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15 tips on how to design your own business card
Monday, 08 November 2010 08:54

Business Card Design Tips

This is your last chance for a good first impression so it is worth getting it right.

Your business card is a take away reference, a courtesy for those who can't remember names (adds comfort, so they can concentrate on what you are saying and not on remembering your name) and in many ways is a statement of stature. Your name is associated with it and if it looks cheap, then by extension, you look cheap.

It is good business to have a good business card.

Building good business card artwork

First some technical basics:

In all products there are slight variations between units. The allowable variation is called "tolerance". In the Printing industry generally, the sheet to sheet tolerance allowed in printing is +/- 0.5mm the front to back tolerance is +/- 0.5mm and the guillotine cutting tolerance +/- 0.5mm. (When other finishing processes are involved (cello-glazing, foiling, varnishing, scoring, perforating, etc) the guillotine tolerance can be extended up to another half a millimeter). All those plus or minus half millimeters add up, so the final cut can be up to 1.5mm away from the intended cut and worse; that can be in either direction making 3mm overall (OK, extreme example - hardly ever happens) and still considered to be: "within tolerance"

To cater for these tolerances we use "margin" and "bleed". Margins are simply keeping essential stuff away from the edges of the card and out of harms way. Bleed means running colours and borders right past the cut edges so that the guillotine cuts through it and no white lines show up were they shouldn't.

Other tolerances to be aware of are skew and square. The rest (every measurable element of every industrial process has a tolerance allocation) you can ignore, as they are well outside the scope of this discussion.

  1. Double sided card: Use that real estate: Use it to advertise, use it to inform, use it to inspire, use it to amuse, use it for anything you want, but use it, don't waste it. Sure it costs a little more, but not a whole lot more.
  2. K.I.S.S: "Less is more" applies especially to business cards ("keep it simple stupid")
  3. Margins "Room to breath": keep a margin between the important elements (eg: text) and cut edge of the card. 5mm is normal, 3mm a rule-of-thumb minimum. Margin also influences "white space" a subject worthy of its own article, which aids in the simplicity and clean appearance of any final design.
  4. Bleeds. Run background colours, borders, and any element which touches the edge of the card, straight past the edge by another 2mm or 3mm


  5. Font Point Size: Understand who your audience is and the limitations of Ink. 4pt helvetica light in black text on white background will reproduce fine and be clearly readable with good eyes, but invisible to a pensioner. That same text may not even reproduce as white text on black. Rule-of-thumb: smallest: 7pt, biggest: 11pt but print it out at size and be critical of your own work from your audience POV.
  6. How many Fonts? Choose fonts with care... Every font should work for a living, be able to justify its existence. Every font conveys a message within itself, the trained eye understands these messages, the untrained eye still receives them but subliminally. Using "Palace Script" in place of "Comic Sans" or vice versa is unforgivable.
  7. Lots of Colours: Use as many as you want to reflect the position of your business. A clowns card can use dozens of colours, Buckingham palace will use just one.
  8. White space is important. white space (aka quiet space) helps to pace the design, it leads the eye, it develops the mood and you don't even know it is there until it is gone.
  9. Look at other cards for inspiration. Inspiration, I said "inspiration",  don't copy it!
  10. Standard sizes? There is no such thing. OK there is such a thing: 55x90mm is the Australian "standard" 2.25"x3.5" is an American "standard" but there are so many exceptions that it is hard to call it a "standard". The cheap bulk card suppliers like "Vista" do insist on a standard size to suit their mass production systems, but when your cards are being individually produced and optimized for you, like Shotz" do,  then go wild, stand out from the crowd, make it any size that works for you.
  11. Microsoft Word is a word processing program, it is not a design ap. Oh what the hell, if that is all you have got and you are not going to use a designer, then go for it. But be warned it doesn't matter how many days you waste formatting it, it still won't be pretty.
  12. Keep all images at 300dpi. Pixels should be felt not seen.
  13. Don't use website templates. Imagine swapping cards with someone who has the same card design as yourself...
  14. Print it out. Always print out your design for final approval even if it's just black and white. You won't believe what you missed on screen.
  15. One card per person. 2 names on one card... Why? How is that going to work? It saves no money at all, but is the ultimate in looking cheap.

These are just tips, food for thought and if any of it struck home then your design will work much better than it was going to.

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