How to Design A Coupon for A Sales Promotion

Coupons are an all time favorite among consumers. A coupon is the most basic form of a sales promotion, and often part of a retail store or restaurants marketing communications strategy. If used effectively, coupons can help generate business. This article focuses on how to design a coupon, as part of your sales promotion.

You do not need to be a graphic designer, but it is assumed that you have working knowledge of design programs, such as Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator, or QuarkXpress. For the most part, you could use Adobe Photoshop as well.

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As a side note, I realize some people would prefer to use Microsoft Office as a design program. This could work, especially if you are printing your coupon on your desk top printer, however, I would avoid using Office, since it is not a real graphic design program and if you decide to send your coupon to a printer, they would not accept the Microsoft Office file as a suitable format for offset printing.

My approach will be to first explain the different aspects on how to design a coupon, and then provide you a few examples of coupons being used by retailers and show you the various design elements on their coupons.

 How To Design A Coupon – Brief Overview

This is a quick snapshot list of the items that should be included in your coupon. I will explain these items in more detail below.

  1. Determine the size of your coupon
  2. Your headline should state the coupon offer clearly
  3. Use large type size for your headline
  4. Add directions for the checkers/cashiers
  5. Include a UPC code
  6. Add your logo and/or product image to your coupon
  7. Expiration date
  8. Marketing code should be added to the coupon
  9. Add dotted lines as visual cues to cut
  10. Include your store location(s) to your coupon
  11. Include the fine print

How To Design A Coupon – Detailed Explanations

1. Coupon size
Decide on the size of your coupon. However, before you do that, you need to know how you want to distribute your coupons. Will it be:

  • Sent as part of your brochure?
  • placed in a magazine/newspaper?
  • added as an insert into a newspaper?
  • a coupon that is a stand alone and left at your business counter?
  • placed in a coupon book and distributed with other coupons?

While there are no specific rules on what size a coupon should be, other than what a publication dictates, if you plan on designing a coupon as a stand alone piece, I recommend one of the following sizes:

  • 3.75″ wide x 2.5″ tall (this will allow you to layout 8 coupons on a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper with .5″ margins, if you are not printing the coupons with a professional printer and printing them on your inkjet or laser printer).
  • 7.5″ wide x 2.5″ tall will yield 4 long coupons with the same set-up as the measurements above.


With the above measurements, I recommend having a .125″ or .25″ border or dotted cut line around the coupon (See image 1 below).


Sample Coupon - How To Design A Coupon

Image 1


 2. Coupon offer – headline
The first thing a potential customer will see is the headline of your coupon. Your coupon headline should state your offer and state it clearly (see image 2). Here are some sample coupon offer headlines:

  • Buy one get one FREE (always capital and emphasize the word FREE!)
  • 50% Off or 1/2 Off (price) Sale
  • $5 Dollars Off (or whatever amount your promotion is about)
  • Save $4.00!
  • FREE!


Buy One Get One Free Coupon - How To Design A Coupon

Image 2 – Coupon Headlines


3. Use large type face for headlines
Your headline font should be a larger font size than the rest of your coupon copy, especially if you use the word “FREE”, or “Buy One Get One…” (See image 2 above).

Your headline font size will be dictated by the overall size of your coupon. However, as a general rule, begin with 24 point type and either increase or decrease the size of your type as needed.


4. Add directions to the coupon
This guideline, on how to design a coupon, is not always required. However, if your coupons are to be redeemed at a grocery store, you may want to consider adding some direction on the coupon for the cashier/checker, since they may not be familiar with the sales promotion or coupon redemption procedure (See image 3 below).


How to design a coupon - Add direction to coupon image

Image 3. Add direction to coupon for cashiers.



5. Include a UPC code
A UPC code or Universal Product Code is a barcode that is used to track products. If you are selling products at retail stores, it is wise to include a UPC code on your coupon (see image 3 above. The bars underneath the headline is a UPC code). You can read more on UPC codes here.


6. Add your logo or product image to your coupon
This tip on how to design a coupon may seem obvious, however, I have seen my share of small retail stores and restaurants who use coupons to promote products, leave off their logos and/or a photo of the product they are promoting.

The logo helps reinforce your brand image and help the consumer recognize your business. The product image, especially food items, entice your customer to use the coupon. (See image 4 below, Friday’s uses their logo in teh top left corner of the coupon).


How to design a coupon deomonstration image

Image 4 – Add a logo and expiration date to your coupon.


7. Add an expiration date to your coupon
Expiration dates serve two purposes on a coupon; they help create a sense of urgency for the consumer to react and make a purchase, but more importantly, expiration dates are used to control the time period of your sales promotion, helping you predict the amount of potential business you may receive for a given time period; typically the duration of the sales promotion. See image 4 above, the coupon displays the valid usage dates on the bottom right side of the coupon.

The expiration date does not have to be large in type size but should be placed in a visible area. A good font size is 8 point type.


8. Add a marketing code to each coupon
Take a look at image 3, above, again; notice under the UPC barcode, there is a small typed “code”. This code is often referred to as a marketing code. Adding this code is helpful for two reasons, 1) if you are running the same sales promotion at various times of the year; you can add a different code each time you run the promotion which makes tracking the coupon redemption easier, and 2) if you are using multiple communication channels, such as different local news paper publications/periodicals, you will be able to track which publication is yielding a higher response rate by how many coupons from that publication are redeemed.


9. Show dotted lines around the coupon

As I mentioned earlier in point 1; above, your coupon should have a dotted line border (see image 1, above) as a visual cue indicating that the coupon should be cut out of the publication or flyer. You may also want to include a small graphic of a pair of scissors to visually cue the recipient that the coupon should be cut out of the page that it is printed on. (See image 5. Notice the small scissor graphic to the left of the coupon?)

How To Design A Coupon - Image 4 Demonstration

Image 5 – add dotted lines and scissor as visual cues to cut the coupon


10. Contact information/locations
If you are a local restaurant with one or a few stores or even a national retail chain with many stores, then consider adding the location addresses of your stores so your customers know where to find you, especially if you are new to the area. Adding a map, providing your coupon has space, is also a good idea. (Image 5 above shows the web address for GameStop.)


11. Add the fine print

Finally, adding the small or fine print is essential to many coupon offers. The fine print spells out the legality of the coupon usage. You can include such things as:

  1. The quantity of goods that can be purchased on one coupon
  2. Age restrictions
  3. Location restrictions
  4. Employee restrictions
  5. How many coupons can be redeemed by one customer
  6. Whether a dealer/distributor can use the coupon
  7. Whether the coupon is valid with any other offer
  8. Limit the products or services that can be purchased with the coupon


Regarding the font size of the fine print, there is no legal size requirement, other than the type has to be legible. I have seen some really small point sizes for the fine print on coupons. As a general rule, 6 point type is a good place to begin, however, if you have a small coupon size, then your fine print may need to be smaller than 6 point type.


 Wrap Up

Coupons are a great way to generate new business and keep current customers coming returning to your place of business. A well designed coupon with a great offer can help generate the new and return business. How to design a coupon touches on the basics of what elements should be included in your coupon. If you have any additional thoughts or ideas on how to design a coupon, please share them in the comments below.


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