HOW TO: Design A Business Card

Business cards are an odd business utility, to say the least. Some companies can do without business cards. Some companies go all out on the design, the look, and the feel for their business cards. Meanwhile, other companies are happy to spend as little time and money as needed on the design of their business cards.

Whatever the preference you desire in a business card, we believe that this “How to design a business card” will help guide you through the process of getting your design ready for print and on budget. ( Unless, of course, you are a company that can do without a business card ) But then you wouldn’t be here, right?

 In this business card design guide, we will go through.

  1. budget, shape, and size
  2. paper & colors
  3. typography & layout
  4. File output
  5. Sending to your printer

Before we get started with your business card design, there are a few things you will need. You will need a logo, colors you want to use, and what information you want on the card. When you have all this together and ready, it would be good to brainstorm some ideas of what you want your business card to say. Not just information-wise, you have that already. What I mean is, what do you want the card to say about you and or your business? 

Do you want it simple, expressing the most basic idea of your business? Do you like to express creativity, professional, witty, or whimsical? These are a few things that will help us smooth out the process of designing your business card.

Budget & Paper

The budget is at the top of the list. It will determine the size, quality, and overall design of your business card. Printing your business card on a digital printer in a local print shop will typically run you between $30 to $60, depending on the company’s notoriety. This will get you 14pt to 16pt full color on both sides.

14pt and 16pt are typically seen as thick card stock and will usually be the limit in thickness that most digital printers will be able to print on. It’s also a common house stock for most print shops.

Print shops typically won’t warehouse more than a few house stocks for business cards. If you are looking to keep the cost down with printing your business cards, using your print shops house stock will probably be your best option.

House stocks will offer a few paper finishing options, not to be confused with print finishing options, and are limited to these paper finishes; Coated one side, coated two-sided, and or silk, which will be coated two-sided. Uncoated stocks for thicker paper are usually for custom ordering and will usually lead to longer turnaround times and higher costs.

This is not to say that all print shops work this way. Though, I can say that most print shops here in Utah will carry these common house stocks in different brands and or names. 

If you will be looking for a specialty paper stock, it’s going to take a little longer and cost more before getting them into your hands. A typical turnaround for business cards will be between 3 to 5 days, not including shipping if needed.

The types of specialty stocks for your business cards to be printed on are endless. If you’re looking for a specialty stock, your best bet is to go into the print shop that you want for your printer and ask for a paper swatch. Talking with your printer about the paper might offer some insights into the paper’s pros and cons.

color

For the most part, you will have two options when it comes to printing your business cards. 

Pantone: A premixed singular color of ink. You can have a Pantone color made, or you can go with pre-defined color. Most print shops offer one color or two colors for printing. Of course, you could go as many as you want, but you will be paying a hefty price on set-up for each additional color(s).

Four Color: Also known as a four-color process in the printing world. This is when your artwork is broken down into four separate colors. CMYK. Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

The four-color process can run a couple of different ways. It can run digital or offset and will depend on the print shop you choose on how it will be printed. If you are looking for same-day or next-day business cards, it will be printed digitally more than likely.

Some companies will print small quantities of business cards offset via a four-color process similar to digital. These print shops typically will be doing a lot of business card printing and doing them in bulk with a wide format press to justify the cost.

Size & Shape

The standard size & shape of a business card is 3.5 x 2 rectangle. This business card shape will be about a credit card’s size and having two options, square corners, and round-corners. You can go from a 1/8 inch radius to a half-inch radius with the round-corner option. This, of course, will add to the final price.

A Die-cutting option can add to the shape & character of your business cards. You have two options for die-cutting and multiple options within each of those. 

Your first option is a standard die-cut and typically isn’t offered from small print shops. Not that they couldn’t get it done for you, it just they usually don’t offer it in-house. Meaning, they will send it out to another vendor to have it done and pass the price on to you.

The standard die-cut usually comes in round, oval, leaf and, square. These types of business card die-cuts are more cost-effective due to the popularity of the cuts. The dies required to be made are already part of the production in most large print companies.

The custom die-cut business cards are a different animal. Custom die-cut business cards offer you a little more freedom to the shape of your business card. To give you an idea, you can have business cards in the shape of a cupcake, a car, a computer monitor, or any object that would make sense for your business card design idea.

I have seen die-cuts to enhance the card’s design, such as holes in the card, slots, and business names knocked out. The ideas can be endless, assuming you have a budget for these types of business cards. The heavy end of the cost will be in the first set purchased. This is because you will be paying for the die to be made. Through the years, I have found that the price can range from $70 to $250 for the purchase of the die.

Typography and Layout

The typography that you choose for your business cards matters most when it’s done wrong. If the typography fits the character & message of your card’s design and layout, it will seem to be part of the card as a whole.

If your cards have an assortment of fonts that you chose just because you like them, it will only look good to you.

Do the best you can to pair your typefaces to your logo, even if it’s a nontext logo. If your logo is smooth, round, curvy, or bold, make sure your fonts complement the logo. There are a lot of typefaces out there and growing every day. Do your best to stay away from custom fonts, niched fonts, and ragged fonts for your business card.

Try to keep it under two types of fonts, especially if your logo has text in it. The more varieties you add, the more they will compete and create chaos on your card.

Make sure to keep your typeface eligible as possible. You’re not going to want to put small text using a script or a flamboyant typeface. People will struggle to read it or not try at all. Also, nothing less than 8pt font for your business card.

Layout

There are a few things that separate a diy from a professional design.

  • layout
  • colors
  • typefaces

We will start with three basic factors with the layout for your business cards. Most print shops will require you to follow these three fundamental factors before sending your artwork to them. Others would rather not even deal with it and send it to print, leaving you with something much less than what you were hoping for. 

  • Bleed: the outermost part of the card likely to be removed.
  • Trim: the target line for cutting cards.
  • Safety: anything outside this line is subject to cutting mistakes. Don’t let essential elements like text or logos fall outside this line.

The trim line will be the actual size of your card after everything is done. The bleed line needs to be .125 inches from the trim line. If your design has any colors or graphics touching the edge of your business card ( trim line ), it needs to be carried over to the bleed line. 

When printing your business cards in bulk with a local printer, you will need to understand that the print and paper will shift. Understanding these three basic layout guides will help you and the printer create and deliver better and more professional business cards.

Now on to the third, the safety area. The safety area allows for the bounce or shifting when printing. It keeps the content on your business card that you don’t want to cut off, to stay safe. The safety area has a two-fold purpose of helping with the layout design of your card as well. 

Keeping a safety area of .125 will help you keep a clean margin for your card and content as well. A marginless design for your content makes everything look like a half-ass mistake.

Files & Output

If you are going to be doing the design of your business cards, you need to think of your file output of the design program you are using. Your best results will come from an editable pdf that you can send to your printer. The next step would be a high rez pdf, jpeg, and, if needed, native files.

Below are a few of the most common mistakes people make when sending their files to the printer.

If your program doesn’t offer bleed options, you need to change the card’s size to accommodate the .125 so that your printer has bleed to work with when printing and cutting. 

Outline your fonts and or send your fonts along with your artwork.

Oversized or non-proportionate to the size of a business card. If your file can’t be resized to 3.5 x 2 proportionately, pre-press will be spending more time on your file to set up for printing. This could lead to higher costs, more time, and or your file rejected.

Building your business card with low rez files or creating in low rez will not only frustrate the printer and you when you are returned a final, sub-par product. Make sure that all the files that you are using and creating are a minimum of 350 dpi.

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