The Importance of Effective Lost Pet Poster Design

Posters are one of the most successful methods for finding lost cats and dogs, but they need to be designed correctly to be effective.  An effective lost pet poster is both eye-catching and easy to read, especially from a distance. You may think that you already have posters up and that "everyone knows" your pet is missing but this is rarely the case.  When I drive to most lost pet cases, I rarely see any noticeable posters.  

The biggest mistake that people make is using their flyers as lost pet posters.  

These "posters" are usually 8 1/2 x 11, not noticeable and difficult or even impossible to read from a distance.  Flyers are also important in a lost pet search, but these are meant to be handed to people or posted in locations where people walk.  

Visibility of poster vs flyer

This shows the visibility of an 11x17 poster versus a flyer.

Before you print off a bunch of posters, print one off and put it up.  How far away can you see and/or read it?  Now get in your car.  Can you see and/or read it while driving or stopped in your car?

How to Design an Effective Lost Pet Poster

X Large Lost Dog Poster

Large lost dog poster using 14 x 22 florescent poster board with two pages in sheet protectors.

No matter what size poster you make, use as few words as possible and make the text as large as possible.

  • The best font to use is one that is clear, bold and condensed.  Some good options are Arial Narrow (with Bold style) or Franklin Gothic Demi Condensed.
  • Make the font size as large as possible - at least 100 point for the primary information (e.g. LOST DOG, REWARD, or your phone number).
  • Make the paper margins as narrow as possible.  If printing at home 0.5" may be the narrowest you can use, but a print shop can usually do as small as 0.25"

Text to include on the poster:

  • "Lost Dog", "Lost Cat" or just "Lost"
  • A very brief description of your pet.  This may not be necessary if you have a clear picture and your pet is an obvious color such as black & white.  Include breed if it is well known.
  • Date lost or last seen.
  • A phone number in the largest text possible.  Just use one phone number or the text will be too small.  If you need multiple people to receive the calls, consider getting a Google Number.

Optional text to include (only include these if you are using a large enough poster that you have room):

  • Area lost from or last seen.  For personal safety, only put an area, town or intersection and do not include your address.  If posting online or for an animal that might travel far, be sure to include your state too.
  • An email address, Facebook page or website for more information.  Offering more ways to get in touch such as texting, email or Facebook can increase the number of potential sightings that you receive.  A Facebook page or website can also allow you to provide additional information (such as more photos) and updates on the search.
  • Include a note if your pet is shy or afraid such as "Shy - Do Not Chase!"
  • State if your cat is an indoor-only cat.  
  • Include a specific call-to-action such as "Call or Text If Seen" or "Call Immediately Anytime".  This may seem unnecessary, but sometimes people do not feel that they should call unless they actually have the lost pet in their possession.  

Selecting a Photo for Your Poster

One of the most important parts of your poster is the photo of your pet.  Like the text on your poster, the photo needs to be easily visible and recognizable from a distance.  

  • If possible, select a photo that shows your pets entire body either sitting or standing, preferably in profile.  You want people to easily see the size and shape of your pet as they would look from a distance.
  • Don't use photos from unusual angles such as pointing down from above or your pet rolling over on their back.  
  • Don't use cute photos of your pet wearing clothes or being held by a person.
  • Crop out as much background as possible.  You can use a program like Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Paint (a free program on many PCs).  If you prefer you could pay someone else to do this by hiring someone on Fiverr, which starts at just $5 for many projects.  Just search for "remove photo background" and make sure the person you hire has a fast turnaround time.  
  • If you don't have a good photo of your pet, you could try searching for photos online that look similar.  Only use these if they look very similar to your missing pet. 

Should You Offer a Reward?

X Large Lost Cat Poster

Large Lost Cat Poster using 14 x 22 florescent poster board and two sheets of paper in page protectors.

Rewards are most important if your lost cat or dog is very friendly, a puppy or kitten or a recognizable purebred.  In other words, in any case where it is most likely that someone has your pet.

  • Rewards are NOT recommended for dogs if they are likely running loose because this can encourage people to chase the dog to try and catch them.  This can result in the lost dog running even farther away or worst case running into traffic and being killed
  • Rewards are often recommended for lost cats even if they are shy or likely loose outdoors.  This is because many people are accustomed to seeing cats loose outdoors and don't often notice them.  A reward can provide an extra incentive for people to actually pay attention to roaming cats and maybe even check their own yard thoroughly for any cats.  If the people do attempt to approach or catch the lost cat, the cat may run but probably won't go very far before they hide.

To reduce the chance of people attempting to catch your lost pet themselves, include the following text "Reward for information leading to return" and "Shy - Do Not Chase!"   If your signs without rewards are not generating any sightings after a week or two, then you may want to add a reward at this time.

Amount of the REWARD

Whether or not you include a specific reward amount on the poster is up to you, but if you do not put an amount, people will either call you asking what the reward is or they will probably assume the reward is not very much - unless you put something like "large cash reward".  I generally recommend reward amounts between $100-$500.  Larger rewards can attract the attention of scammers.  However, if you strongly believe that someone has your dog or cat, you might consider offering a very large reward "for their safe return" and "no questions asked."

Select the Right Size Poster

Larger posters are much more noticeable than small posters.  If cars are going too fast, then drivers will not be able to read the posters.  Make sure to select posters that are large enough that they will be noticed in your area.  If you cannot afford large posters or if these are more likely to be taken down in your area, smaller posters CAN be effective if designed well and placed strategically.  Many people use a combination of large and small posters.

XL 22"x28" Poster

XXL Lost Dog Poster

Extra large (22" x 28") florescent poster board posters are the most noticeable.  These are best where cars are driving more than 50 mph or for large multi-lane roads.

Large 14"x22" Poster

X Large Lost Cat Poster

Half-size poster board (14" x 22") posters are best where cars are driving less than 50 mph.  Consists of two sheets of paper in page protectors taped to a half-sheet of poster board.  These are one of my favorite size posters.  They cost less to make but take more time to put together.  Typical cost is $1.00 to $2.00 per poster.

Ledger 11"x17" Poster

Large 11 x 17 Lost Dog Poster

Ledger (11" x 27") posters are best where cars are driving less than 40 mph.  If time rather than money is a concern, these are a good alternative to the 14" x 22" posters.  These can be printed and laminated at an office supply store such as Staples and will last many months in all weather conditions.   You can make them even more noticeable by attaching them to a half-sheet of florescent poster board.  Typical cost is $3.50 to $6.00 per poster.  

Small 8.5"x11" Poster

Small Lost Cat Poster

Letter (8.5" x 11") posters are best where cars are driving less than 30 mph or (better yet) stopping.  These posters can either be laminated or placed in page protectors to keep them dry.  To make them more noticeable, use bright colors or attach the poster to a 1/4 piece of florescent poster board.  Typical cost is $0.50 to $2.50 per poster.