How to properly set up a business card design for printing

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While designing a business card it is very important to take into consideration who is going to look at the card. The look and feel of a business card depend on the industry the company is in and the kind of people to whom the cards are given. Take a look at some of the business card designs we have created for our clients.

For example, a very simple and clean looking card would suit a financial consultant whereas a real estate agent logos might benefit from a more “colorful” one. The logo also plays an important role in how you should design a business card.

Seth Godin posted an interesting article about business cards mistakes today. I will probably elaborate on that and discuss how to go about creating an effective business card design in a future post. But for today we will take a look at how to properly set up a business card design file for printing to achieve the correct printing results.

This post assumes you are creating the business card design in Adobe Illustrator. There are two important reasons why Illustrator is better than Photoshop when creating business cards. First of all, Illustrator works in vector mode and the end result could be the EPS file format which most professional printers use for printing business cards. Secondly, you could also save the files as PDF with “Printer” settings. PDF files are very popular with online printing websites. Read more about the difference between vector graphics and raster graphics file formats.

Setting up your document in Illustrator

I have provided an Adobe Illustrator business card template* that you can use as the base template or you can create your own. When using the template that I have uploaded please ensure the “guides” layer is turned off. Otherwise, your cards will print with the red and blue borders. When creating a base layout for the business card, margins, trim, bleed area and safe areas must be carefully setup to prevent any issues when the design goes to print.

Outer Edge of the card: This is the outline of the document in Illustrator. The standard US business size for this would be 90mm x 52mm.

Bleed Area: The very edges of the document are called the bleed area. If you have any design elements or color that comes close to or touches the outer border, you should extend it to spill over the card outer border. This way when the cards are cut by the printer, there will be no ugly “white edge” effect that would make the cards looks cheap.

Trim Area: The red border you see above shows you where the card will be cut after printing.

Safe Area: The blue border you see above is called the safe area. The safe margins are borders that are definitely inside the place where the cut will take place. Please remember to keep all important information, like names, addresses, phone numbers or logos within the safe margin (at least .137” from the edge) to ensure that they are not cut off when your document is trimmed.

When to create your document at the full bleed size: If you are working in an illustration program (such as Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw) or a photo editing program (Such as Adobe Photoshop or Corel Photo-Paint), we recommend that you create your document at the full bleed size. This will prevent any white edges from showing at the borders after the final product is trimmed.

When to create your document at the trim size: If you are working in a layout program (such as QuarkXPress or Adobe InDesign) we recommend that you create your document at the trim size and include the specified amount of bleed for your product (.137”). When you export your document as a PDF for upload, make sure to include the bleed in your output settings so that the final upload PDF document is at the full bleed size for your product.

Document Color Settings (CMYK vs. RGB)

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) are the colors used in the printing process, whereas RGB (Red, Green and Blue) are the colors used by screen displays such as your monitor. Please note that JPEG files are almost always in RGB.

Your document should be created in CMYK mode so that the colors that you see on the screen most closely match the final printed product. If you create your document in RGB, the colors in your printed product may vary slightly. Many of the bright values produced by your monitor cannot be reproduced in print.

Print Resolution Settings

To get a high-quality print result it is important to set up the resolution of the artwork. Once set up this effects both the EPS file and any other file conversions.

The optimum resolution for high-quality printing is 300dpi. Resolution refers to the number of dots per inch (dpi), or the amount of detail the image has. Most documents prepared for commercial printing should be 300 dpi at 100% of the final print size.

You can set up the resolution of the document in the “Document Raster Effects Settings” dialog box. To get to that option Effects > Document Raster Effects Settings

Converting Fonts to outlines

Once the design is completed and you are preparing the file for printing always ensure that you convert all text part to outlines. Normally the text is in font format which means that if someone else wants to open your document they would need the same fonts to be installed on their machine. So by converting the text to outline mode, you do not need to send the fonts to your printer.

PDF Document Settings

If you are saving the business card to a PDF file (for use with most online printers and few standard printers), the following setting must be used to achieve correcting printing.

/ASCII85EncodePages false
/AutoPositionEPSFiles true
/AutoRotatePages /None
/Binding /Left
/CalGrayProfile (Dot Gain 20%)
/CalRGBProfile (sRGB IEC61966-2.1)
/CalCMYKProfile (U.S. Web Coated 50SWOP51 v2)
/sRGBProfile (sRGB IEC61966-2.1)
/CannotEmbedFontPolicy /Error
/CompatibilityLevel 1.3
/CompressPages true
/ConvertImagesToIndexed true
/CreateJobTicket false
/DefaultRenderingIntent /Default
/DetectBlends false
/ColorConversionStrategy /LeaveColorUnchanged
/DoThumbnails false
/EmbedAllFonts true
/EmitDSCWarnings false
/EndPage -1
/ImageMemory 524288
/LockDistillerParams true
/MaxSubsetPct 100
/Optimize false
/OPM 0
/ParseDSCComments false
/ParseDSCCommentsForDocInfo true
/PreserveCopyPage false
/PreserveEPSInfo true
/PreserveHalftoneInfo false
/PreserveOPIComments true
/PreserveOverprintSettings true
/StartPage 1
/SubsetFonts true
/TransferFunctionInfo /Remove
/UCRandBGInfo /Preserve
/UsePrologue false
/ColorSettingsFile ()
/AlwaysEmbed [ true ]
/NeverEmbed [ true ]
/AntiAliasColorImages false
/DownsampleColorImages true

If you find this too tedious to manually set up I have uploaded a Adobe PDF Presets* settings file that you can import into Adobe Illustrator. Simply go to Edit > Adobe PDF Presets and once the dialog box opens up you can do an import of these settings.

* Note: The design and settings template files provided in this article should be used at your own discretion. SpellBrand cannot be held liable for any issues arising from the use of these files.