The dos and don’ts of design mockups

Kaitlyn Ellison

Mockups can be great. They make your design look more professional and help the client get an idea of what design can look like in real-world context. There are hundreds of resources out there to help you use or create your own, and that’s for a reason — they work.

But there’s a dark side to the mockup. Designers can rely too much on using a nice mockup to sell a sub-par design. Or, conversely, do a poor job creating the mockup, which distracts the client from the real design or misleading them into thinking they’re going to receive deliverables that they aren’t.

Here are the dos and don’ts you need to know to enhance your best designs with a mockup.

1. Create your design in the correct format
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If there’s one thing we want you to learn from this article, it’s the importance of creating your design in the format that is required for the handover first, then using a mockup as an assistant to show it off.

Whether you’re creating a mockup from scratch, or using one legally downloaded off of the web, it’s in all likelihood going to be in raster format. So it follows that whatever design you’ve created and want to insert into the mockup is raster, as well.

Don’t be fooled! Though your mockup can be in rasters, your design might have to be vectorized. A logo is a great example — you are required to submit a logo design in vector format.

Learn the file requirements for a contest here before creating your mockup: What design files should I deliver to my clients?

2. Know how to convert a vector to a raster file
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Don’t know how to convert a vector to a raster? It’s painlessly easy. Here’s how to do it in Adobe Illustrator: File > Export > (Select format)

Export

It’s much easier to convert a vector file to a raster file than it is a raster into a vector. Read our step-by-step article, “How to transform illustrations into digital vectors,” to learn how to use Adobe Illustrator’s live trace to do so.

But take our advice and do yourself a favor, work in vector first. It’ll save you time and the client stress.

3. Don’t only show the mockup
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Mockups are great, but your client is going to need to see what the actual file is going to look like. That’s why so many designers do these longer, presentation-style mockups.

It’s helpful to show, say, a design label both on and off the container it will cover or a logo on different colored and textured backgrounds. The client can look at it from different angles in order to see what kind of changes they want to make.

4. Be clear with your client
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Be very transparent about what you can and cannot produce for your client in a contest. Be specific. If you’re working in a logo contest and you’re using a mockup to show what a business card and stationery would look like, you cannot offer those for free in a logo contest. That’s why you can make a comment with your submission — to explain your design to the client.

Be clear what constitutes the mockup and what is the design. If the client inquires into your work, you can negotiate with them for additional deliverables after the completion of the contest. We encourage you to continue to work together in our 1-to-1 system.

5. Don’t take shortcuts
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If you don’t want to create your own mockups, that’s fine! There are plenty of legal resources online to help you make quick examples of the work. But in any site you choose, even if you see the word “free” floating around, make sure that you check the licensing and terms of use.

Here are a couple of resources:

4 professional mockup alternatives for showing off your work
99designs’ resource guide for getting started making your own mockups

GraphicBurger
The licensing allows you to use and modify these images personally or commercially, but you may not resell, sublicense or redistribute the mockup file to your client, even for free. Credit is preferred, but not required.

GraphicsFuel
Offers a free license that allows for use in in personal, commercial, or client work — with attribution required. There’s a non-exclusive license where you can use and modify the imagery, and an extended license for designers to use specific items in a final design.

6. Curate your mockups
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The entire point of a mockup is to make your design look better — to show off what it would look like in a real-life situation. So if you start going too overboard with examples, using a cluttered background or ignoring the overarching brand style that the company is looking for, then you’re going to do the opposite of what you’re trying to do.

Pick the right way to tell your branding story. Here are some designers from 99 who have done a great job:

Signage

signage mockup
by grandeur™

Signage is a great tool to use, if you know that your client is going to need their logo plastered up in all sorts of places. A logo for a sports team or venue is the perfect example of this. That logo is going to have to be huge, and it’s going to be put up on and in buildings, on apparel, on beverage and food holders and possibly even in tattoo form (you never know!).

While you don’t need to show absolutely every context the logo could be taken in, select one or two of the most likely and impress your client with it.

Packaging and labels

packaging mockup
by Martis Lupus

Label design is one of those we see most frequently in mocked-up form, as the difference between a flat label and a label plastered to a 3D object can look very different.

We love the simple presentation above, which looks like it could be a professional ad in a magazine. One tip we have for label design is to submit the design before the contest is awarded both in mocked-up and in an original format.

Make sure the CH knows what it’s going to look like when you deliver it in the handover, so they don’t get confused when they receive a 2D design that looks different from the 3D mockup you entered into the contest.

Logos

logo mockup
by thisisremedy

A lot of focus is placed on the 3D mockups, but simple formatting for submitting a logo design can make a huge difference. Take the example above. Not only does the designer show off the logo in multiple possible color combinations, but also against a potential branding image.

It’s what a logo could look like on a company’s website or in their advertising, and it’s all about the selection of the photo. We don’t know about you, but after seeing this super cool tattooed artisan, we want to check out this brand.

Websites and apps

mobile app mockup
by CreativeMalia

Website and app designs are a whole different animal to try and show off, as so often there is scrolling involved, a larger design will only be partially displayed on a screen at any given time.

Similarly to the label design, it’s important here to both show the design in its entirety (sans context) and a mockup of what the most important parts will look like on a screen. Typelab D does a great job with this — click through the link to the contest to see the mockup in it’s entirety.

Book covers

book cover mockup
by CloogieDesign

Book covers can be difficult to imagine when they’re laid flat out, similar to packaging designs. Mockups are an excellent way for authors to better understand how the front cover, back cover and spine all work together.

In the example above, CloogieDesign takes this concept above and beyond, by showing the books in different positions and piled up to really give the design life.

Business cards and stationery

brand mockup
by nnorth

This design is for a Brand Identity Package, so it’s got even more going for it than a traditional stationery contest, but shows a whole assortment of ways to mockup a simple design in different contexts.

We love it when designers create a brand identity that can be expressed in different ways, extracting a symbol and using that on it’s own, or using it as part of the test-based logo.

Show us how you use mockups to advertise your work in the comments!

Cover image: blandine

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

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