Bumper stickers have moved well beyond the bumpers for which they’re named. A truly eye-catching design finds its way onto school or office bulletin boards, students’ notebooks, musicians’ instrument cases and anywhere else smooth enough to hold a sticker. Once it’s there, a durable sticker sends its message to everyone who sees it, reaching hundreds or even thousands of viewers for a tiny initial investment. However, your custom sticker design will only reach that large audience if they’re interesting enough to draw the eye in the first place.

Think of iconic bumper sticker designs, and you’ll notice that they all have one thing in common: simplicity. Perhaps the most famous sticker is the plain yellow smiley. A yellow circle with two ovals and a bracketed curve somehow became one of the most recognized images of the last century whether it was on a bumper or a button. Simplicity itself is striking; it doesn’t need a block of text to explain it or ornamental details to make it eye-catching. If you plan to use images on your stickers, choose large, simple designs over small, fussy details.

A bumper sticker doesn’t need an image to draw attention. Interesting copy in an attractive font will draw interest too. Text naturally invites reading, but your potential audience may have only a few seconds to take in everything on the sticker, so keep it short. Think of how effective the “Got milk?” campaign has been, and you’ll see the value in a few well-chosen words. Sometimes a web address is enough, particularly if it’s an interesting or amusing name. If you’d like to add a tag line, aim for a sentence with fewer than five words.

The human eye naturally focuses on high-contrast images. However, too much contrast becomes jarring, so use the knowledge wisely when choosing colors for your bumper stickers. When you look at a color wheel, the colors that provide the most contrast are those that lie opposite one another on the wheel. Using those two colors next to one another will certainly give you contrast, but it will also create visual vibration if the two tones are too close in value. The solution is to use the color wheel to pick your initial colors, then vary the lightness and darkness of those two colors to achieve contrast without clashing. Instead of true red and green, choose a bright tomato red against a pale lime green for a lively contrast that’s still easy on your viewers’ eyes.

Rely on bumper sticker printing experts for advice. When you buy your stickers, the company you choose can offer cogent suggestions on how to make the most of your bumper sticker budget. Options like foil and multi-color printing can be eye-catching, but they can also affect legibility if you already have a complex design. Ask your printing company for suggestions on those eye-catching extras.