Posts in: Graphic design

Trajan’s ColumnThe font that you see in many books and in just as many Web sites has a long and interesting history. Times Roman comes from the Roman alphabet, which was derived from the Greek alphabet via the ancient Etruscans who settled just above Rome. During Roman military encroachment and empire expansion, this alphabet was adopted and spread from England to the north, to Spain in the west, to Egypt in the south, and to the Persian Gulf in the east by the year 100 CE, when the Roman empire was at its height.

The reason why this typeface spread and was adopted was because the Romans used a single language (Latin), one writing style and a consistent government for centuries. A preeminent example of the beauty of structure and weight of the Roman capital letters is seen in the inscription at the base of Trajan’s column in Rome carved in 114 CE (shown here). This inscription is regarded as the finest example of quality chisel-cut lettering and shows the introduction of serifs.



This article is the the fourth and final of my series on the key elements of design. After having individually placed color, font and texture in the spotlight, it is just proper to culminate with something that will put all these elements together; after all, the reason why we dig into these elements one-by-one is so they can be put (together) into proper use in this thing we call design.

In conformity with the previous articles, this writing will stray from high-falluting assertations and focus only on the practical aspects.


References such as this online dictionary provide several definitions of the word design. The ones relevant to our topic are as follows:


  1. to prepare the preliminary sketch or the plans for (a work to be executed), especially to plan the form and structure of …

  2. to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully.

  3. organization or structure of formal elements in a work of art; composition.

  4. adaptation of means to a preconceived end.


In the field of computer programming, web authoring and digital art, the definition of design should in essence encompass all of the above. That is, priority should not be of aesthetics alone. Rather, aesthetic value should be well balanced with that of functionality.



The reason for design is what the designer should center on when putting all the bits and pieces together. In other words, what the end product is for should never be put aside during conceptualization and assembly. And what is the real purpose of design? Almost always, the answer would be and should be to stimulate the end user’s behavior. Projects are not made for self gratification; they are done to produce results. In the IT world, the result desired is for the finished project to make the viewer or user to do something such as buy a product, sign up for membership, or simply to convince them to believe in that thing which the project is about. This being the guiding rule, the choice of color, font and texture and their assembly should be such that the completed design is able to compel its audience to a desired action or conviction.



Let’s say the specific desired end-user-behavior has been clearly identified. The challenge now is for the designer to balance visual appeal with usability. He has to come up with something that would create a purposeful blending of all his design elements; something that stimulate audience behavior, causing them to reflect and interact with what they see.

Some pointers to consider when blending in design elements:

  • Chose colors that speak of the product in question. Keep in mind that some colors actually conflict with some ideas. For instance, the color blue should not be used in themes about food. Blue ruins the appetite. That is why you would seldom see blue-colored food.

  • Limit the use of special fonts to headings and titles or logos. For the majority of the text, chose fonts that have a general appeal.

  • Textures should be used sparingly. Only the newbies and mediocre designers would be too excited to use a whole selection of (contrasting) textures at the same time.

  • If you put one element on top of another, make sure they don’t bleed into each other. They should be matching in their conceptual value but should maintain distinct visibility.

  • Do not stray from you general motif. If you are designing for Valentine’s be careful not to use green in a way that will make you end up having something for Christmas.

You can only achieve real aesthetic appeal if you have assembled everything harmoniously. Anything contradicting is hurting to the eyes.


Before posting your work, close everything and then reopen. View your page from a bit of distance and contemplate if you have assembled meaningfully. Think like a viewer and see for yourself if your design is compelling enough to elicit the desired response. If it has flaws, go back to the drawing board and redo what has to be redone.

  • Do your individual design elements speak the same thought? Do they agree with one another? All conflicts must be resolved. check.jpg

  • Does your design, in its totality, communicate the exact thing that should be said? Will it not mislead your audience?

  • Is information communicated in an effective (and easy) way? Make sure your end-user does not need to do any trial-and-error or guessing.

Note that all items in this checklist are in regard to functionality and usability.


If your design is too plain, nobody would need your design expertise. If your design is too complicated, nobody would understand what you’ve created. If your design is too new, your viewers would look for something they’re accustomed to. If your design is too old, your viewers would say you have no originality, no ingenuity. If your design has too much “special features”, your audience will get lost inside your jungle of unnecessary add-ons and will totally miss the most important thing there.

It is always wise and practical to have just the right dose of what is needed. A good designer is one who has good control aside from good taste. His design is always the right stuff because it’s made with the right ingredients in the right proportions. That is why he gets more audience and that is how he wins citations.

Good luck and here’s wishing you’ll be looking at your finished work with a smiling sigh and say, “I’m good!

^_^ Gracey


Here’s another greeting card you can use. Add more text or print it as is on glossy photo paper. Cut along the edges, leaving no white space, then paste it onto heavy card stock of complimenting color. Finish off by adding a dainty ribbon.



In September of 1985, Malaysia unveiled its first locally produced car named Proton Saga. It was the culmination of years of careful planning and marked the beginning of Malaysia’s automotive industry. The first car was not much to scream about, though there was a lot of national pride surrounding it, especially during the first year. It received a lot of media coverage, and was the topic of discussion for the general public. Everything about it was scrutinized, including the logo.

The Original Proton Logo

Proton Old LogoThis logo was the original logo used by PROTON (Perusahaan Otomobil Nasional). At the base of the logo is a crescent moon and atop it, prominently displayed in the centre is a fourteen pointed star. The background is blue in colour, while both the crescent moon and the fourteen pointed star is yellow. While this logo has a symbolic meaning that is obvious at the first glance to Malaysians, most foreigners will not be able to understand it at all. Why? Because the logo is based on the Malaysian flag.

Malaysian FlagThe Malaysian flag, as you can see, has a similar crescent moon and the fourteen pointed star in a blue carton in the top left hand corner of the flag. The crescent moon represents the national religion, which is Islam, and the fourteen pointed star stands for the 13 states and the federation of Malaysia. The dark blue colour represents the unity of the people, while yellow is the royal colour of the Malay Rulers.

It is obvious then, that the PROTON logo is inspired by the Malaysian flag. And this comes as no surprise, for the nation used the car company as a way to instill national pride. Thus choosing a logo that represents the nation made perfect sense.

The Present PROTON logo

Present PROTON logoIn the mid 90s, PROTON revamped its line of car models and underwent an image change. The models covered a wider range and boasted of more accessories and knick knacks. In a glitzy event, the public was introduced to the new range of cars, along with the new PROTON logo.
The new logo boasts of a stylized tiger head, with the words PROTON emblazoned boldly on top of it. The blue colour background is retained, but the yellow takes on a golden hue. To my knowledge, PROTON has not released an official explanation of this new logo but I think we can venture a guess. The tiger is an animal found in Malaysian jungles, and is also used in logos and crests in Malaysia, thus it is a suitable choice for a Malaysian logo.

The reasons behind the changes can be figured out. Firstly, the old logo was not easily understood by the export market. People could not identify with it, for it required knowledge of Malaysian history, or at least the flag to appreciate the symbolism. The use of the crescent moon itself became a weakness, as it is viewed as a religious symbol. The new logo is free of such national or religious symbolism, allowing it to be accepted by a wider audience. The use of animal motif follows other car companies such as Ferrari with their prancing pony, and of course, Jaguar, with their leaping jaguar.

It is clear that PROTON took pains to ensure that its logo would be easily recognizable, accepted and remembered when it changed it. The importance of a logo should not be underestimated, for it is first thing, and for some people, the only thing they remember about a product. PROTON has realized that and has repositioned itself to better compete in a global market. That realization can be seen through the change of its logo.

What do I think of this personally? Well, nationalism and pride is all well and good, but if we’re going to compete and survive in a competitive industry, we’ve got to play by the rules of the game. Besides, I think the present logo is more appealing overall. So a job well done to PROTON for changing with the times.


Graphic designers use a flat surface, or a two-dimensional space – to convey their messages to others. This two-dimensional, or 2D, space is a flat plane that consists only of length and width. The only depth within a 2D plane is the illusion of depth created by the designer. This illusion, much like a magic trick, can only work through the successful use of monocular cues.

Monocular cues create the illusion of forms that advance or come forward from the picture plane. The reverse is true as well, where forms seem to recede from the picture plane. Monocular cues are depth cues that result from using only one eye (mono meaning “one”). Recently, scientists have confirmed that the illusion of depth is perceived – not so much by the eye as it is by the brain. Successful designers use this information to create depth cues. In turn, these cues create the illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) space from a 2Dformat. Some ways to achieve this illusion include:

  • Size: For example, large type in a heading appears closer than small type in body copy.
  • Size and Position: Two pencils are placed next to each other, and one is smaller. The smaller pencil will appear to be further away in distance. On the other hand, if both pencils are the same size and one is placed at the end of a hallway (one point perspective), the pencil placed at the end of the hallway will appear larger.
  • Position: An object placed at the bottom of a 2D picture plane will appear closer than the same sized object placed at the top of that same format.
  • Overlap: When one object is overlapped over an object of the same size, the object on top is perceived as being closer.
  • Values: Darker objects appear smaller than lighter objects; so lighter objects appear closer to the viewer on the picture plane than darker objects.

The clues listed above are just a few of the many tricks designers can use to add the illusion of depth to a flat picture plane. In many cases, a designer will use more than one clue to help the viewer understand the depth illusion. Study optical or visual illusions, because some of these optical tricks may help you bring your subject ‘closer’ to your viewer in more ways than one!


Fact of life: most people are still low in computer literacy. Even a high level of education would not guarantee survival in the IT world. Not so much of a big deal outside the web, but for those whose business is Internet-based, this problem is a serious threat.

Let’s take a look at George, a 50-something politician who is preparing for the local elections. He has a very nagging idea in his mind of how he wants his campaign posters and fliers to look like. On the advice of his peers, he wants to try the printing services in the Internet. One of his friends strongly recommends The Gabriel Group. George was given the link. He types in (and it wasn’t easy for him to type it), then he hits ENTER. For reasons unknown to him, George sighs as the page loads at turtle speed. Finally it’s there, pretty angel and all. George looks at the page. Very pretty. Now what? Oh, ok, there: “Global Web-to-Print”. Is this it? Maybe. He clicks on it. Page loads. OH, NOW WHAT???? Forget it! Too bad for this gold standard company, George would have ordered tons of printing jobs. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

Ok, your turn. You’re a computer and Internet pro, right? C’mon, give it a try. Click on the link. What do you see? Well, in all fairness to its designer/s the site does look very, very pretty. But that’s not what we need. We’re in the do-it-yourself business and we’re trying to sell something. So, is our user interface friendly enough for people like George?

At this point, let’s see what happens as a person tries to operate your user interface. Is it simple or complicated to find stuff and make preferred events happen? This is vital because if your clients can’t make out how to work with the interface, you lose them!

What can you do about this? Here are some guidelines:

Keep it simple. I’m talking about the URL. Keep it simple, easy to remember, and above all, easy to type. Short doesn’t necessarily mean simple. Wacky isn’t always cool. Try to come up with something that will appeal to general patronage: from low-computer-literacy people to computer geeks; from high-school drop-outs to business executives. Hmmm…sounds really challenging!

Keep it basic. You would love to have the latest in web technology running in your website but it will attract only the nerds and not the potential buyers. Focus should be on content. It should scream good customer service.

Keep it peaceful. There is no need for rudiments that are in constant motion. Keep in mind that moving images tend to overpower the human senses. They’re like noise hammering inside your brain when you’re trying to read important text. Give the users some peace and quiet so they can go about what they need to do.

Keep it legible. A lot of modern web designers try to be cool and trendy by using super tiny fonts that nearly blend into the background and can only be clearly seen on mouse-over. You know what I mean? For some reason, someone came up with this silly idea and now it’s the craze in web fashion! Please don’t do this! This is NOT for the do-it-yourself business such as web-to-print. Keep in mind that a good number of your clients are nearing the geriatric stage and could barely read without their glasses on.

Keep it speedy. The number one turn-off for web visitors is, I’m sure, long download times. Most viewers would leave the site if it hasn’t completely loaded in 8 seconds. So that means goodbye flash effects…goodbye awesome graphics….we’ll see you at the gaming sites!

Perhaps you’ve heard of these web design pointers time and again. But maybe there is a need to review about them because they can never be overemphasized. Remember, what is being addressed here is the problem of low computer literacy. You cannot educate your clients but you sure can make things simple enough for them to say it’s “user-friendly”. So that’s five tips. I’ll give you some more next time.


^_^ Gracey


We are working with a freelance designer from Russia on our e-cards project. She’s making quite cool designs. If you like her style Nat can be reached on

She’s got lots of unused illustrations and can sell them on exclusive (up to $500) or non-exclusive (about $30) basis. I told her she can’t sell the same design to more than one ZP customer, so the non-exclusive will buy an exclusive within ZP :)

These are just a few samples. She’s got tons more and can make new ones.









We are still adding final touches to our new open source e-cards plugin, but here it is nonetheless.

It can be embedded into any web page just as I embedded it here.
Embedding string:

Variable parameters

Width: set to width in pixels or % (in 2 places)

Height: set to height in pixels or % (in 2 places)

Data source: this is an address of RSS feed for the catalog you want to show. The catalog needs to be public.

What for?

Don’t ask. It’s one of those pet projects. Maybe there is some use for it.

The most obvious is to promote your products. Build a catalog with a few simple templates that work well in small size and are fun. Embed the plugin on your site. Ask others to embed it. The user may want to click through to your site and actually order something after playing with these small designs.

Your suggestions on what features to add are welcome.



… a bolt form the blue…
… the black sheep of the family…
… to be browned off…
… a golden opportunity…
… paint the town red…

These are just a few of the many idiomatic expressions in the English language that use color. While some of these may need explanation for their literal meaning, little would you wonder how a particular color gets to be used where you see it.


“A bolt from the blue” means something sort of a surprise, owing to the word “bolt”. The English teacher will tell her pupils that a lightning bolt has the characteristic of coming very unexpectedly, which is why it is used to denote surprise in this expression. But there is no need to elaborate on the “blue” part because it is understood that what is figuratively meant here is the sky.

Colors speak. They convey words. They carry different meanings. One single color may impart several different messages. To demonstrate this point, let’s go back to the color blue. Because blue is the color of the sky and of clear running waters, it speaks of calmness and serenity. But it is the same color used in expressions to mean loneliness and sadness. Are you feeling blue?


How a color conveys a message is influenced by a number of factors. Most often times, it is what we call natural association that tells us what a color means. For example, earth is brown, blood is red, and vegetation is green. So that may mean brown is for “soiled”, red is for “barbaric”, and green is for “productivity”. We have been taught these associations when we were in school. But even those who were never formally educated have gained this knowledge, too, simply by looking around, provided of course, the person knows which color brown is! ^_^


There is also what the scholars of color refer to as psychological association. Now this is a bit more complex because it embraces a horde of perturbing determinants. By psychological association, we mean those attributes, meanings and uses that a particular color is given through the dictates of society, culture, religion, politics and fads.


Let’s looks at black, for example. Generally speaking, black has an almost global connotation of death and mourning. Some societies, however, reserve black for partying. This has been made stronger by fashion fads, dictating the use of black suits and gowns for the most elegant events. Furthermore, little bits of detail will put in big differences. So if you opt to don a black number to receive an Oscar, make sure the cut and style of your gown would not make you look like Morticia Adams.



Another example would be the color green. In Ireland, green has the symbolic meaning of good luck. This probably comes from the fact that green is the color of the “lucky” four-leaf-clover. If you are lucky enough, you might catch a leprechaun. Take note, he is dressed in green clothes! ^_^ Now to (sort of) contradict this, green also carries the symbolic meaning of seasickness. Please don’t ask why…the reason is really sickening!


Physical attributes. One can change the meaning of a color by making some alterations with its tonal depth, size and shape, background color, and surface texture (to name a few).



Let’s examine red. As stated earlier, red is the color of blood and hence carries with it an aggressive mood. If you see red as spills or splats, it looks bloody and gruesome. But give it a glossy or metallic finish and it becomes savvy. Red is a strong color and has a commanding effect. We see it everywhere as STOP signs. When a message needs to be emphasized or when some calendar days are considered special, they are written in red. It is a color so energetic on text that it could show strong emotion such as wrath. On the other hand, it looks playfully cheerful when presented as red polka dots. Give it the shape of a heart or make it a box for chocolates and your red now says, “Happy Valentine’s.”


How colors speak is indeed influenced by a myriad of factors. You can use common sense or mere gut feeling to figure out what a color implies. But if you are in the serious business of design, this is something you would have to take into detailed consideration.

Have fun with colors!

^_^ Gracey


A Little Bit of Myself.

I’m Mike Tan, I’m a Malaysian Chinese. Malaysia is a little country in south east Asia. We’re north of Singapore and south of Thailand. I myself live in a little island called Penang, dubbed as the Pearl of the Orient by travelers almost a century ago. I’m a creative editor, a job that mixes creative ideas with design processes, and I have been in involved in graphics, design and printing for the past 5 years.

Malaysian design in a word.

RojakIf I was asked to describe Malaysian design in a word, I’d choose the word ROJAK. A malay term, rojak literally means mix or potpourri. It also happens to be a name of a fruit dish here in Malaysia. Think of it as a fruit salad, with a spicy kick and you’d come to as close a description as you can get for rojak.

So why rojak? Because Malaysian design usually incorporates a fusion of colours. At times it results in a garish clash of colours, each screaming for attention, while at other times, the colours merge and swirl, each complementing the other, forming such a colourful harmony.
Pic: Rojak, a mixed fruit salad, brings to mind the concept of fusion in Malaysian design. Mind the spicy kick though.

Batik: An example of unique design.

Batik Design Process Process of making batik.

Batik is a traditional art form used in creating vibrant and stunning cloth designs utilizing waxing and dyeing techniques. Traditionally batik designs are hand drawn and dyed, making each item unique. The colours used in batik range the whole spectrum, and often appears in hues as well.

The designs on the cloth vary, featuring a mix of floral motifs, with intertwining flowers and petals, geometric motifs, arranged in interesting and delightful ways, and animal motifs, both real and mythological. Colour schemes include contrasting, complementary, and a mixture of hues.

Batik Picture 1Batik Picture 2Batik Picture 3

Some examples of batik designs. Mixtures of floral and geometric designs, mythological creatures, and domestic animals.

Malaysian Design: A fusion of colours

Design usually is influenced by culture and history, and in this sense, Malaysian design is no exception. It has a rich past, being situated in the between the trade route to China. Through the centuries, it has been influenced by many cultures, both western, such as Portuguese, Dutch, English, as well as eastern, such as Chinese, Siamese, and Indian. Aspects of these cultures were assimilated into Malaysian culture, and thus design as well. Thus the analogy of rojak in the earlier section. Each culture is distinctly unique, yet a part of the whole.

Religion also is one of the factors that influences design. In Europe, many great works of art were inspired by religion. We only have to look at the grandeur of the Vatican City, with the Sistine Chapel if we need an example. Religious influence in Malaysian design can be very obvious at times, in the case of mythological creatures as motifs, and also very subtle as well, for instance in the use of geometrical shapes, which was pioneered by the Muslims. Malaysian designs also draw heavily from nature, with large tropical flower designs, weaving creepers that often form geometrical or symmetrical shapes.

Taking all this into consideration, it comes as no surprise that Malaysian designs tend to be vibrant and colourful, even to the point of being garish at times. It reflects the spirit and soul of a nation that has adapted and assimilated various cultures and religions through the centuries, embracing that which is different, yet all the while, trying to remain the same.


Alpio Stanchi from São Paulo made this awesome video of making Kylie Minogue in vector using CorelDRAW. It doesn’t have anything to do with web-to-print except using the same design tool.


This blog is about to publish a series of articles from Asian designers on the state of graphic design and printing in their countries. I saw two draft articles from our Malaysian contributor and am eager to see the final versions here.

We live in an increasingly shrinking world where everything is just a few clicks away, but we miss out on a lot of information from non-English speaking countries. I’m excited to learn about the Asian design and printing industries and their specifics.

Why would you care? Probably there are two main reasons:
1. You may start noticing and using Asian resources for the benefit of your business.
2. You may want to know why some of your competitors and customers are already using them. (they would be your former customers then, probably)

Happy reading!


Did you know you could easily create a menu layout with the item name on the left and the price on the right in our web-to-print system?

Check out this web-to-print help post. It explain how to add leader dots over tabulation signs like in this example:



We spent a bit of time on improving our web to print help site and added a page for your suggestions.

Did you see a cool design somewhere and now want to make a template with something like that? It may be too hard. It may be impossible. Let us give it a try for you and then post a short tutorial on how to get it done.

Did you have troubles with ZetaPrints interface and think it should be better explained? Tell us where you stumbled and we’ll post an article to help you through.

Sourcing designs

We’ve got thousands and thousands of designs submitted by freelance designers. Some of the good, some not. Soon you will be able to browse them and add the ones you like to your catalogs. The main problem here is the pre-press quality of the designs as most designers concentrate on the visual aspect and totally ignore the technical side of making the final product.

We need help with writing detailed product guides and pre-press techniques that explain what the final output should be like, all the pre-press stuff, what information it should contain (fields), etc. Then let the designers try and pitch their designs to you.


It is amazing how meaning is emphasized by the way a word is typed. Font carries with it special attributes that make it touch the reader in a subliminal way. For this reason, font has been used as to ensure that a message is imparted not just to be read by the eyes but to be felt by the emotion.


Each font is symbolic and has its own history. Every font has a reason why it has been designed so and why it has been named so. The story behind the conceptualization of a font gives it its unique character. But it does not end there. Font evolves along with the changing times. It marries another to create an entire genealogy of fonts.


A good designer knows how to use font to make a very compelling statement. He knows that the word “wedding” would better be written in Flemish Script rather than Courier New. He knows that it would be inappropriate to use the Curlz font in writing something about the military.


The choice of font is critically essential in design. Tons of books and articles have been written to guide designers on what they call “fontography” and “typography”, ranging from history to vectorization of fonts. Apart from all the logical explanations and helpful hints and tips and tricks that you get from books and the Internet, you have your own decision-making tools such as gut feeling and pure common sense.


The most important thing about using font in design is get into the soul of the font, allowing it to commune with your senses and emotions. Feel what the font expresses and when use it to type your text, see if that is the feeling you would want to impart your readers. After that, you can change your text and font attributes for better suitability.


As a bit of seatwork, you can try this exercise on font selection. We will borrow a link from the website of Software Usability Research Laboratory of the Wichita State University. Please click on the following link: and try to decide which paragraph has been appropriately written. There really is no right or wrong answer, although there could be one in particular there that would get the most votes.

The choice of font must not depend solely on the topic of the text. You should also consider how this paragraph would appear on your page layout: is it part of a larger composition where it should appear continuously with the other paragraphs, or is it something that should appear with more emphasis than the rest of the text?


font_soul.jpgAnd now here’s something for logo designers. Nothing. ^_^ There is nothing I can tell you that you don’t already know. You have it there with you and you’ve known it all along. It’s all about being sensitive. You are dealing with emotions. You want to make a logo that speaks your message. Furthermore, your client wants a logo that would be powerful enough to carry on the brand image and make it popular for generations. You know what to do. Follow your heart. Use your senses. Choose a font with the attributes that best matches your emotions. If you do this successfully, you would not at all need a graphic image- your text will stand out and be recognized as a very powerful brand logo.


The soul of a font- it’s what you need to get along with- be it for an article such as this, for a web banner that scrolls or flashes, or a logo that is to be remembered for ages. It is the way a font speaks that should tell you when to use it and for what purpose. It is the one important factor that will enable you close all those written tutorials and guidelines and get on right away with your design …and feel good about it, too! ^_^


Finally, here are some very familiar brand logos that exemplify good use of fontography:


Have fun with fonts!

^_^ Gracey


In a fast paced world, where things change in a blink of the eye, sometimes we lose sight of what is truly important. Things scream out for our attention, demanding our time. There is simply so much to take in, that at times I do suffer information overload. In Malaysia, things are developing fast, and competition is very stiff at times, especially in the design industry. Every year, new graduates come out, some entering existing companies, others establishing their own little startups, powered by enthusiasm and led by their dreams. In this big field, how do we really differentiate ourselves, yet be able to deliver designs that will suit our clients’ needs?

At times like these, I often question the whole situation and yearn for a simpler time. There is a Malay proverb which goes like this “Sesat di hujung jalan, baik balik ke pangkal jalan”. It literally means, When lost at the end of the road, it’s best to go back to root. Its true meaning, of course, means that whenever we’ve diverted away from our original path, it’s best to return to the root of the matter. So whenever I feel that I’ve forgotten what Malaysian design is all about, I turn to the works of Mohammad Nor Khalid, more commonly known as Lat. And who, you may ask, exactly is Lat?

Lat: Examination of a Nation

Lat1Lat is a well known cartoonist in Malaysia. He has been drawing ever since he was a child in primary school. In fact, his first published cartoon was published when he was merely 12, a book called “Tiga Sekawan” (3 Friends). He went into journalism, first as a reporter, but his artistic ability, his keen sense of observation and his taste for satire led him to his true calling, that of a cartoonist. His most defining work would be The Kampung Boy, a cartoon autobiography of his childhood (Kampung means village in Malay). Details of Malaysian life and culture are beautifully captured and stereotypes of Malaysian life and attitudes spring to life inside the pages of his cartoons.

Lat houseLat’s style of drawing is minimalistic, often line drawings on a white background. His rendition of Malaysian scenery is stunning, often very accurate, showing his attention to detail. Observe the details on this drawing of a traditional malay house, in a rural setting. On the far left, by the staircase leading up to the house, you can notice a contraption made to divert water that falls down from the rooftop down to the ceramic container at the bottom. An overturned tin can which serves as a bucket is kept on top of a stick just by the container.

A Eyeful of Malaysia, Lat-style

Stall 1stall 3stall 2
In these 3 pictures, Lat focuses on Malaysian racial diversity, showcasing 3 different eateries, a Malay nasi lemak (rice) stall, a Chinese coffeeshop (hole-in-the-wall for those across the Atlantic) and an Indian rice shop (note the two western tourists at the right hand corner, underneath the staircase). These 3 pictures on their own are not meant to be funny, rather they’re a graphic rendition of Malaysian life, snapshots of Malaysia so to speak. It is in this that Lat excels in, and his cartoons are a collection of snapshots of Malaysia throughout the years, marking the changes.

KampungboyHis career has spanned at least 4 decades, in which he has published numerous cartoon books, editorial and satirical cartoons lampooning politics in Malaysia and other lighthearted ways of highlighting social and cultural issues in Malaysia. In the last 10 years, he has slowed down, and it is a shame that most Malaysian youth nowadays are not even familiar with his name, nor with his works.

Why do I hold Lat in such high esteem? It is perhaps that in his work he shows Malaysia as it truly is, the simple beauty and the stark ugliness, the mix of old fashioned values at odds with the fast-changing development of times, a society trying to make sense of its surroundings, and trying to find its place in this world. By taking a break and laughing over his cartoons, I remind myself of what is simple in this world, and perhaps in that, I am able to find myself again.

Closing Thoughts

To me, this simple man embodies the spirit of Malaysian design. I just wish that most of us are able to remain true to ourselves and still be able to meet the challenges of the design industry. It is possible to be a success and still be ourselves. Lat did it. So can we.


Courier TypefaceIn text type, it’s important to realize that there is only one space after a period. The two-space habit after a period can be tough for many typists to break; however, those two spaces can tell some people a lot about your inexperience and your age. Plus, those double spaces often create more work for others, unless you are creating documents in mono-spaced fonts.

The reason for the double space is that in typewriter fonts (or mono-spaced fonts like the one shown), all of the characters are alloted the same width of space, whether it’s an “m,” an “i,” or a period. The two paces after a period calls attention to the punctuation mark at the end of each sentence and creates a visual pause that is needed. In digital typesetting, however, the fonts are variably spaced, meaning each letter is encoded with its own space that is different based upon the width of the character. The punctuation is designed to be slightly larger so that it is easily recognizable at small point sizes without that double space. Therefore, one space after a period has been the standard in typeset copy for some time. Stop using double spaces, as you create more work for your editor or graphic designer when they have to go in and remove those extra spaces.



Font is an indispensable element of design. For what is a web page without text? What is a greeting card without words? Even sites intended to showcase nothing but pictures would have to have words for description and as such, the proper selection of fonts is essential. And your greeting card, no matter how graphic, needs to have words, like that line which tells who you are sending it to.

Color plays an equally vital role. Even if you don’t have graphics, you will be using color. Even the so-called gray scale, monochrome or black-and-white technically use contrasting colors, namely different shades of gray or black and white. And so when you have a visual message to present, font and color are the two basic components you just can’t do without.


There is a third design component and this one is so fascinating that most designers quickly jump in and use it without giving much regard on how it should be properly used. This component is texture and it is the one design tool that will take your project beyond the ordinary – either that or it will completely ruin your work. The good designer knows it takes courage to work with textures because it is not easy to find (or create) a good set that harmoniously combines font, color, and texture with the overall concept of the project. This being a fact, when things don’t look good and harmony just doesn’t seem to come in, the element to be dropped is texture. On the other hand, when successfully used, texture can make your message speak in a more meaningful and more appealing manner. That awesome work of art that is perceived by the eye touches the soul in a very gripping way.



When you are working on a web page (or card art), you have to be very careful with using texture. Otherwise, use it sparingly. There are lots of web pages out there that distastefully use texture. For instance, using a marble backdrop monotonously for an entire page is not at all pretty. It makes the reader feel like he’s in a marble-walled house – cold and not pleasing to be in. Having said that, we now come to the interesting observation of how texture affects feelings. Texture has the ability to impart a tactile feel of jaggedness or smoothness (although you don’t actually touch the image); it allows a perception of shade or glare; it is capable of emitting warmth or cold; and most interestingly, texture provokes emotions such as joy, melancholy, excitement, and even love.




Going back to the issue of the monotonous marble backdrop, I would suggest toning down the use of textures to banners, side columns, and other small areas such as thin frames or dividers. Make sure your textures go harmoniously with your page’s overall theme. If you have several textures you want to use together, see first if they complement each other. As a general rule, use textures sparingly. Saturation can kill your design.

The creative use of texture creates a dividing line between the programmer and the designer. A programmer merely “assembles” without giving much concern as to whether or not his bits and pieces go along amicably. He is content that his work has texture and believes that his pages have now been rescued from being plain and boring.


The designer, on the other hand, carefully plans and does a lot of test-running. He has a keen eye for beauty. He is an artist. He carefully chooses his textures and makes sure they are used without compromising elegance and simplicity. Being a good designer, he uses texture to enhance the not only the overall look of his pages, but more importantly to give better emphasis to what his work is all about.




Many sites offer free ready-made textures, often in the form of tiles. Sometimes, we come across sites with protected content, but their graphics are so pretty we may be tempted to steal or “borrow” them. If you have graphic assembly/editing software such as JASC Paintshop, CorelDraw or Adobe Photoshop, you can easily make your own textures. For starters, try creating a 2”x2” square with a solid color. Simply add effects such as those from Photoshop’s “filter” menu. Add one effect after another and viola! You have your very own all-original texture tile. Experiment with your software and you’ll see how fun it is to create your own textures. Try out some simple crayon effects and pretty soon you’ll be making those fancy textures with the shimmering feel, or even those space-age tiles with lights playing and making it sort of look like a nebula.



Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto “Less is more“. The phrase, although originally meant for the architect’s home-building tactics, has become very popular among modern designers. But sometimes it is being made into a lame excuse for not coming up with something new and adventurous. There is no room for extra features such as textures in the strict minimalist concept of design. I personally think it is not practical to adhere to this principle. Why limit yourself to flat and plain geometry when you create something that can better flaunt the great artist in you?




The use of textures is a good way to step out of the ordinary. It provokes the artist in you and gets you into feeling for yourself what you are trying to express. And of course, you become a better designer because you have a good and effective way of staging your ideas.

Experiment with textures and discover boundless potentials. The only limit will be your imagination.



To finish off this article, here’s a poem which I made for my Daddy some time ago. I framed it in some textures and added a couple of images which I got from Moon and Back Graphics, which, by the way, was my very first source of fascination and inspiration for creating digital art. Here’s the card, you can print it out and give it to your daddy.

Have fun with textures!

^_^ Gracey



Color properties can be confusing, especially since many designers use the computer to design for print. Unfortunately, the color associated with computers – RGB – is not the color that is associated with print – CMYK. Here are a few tips to help you remember the difference between the two color systems:

  • Computer color systems use light to portray color, so RGB is Red, Green, and Blue light. This system is also known as additive color mixing, so remember that when you turn on the light, you add color to the computer design process.
  • Print color systems don’t use light, so CMYK stands for four colors of ink: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Kryptonite (just kidding!). The “K” stands for “Key,” or the black ink that printers use to create values to a true black on paper. Since these inks are added to a piece of paper rather than to a backlit computer screen, the use of this system is known as subtractive color mixing.

Another way to remember the difference between the two systems:

  • When RGB lights are mixed together, they create white light (additive).
  • On the other hand, when CMYK inks (or paints) are mixed together, they create black ink (subtractive).

Unfortunately, a simple way to convert RGB to CMYK or from CMYK to RGB is unknown. The best the designer can hope for is to use a color management system that uses color profiles that can describe the spaces that are being converted. The conversions will never be exact. This is why it’s always good to design print materials with CMYK systems and images from the beginning, and why it’s good to always use RGB systems and images for Web design from start to finish.


It appears printers using ZetaPrints web-to-print service are being spammed by Those guys claim to be located in Brazil and spam heck our of our info@ and admin@ email addresses pushing 30 designs for $30.

I tried to contact them, but never got a reply.

They may be a legit business, but the chance is they are not. Just a word of caution.