If you’re a web developer business cards are one of the must have marketing tools in your arsenal. They’re the first thing that you give to a client, and the first thing they look at when they need you.
But printing on card is not the same as designing a website, coding errors are temporary (as long as you spot them) but printing errors are forever.
So here are 20 top tips to help you get the best from your business cards.
The best advice I can give you is to research a number of printers and select your preferred supplier before you open any software or make any design decisions. Most printers will supply their own tried and tested artwork guidelines that will make your life a whole lot easier.
Best business card design applications are Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator.
Adobe has a range of solutions that can help, including Illustrator and InDesign. I wouldn’t buy any of these just so that you can design a card, but if you already have them as part of an existing suite of software then either is ideal.
It’s likely that as a Web Developer you’ve access to Photoshop or a similar digital image editing application. You may feel tempted to make use of this familiar application when you’re designing your card, but this could be a mistake. For example when text is added to your design the resolution of the image would have to be very high to prevent it from becoming pixelated. This can lead to larger file sizes and slower design time; many printers advise against the use of these types of applications and will, for good reason recommend vector based applications like InDesign or Illustrator.
You want to design your own card but producing artwork to a commercial standard is a skill like anything else.
By all means design your card, but you can always ask a graphic designer or artworker to produce the artwork files, that way you can be sure that your card will conform to your printers’ requirements.
Just like Web Design; design for print follows standards which you should adhere to. Whereas Web Developers check their code and test their designs in different browsers, Graphic Designers adhere to industry wide practices and pay attention to the requirements of each printer that they use.
Once you’ve selected your printer and software, you need to understand a little more about design for print.
Dimensions– Despite what you might believe business card sizes are not universal so it’s important to do your research, as even within the same country, sizes do alter. Again ask your printer for guidance as a change from their standard card size can incur extra costs or lead to mistakes during printing.
Bleed– A bleed is a printing term that refers to printing over the trim size; it’s implemented to minimize the effect of any issues with machine tolerance during the cutting process. The bleed ensures that you’re not left with cards that have a white line down one, or more sides. Normally a bleed exceeds the trim size by 3mm on each edge of the card; again this can vary and is something you should check on your printers’ artwork guidelines.
Quiet Zone / Safe area– The Quiet zone or Safe area appears inside the trim size; like the Bleed it’s implemented to minimize the effect of issues with machine tolerance during the cutting process, in this case the loss of important detail including text, images etc.
TOP TIP: Don’t set your design up to fail by aligning design elements against folds or edges.
CMYKnot RGB– One of the first things that you need to understand is that printing uses a different color model to the one that you’re used to.
Where you’re used to specifying colors for the screen using RGB colors (Red, Green, Blue) via a Hexadecimal notation (HEX) like this.
Printing predominately uses CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) with Black being the Key or Key plate, so named as historically it allowed the other plates to be aligned correctly during the printing process.
Where as RGB is an additive color model CMYK is a subtractive model, which masks (or partially masks) the light on the surface to which it’s applied, thereby subtracting brightness from white.
Mixing only CMY (without the Black) should theoretically result in a black color but imperfect ink formulations prevents this, and is another reason why the fourth color K (Black) is needed.
Color percentages– You need to be careful how you add colors to your design; the printing process has various limitations which you need to be aware of.
Colors are added to the CMYK color mode using percentages, for example:
The above mixes 75% Magenta with 100% Yellow resulting in an orange color.
The above mixes 100% Cyan with 75% Magenta and 10% Black and would result in a mid-tone blue.
Theoretically you can add as much ink as you like to a design so C:100 M:100 Y:100 K:100 = 400% however practices like this can lead to the marking of the underside of a printed piece (set off) or messy edges where the job has not fully dried before it’s cut up.
Printers avoid this by setting an ink coverage limit, the normal limit is 300% but this does vary so again check your printers’ artwork guidelines.
TOP TIP:In some applications you will be able to set your document profile or other pre-sets, obviously its best to set the profile to Print; normally this is prompted when you set up a new document.
Often things that look great on screen are not set correctly for print here is an overview of the most common differences in approach:
Image size and color– It’s advisable to convert all images to CMYK and save them at the recommended DPI (normally 300DPI at their final size); resizing images risks compromized quality, yes even if it looks OK on screen. If you have to scan in a line art image such as a logo you will need to do this at a much higher resolution to avoid the edges pixilating (normally 1200DPI at final size).
Dull blacks– So based on the above you would assume that C:0 M:0 Y:0 K:100 will make the perfect black, but that’s not quite the case.
On larger areas of black you can add other colors into the mix to achieve an even coverage and a stronger color; again it’s essential to check as there may be limits that you need to be aware of.
TOP TIP: It’s a good idea to use 100% black for text between 6 – 10pt, this will help ensure that it’s crisp, clear and easy to read.
Missing files– Software like InDesign references external images and fonts, which you need to include when you send off the artwork. There are many methods of retaining these elements such as package up your designs, or converting fonts to outlines, check with your printer as to which method they prefer.
Ink issues– To ensure that the colors match your printers ink limits check your color swatches. If you’re bringing in images make sure that the colors match up with other design elements, you can check this in Photoshop or another digital image editing applications by using the eyedropper tool.
Text and image effects– Text and image effects can cause issues; normally they need to be converted to images to ensure they print correctly.
Loss of fine detail– Avoid print lines under 0.25pt or tints lower than 10% unless you’ve checked within your printers’ artwork guidelines that it’s OK.
TOP TIP: If you want vibrant colors and CMYK just isn’t cutting it, ask your printer about Pantone® colors.
Think audience– Now that you know a lot more about the print process, we can move onto the fun marketing portion of this post.
Spend time thinking about how you can help your audience, what problems can you help them solve and who else you’ve helped. Think of ways in which you card can convey “how you can help them”.
TOP TIP: A well thought out short strapline can be a great way of accomplishing this.
Your card is the first thing you give to a client, and the first thing they look at when they need you again, so make it memorable.
Make your business card memorable. Image Credits: Nathan Rupert
Think outside the box, perhaps the card could feature an offer, or some design element that connects the card to you.
Inevitably your card will be lost in the Rolodex if it doesn’t standout, so ensure that your design is eye catching. Take a look at some other great business cards before you design your card to ensure you’re on the right track.
People meet with you, not your company, you’re the face of the business and as such your name is the most important element on your card.
The next most important element is your preferred method of contact (or should that be your customers preferred method of contacting you). Don’t assume that because you prefer e-mail your client will as well.
If you’re having trouble with the process, list all possible detail and remove all that seem superfluous.
Remember less is more, you can’t add all your contact info.
Your branding should be consistent and mirror your website that means the colors, fonts, logo and other key design elements. Remember although your logo is important, you have many more elements to include within the design.
Social media profiles can be a great addition to your card, but only if you use them, inactive profile pages will just give a negative impression.
QR codes are becoming ever more popular and as a web developer you should be pushing people to your site using all possible methods. The QR code could load your homepage, a landing page, an offer, or your contact details.
The best part of using a QR code is that you get to tell the recipient why they should scan it in. This act transforms you and your card from mundane to memorable.
Generate whatever QR codes you need at qrstuff.com.
Interesting materials including metal and plastic can have a positive impact on how your card is perceived by each recipient.
On the other hand printing your card on a biscuit, or other bizarre material may provoke an initial reaction but be careful, off the wall ideas can easily backfire.
If you decide to opt for card there are a range of effective Matt and Gloss coatings worth the added expense, these may be applied to your entire card or you can pick out design elements with spot UV, an ultra-glossy finish.
TOP TIP: Ask your printer for samples which include the materials and coatings you’re considering.
The additional cost to print on both sides of a card is negligible and often no more than single sided printing, it’s crazy not to use the opportunity to better organize the info that you want to include.
It may seem creative to print a round card, but remember that after the initial reaction you want the recipient to keep your card and be able to reference it easily.
Think about how the recipient will transport and store the card you give them, before you decide.
Check how your card compares to others you’ve collected.
TOP TIP: Mix your card up with your collection, if it doesn’t pop out, rethink the design.
This is probably the most important part of the process, even though you check your proof there may well be mistakes, the fact is you’re too close to the design and you need help.
Get people unconnected to your business to look at the design, ask them to test the contact details to ensure that they work as they should.