same poster with a colour background, one using JPEG and one using PNG.

This approach also works for what I like to call ‘box-outs’. We use these a lot when introducing an important idea in a document. By using PNG Photosymbols we can really make this information stand out and it looks much more professional without the white boxes.

It works equally well with softer colours that you might use as a page background colour. A light yellow or cream for example can make text easier to read.

By placing two or more pictures together we can be much more specific about the images we use alongside our text. Here’s some examples of people and a subject combined.

Once again this is only possible without white boxes around the outside of the pictures. By putting images together we can create more specific symbols to communicate our information. Why not try making a group of people from individuals? If your information is targeted at a specific age group, you can choose exactly which characters best suit your audience.


Remember, you can scale each picture up or down. Sometimes you’ll want to keep things looking the same size but equally, you can make one picture deliberately bigger than the others so it stands out more.


If you’ve previously been uncertain about using the PNG images then i hope this blog will inspire you to give them a go in your own designs. They are also great for websites which we’ll be looking at in part two of this blog. Thanks for reading.

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  • We love the PNG versions – it means we can ‘layer’ pictures – building up exactly what an advocate wants to see to represent something :)

    Jo Brown on
  • Great advice. It makes life more flexible. I’m doing it, but it’s good to see you’re sharing the possibilities. Keep it up Photosymbols!

    Ben Wallis on

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