The proportional scale, a tool familiar to most graphic designers, is a handy way to calculate dimensions for us right-brained folks.
It’s similar to the scaling features of Word or InDesign, but unlike software programs, a proportional scale gives you a chance to plan the size of your master art in the early stages, on paper, rather than adjust it later in the computer.
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Here’s how a proportional scale works:
Say your original composition is 10×12″ and you’re going to use it on multiple pieces. You have a list of the required dimensions for each of your finished products (e.g. framed artwork, mugs, cards, etc.) and you want to see how much you’re going to need to reduce your artwork, and whether it will reduce evenly.
This is the perfect job for a proportional scale. Go ahead and pick up your wheel.
Note in the photo above that the proportional scale is made up of two wheels. The top (smaller) wheel turns, and is marked with numbers for the “Size of Original.” We’ll scale one dimension at a time, so let’s start with 10″ and choose a project that needs art 5×6”.
If you’re following along with your own proportional scale at home, keep your eye on the 10″ mark of the inner/top wheel and align it with the desired “Reproduction Size” on the bigger, bottom wheel, which is 5″.
Without moving the inner wheel, now locate the other dimension of your original drawing in the top/inner wheel (which is 12″) and see what the corresponding dimension should be. The little window shows that at 50%, your 10×12″ comp will reduce perfectly to 5×6″ because both dimensions of the original scale down proportionately.
(You’re right, I chose an easy example, but you get the idea!)
If you wanted your finished project to be 5×7″, however, then the proportional scale would show you that your master art should be 10×14″.
When your art does not scale proportionately, you can adjust your art, or another option is to think creatively and be flexible. Can it be cropped? Can you add a quote? I did both to make my “Art” project work.
With one piece of art and a proportional scale, I made all of the following:
A framed piece for a show—I added a quote to fit the extra space in order to use a standard frame.
A mug—notice that I cropped out the quote and a bit of the actual art to make it fit.
A greeting card to fit standard-size envelopes
Lastly, if you just want to make copies (say, for printing cards at home) your proportional scale calculates the exact percentage in a heartbeat. This handy little tool gives ranges from fractions up to a 900% enlargement.
While writing this article, I learned that there are apps for the proportional scale tool. Bear in mind, it works OK without the app, too. Never hurts to try both ways.
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