Manual design

Instruction manuals are often still regarded as an inevitable obligation and cost factor only. As a result, we find many user guides being visually unattractive, hard to handle, hard to read and not reflecting the quality of the brand and product. Think twice about this “strategy”. You could scare off potential customers who have a look at the instruction manual before they make their decision.

What would you think about a product or brand if the user manual doesn't look professional? Would you trust that company? Would you think they meet your demands for quality?

There's also a legal point here. By placing the CE mark on your product, your company is declaring conformity with all of the legal requirements to achieve CE marking. These legal requirements include conformity with technical standards applying to the product. Since the user documentation is regarded as part of the product, technical standards applying to user documentation also have to be taken into account.

DIN EN 82079-1 is the relevant standard for user instructions. Reading and putting into practice the sections about structure, layout and typography before launching your manual can make your customers happier and protect you from complaints or legal claims, especially when you have to inform users about any residual risks.

Illustrations for manuals

Illustrations are necessary to visualise your product in a clear manner. Line art, or vector graphics, is the preferred illustration style for instruction manuals as it has many advantages over photographs (screenshots are an exemption from this, read further below):

  • Vector graphics are ideal for deatailed illustrations
  • Vector graphics can easier be interpreted by the reader
  • Vector graphics print perfectly clear on any paper (photographs often print too dark or muddy due to the so-called dot gain)
  • Vector graphics are scalable without quality loss
  • Vector graphics can be edited if they are subject to last-minute changes

If you don’t have vector graphics for your products already, you may just send us some product photos or CAD data and we will create the necessary illustrations for you.

Text in illustrations

Embedding text in illustration files is still common among semi-professional technical writers – though it has many disadvantages:

  • When translating a manual, such illustration files must be opened one by one and translated separately – this can be very expensive or your translator might even be unable to handle the file format (ProAudioManuals can handle virtually any illustration file format)
  • When using uncommon fonts for embedded text, it could be impossible to print the file correctly
  • The font might not fit the style of the manual or document it is used for
  • The font might have the wrong size when scaling the illustration
  • Embedded text cannot be recognised by translation (CAT) tools

File formats

If you create line art illustrations yourself, save them in a common professional file format like EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) or AI (Adobe Illustrator). Using WMF (Windows Meta File), CDR (Corel Draw) or other formats can significantly lower the quality or even render your document unprintable. This is especially important when your files include text (if cannot be avoided) or colours that must be reproduced exactly.

Never convert your vector graphics to a pixel format like JPG, PNG, BMP or TIFF unless the file is too complex to print (this often happened in the early years of DTP but shouldn’t happen any more). If you do, you will loose all of the advantages of vector graphics.

Pixel format for software and GUI illustrations

Line art in vector format cannot be used if your product has no hardware or you need to illustrate the graphical user interface (GUI). In these cases, it is advisable to use a lossless pixel format like TIFF, PNG or BMP to avoid quality loss through compression. When using JPEG, for instance, your images may appear blurred or even pixelised. Once you saved a screenshot in JPEG format, you will not be able restore the original quality. Also be aware that creating a PDF from your file can virtually destroy your pixel images unless you know the right settings in your PDF creation tool that prevent your images from being compressed to death.

© 2017 ProAudioManuals  |  Jochen Dornheim  |  Member of tekom e.V.

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