Design For Print - General Printed Materials

This article first appeared in Foundations Revealed in 2013

So,  we covered basic logo design last time. In this article I’m going to look at general artwork requirements. The sort of stationery you’re most likely to use and how to prepare artwork for it and also how you should approach press ads etc.

A wee reminder of my background before corsetry took over. After a year or so work experience in an ad agency and a design consultants  I qualified with an HND in Design for Print. This was way back in the early 90s when Macs were tiny and we still used floppy discs and type scales. I then started work for a newspaper publisher as a Mac operator and then carved out my own niche as graphic designer which then led to a small design department until centralisation and redundancy gave me my exit. By then I’d had enough of sitting in front of a Mac screen.

Ok, I’m assuming you now have your logo and you’re happy with it. It’s all nicely designed and you have a few versions tucked away in a folder to draw from for different applications. But a logo isn’t much used without something to put it on, and we can’t do all our promotion and contact on the web.  Sometimes we need something more physical and tangible.

What do you need then.
Well first and foremost the basic is a business card. Even if you use other material for customers you’ll need business cards for networking and just generally tucking in your pocket or bag just in case. Also design it cleverly and it can double as tag!

All you need is a simple design on A4 with your full details (website, registered address, phone number, email)

Promotional literature:
postcards, leaflets, brochures, flyers, posters, banners and pop-up banners. All can be as simple or as elaborate and you desire (and can afford).

Other items such as labels, packaging, tags.
Some of these you can so yourself if you have a decent home/office printer. Others are simply logos applied to different materials so really only require a good vector logo as covered last time.

Successful business cards
A business card has to do a job first and foremost. Like any piece of graphic design, it has to get the message across. In this case it’s who you are, what you do and how you can be reached and, very importantly ‘remember me’. If you do a google search you’ll find sites full of amazing and innovative business cards. Some are very successful but some are totally impractical. For a start I’m assuming you’re working on a fairly tight budget, well complex cuts, textures and fabrication cost money. Also you have to think about retention. A fancy shape might not fit in a wallet so just gets thrown away, or a design might result in a card so fragile it falls apart quickly. I’ve also thrown away cards picked up at networking events because I haven’t a clue what the company actually does because the card is so obscure. Thing is that business card is doing nothing for you from the bottom of the bin. 

You do want your card to look good and also feel good. A lot of the perception of quality comes from touch so a nice strong, stable card with a pleasant texture is going to say more positive things about you than a thin flimsy thing from a ‘print your own business cards’ machine on the station concourse!

I opted for a double sided card. It costs a little more but the addition of a small image on the back really adds something I feel.  I still have lots of white space on there though so I can write on it, something to think about before designing a dark, dense double sided card. I also punch a hole in the corner thread a ribbon through and use the back for fibre and cleaning details and it magically becomes a tag with my full details on it.

Lovely letterheads
Letterheads are fairly self-explanatory. Again think about the paper you use. Standard printer paper is fine for most things but keep some heavier weight paper or perhaps a classier plain or laid paper on hand to give a classier result when needed. I don’t think many small businesses go to the expense of having letter-headed paper printed these days. Home printers are such good quality now that you can get perfectly acceptable results as long as you use nice paper. Have all your relevant details on your letterhead. You must have your registered place of business. Treble check your spelling, something you should do with everything (but if anyone spots an error here keep it to yourself, nobody likes a smart alec haha!) and again, as with everything, pay attention to your choice of typeface. Once it’s set up you can use it as a basic frame for your invoices, contracts and all you general stationery. You can also think about Complement slips when you’re doing that.  Or you may want to use a postcard or card for that. So that’s your basic corporate identity package dealt with.

Promote, promote
I’d say most of us get most use of the small promotional materials like postcards and flyers. As soon as you do a wedding show or any type of selling or promotional event you’ll need something to hand to people. Personally I like postcards as I think people keep hold of them longer. Pick a really nice photograph of your work, add your logo if you wish and keep the text on the back.

Flyers can have a bit more info and perhaps more images. But don’t over clutter.  Then next steps up are leaflets and brochures. Anything from a simple folded sheet up to complicated multi-page affairs can be done but I’m assuming it’s most likely to be the simpler options at the moment. If you do decide to have a lookbook printed up then I’d strongly suggest getting a professional in as it must look classy and professional and you don’t want money wasted because of a simple error.

Up and up and up
Posters, banners and pop-up banners are all useful. Pop-up ones that spring out from a cylinder to give you a tall, narrow, self-supporting sign are ideal for wedding shows etc. They’re also fairly reasonable to have printed.  This is when the vector type I was talking about last time comes into play as you need that type to scale up substantially. Also this is when keeping file sizes manageable gets a little tricky as you need to supply a big enough image  to use at this size without degrading. However the printer will give you guidelines as sometimes it can be surprising. I’ve designed large format posters in the past such as billboards and trackside boards and they are surprisingly low resolution as they’re intended to be seen from a distance. However ideally you still want your type to be vector.

Designing for printing.
The basic rules for all these media are the same.

  • Ask the printer for specifications. They’ll tell you what resolution they need images to be, what file formats they prefer. They may even provide you with a template to drop your artwork onto. If you don’t want to they’ll even design it all for you, for a charge of course.
  • Check your spelling. Nothing says unprofessional like spelling errors and bad grammar.
  • Make sure your images are big enough. You’re looking at images being around 300dpi at actual size in most cases but that takes it back to rule 1. Postage stamp sized images will stay postage stamp sized and remember what looks fairly big at 72dpi on your computer screen will be much smaller at print resolution.
  • Keep it legible (I know I banged on about that one last time, but it’s no good to you if nobody can read it).
  • Embed or outline your fonts. As discussed last time, you can’t rely on sending the font to the printer. If they’re anything like my old company we were strictly forbidden to put an outside, unofficial font on our Macs.
  • Add bleed. The printer will tell you how much and if there’s a provided template there will be an indicator of it. Basically bleed just ensures that your background or image covers the full area if you want it to. Without bleed there’s every possibility a sliver of white could be left at the edges.
  • CMYK!

Template showing - from outside in - bleed, trim line and the safe margin for types. The dotted line is a fold line.

Now you may find when you price up printing for promotional items that your confronted with two price options. One for digital printing and one for litho. Digital printing works best for short runs but if you require a lot of flyers for instance then litho may be cheaper. Offset litho is the method used for large run print jobs such as newspapers. The set up is complicated and expensive as plates need to be made up and the press set up with ink for each colour. And although computers have eased this it’s still more involved than digital. However once the set-up is done thousands of copies can fly off the press. It’s therefore far more cost effective for large runs.

This brings me rather neatly to dealing with newspapers and magazines. I worked for years in newspapers and part of my job involved setting adverts for customers. We designed and laid out the ads for everything from tiny 3x1 ads to full colour double page spreads. Those customers weren’t charged any differently for a fully designed ad than if they sent their own artwork in so consider that if you’re thinking of putting an ad in and aren’t very comfortable with doing the artwork yourself. But do bear in mind the quality can be very variable and with departments shrinking and becoming more pressured and more mechanised you may not get the same quality of service as once existed. But it does make life easier for you, and I have to say, often for the pre-press department too. In my years there I’ve seen logos sent in on crushed carrier bags, and with the usual pen marks and staples through them, pictures sent as the 3k link thumbnail instead of the full image (that was a common one) and so many variations of horrendous ads done in randomly inappropriate software packages (and I include Word in that) that we just had to pull apart and re-set anyway.

When you send in artwork it will probably go into a dropbox to apply standard actions on it to colour correct it for the newspaper’s settings. It will then go through another computer  before it goes to film and then to plate. With increasing computerisation and fewer staff it’s entirely possible a font will default or a mistakenly RGB picture will turn black and white. These things don’t always get noticed so be very careful in your checks before sending it in and check required specifications before you do (they will have a spec sheet with everything on it).

Here are some things to look out for:

  • Print resolutions can be anything from 200 to 340 dpi. Our newspapers were 200dpi. your images must be the appropriate dpi at actual size. Too small and they’ll turn to blurred and pixelated smudges. Too big and you’ll cause yourself unnecessary difficulty in sending it.
  • Papers are printed on low quality paper which can experience ‘dot gain’ where the ink dot spreads making it less legible. You can often set your photo-editing software to allow for this to some extent but it’s crucial that you’re careful about type size. We had a minimum of 6pt in most typefaces but you could get away with 5pt depending on the font and how important the content was.
  • Right hand pages are always the most desirable.
  • Be very, very careful about images and graphic elements. DO NOT use anything you don’t own unless it’s clearly marked as free to use.  You might think nobody will find out but believe me the big companies do. It’s amazing how some US conglomerate can track down an image in a tiny ad in a  local newspaper in a small Scottish town. I’ve seen it happen (coughcoughDisney).
  • Don’t expect magazine quality from a newspaper.  Colour and clarity may not be quite true, the printing plated may be slightly out of register and sometimes ink transfers between pages. If it’s very bad you may be able to push for a free ad but basically don’t expect too much from newsprint. Magazines on the other hand will be printed on better quality paper and more time will be taken in the production therefore quality should be higher generally.

Here’s a good wee example of a slight problem. The Kris Kristoffersen ad hasn’t quite taken the mediun into consideration in that the type is dark with poor contrast to the black background. On glossy magazine paper this would probably be fine but on newsprint, not so good. It gets away with it here because this is a quality broadsheet printed on good paper but on a cheaper tabloid it would be a difficult read. The Primal Scream ad is a better design for a newspaper.

Images for editorial
If you’ve been asked to supply images and copy for editorial then the principles are just the same. Make sure you have good quality images at a high enough resolution.

I hope I’ve been of some help. It’s a big topic and I can only give a broad overview here. But I hope I’ve been able to help you avoid the most common pitfalls.