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Archive for the ‘Rack Cards’ Category

Custom Printing: Rack Card Redesign Case Study

Monday, June 19th, 2017

A friend and colleague of mine has a small business. She is a Reiki practitioner and hypnotherapist. A few days ago she asked my opinion regarding her promotional materials (a business card, a rack card, and a website). Since I still do a little graphic design on the side, I offered to help her.

The Promotional Materials

First of all, what is a rack card? It is like a brochure in format (tall and narrow, in my friend/client’s case 3.75” x 8.25”). Unlike a brochure, it only has two panels (front and back). It also is printed on a much heavier commercial printing stock than most brochures. Based on the custom printing specs for my client’s prior press run, this reprint will be produced on 80# cover stock.

The purpose of a rack card is to sit vertically on a metal rack along with other rack cards, promoting some event or service. You have probably seen racks like these in hotels. Perhaps the rack cards were promoting places to visit on your vacation or sports you could pursue on your holiday, such as water skiing.

Rack cards compete with other rack cards for the viewer’s attention. Moreover, if a particular hotel desk doesn’t have a metal rack, the cards might just lie on a table in a stack. So the cards must be dramatic to grab the prospective customer’s attention immediately.

The second element in my client’s promotional package is an additional rack card. She wants to promote the Reiki and hypnotherapy separately. A shrewd move, since people who want to stop smoking might understand and value hypnotherapy but question or not understand the art of Reiki. My client understands her clients’ (and potential clients’) needs.

The third element in my client’s promotional package is her business card.

The fourth element is her website.

Revisions: What My Client Has Now, and What Changes I Suggested

The Paper Choice

I told my client I liked the thickness of the paper stock. It makes the rack card heavy and substantial. When you hold it in your hand, it feels strong and important, not flimsy.

However, one side of the sheet seems to be minimally coated (perhaps a matte coating), and one side has a high-gloss coating (like a laminate or a flood UV coating). Since the background color is a soothing green, and since the imagery is a stack of rocks (called a “cairn” and used throughout history as a trail marker) in a pool of still water, I personally would specify a textured, uncoated press sheet. This is a natural, “crunchy granola” piece aimed at earthy people who might avoid the corporate look and embrace a more natural feel. So I encouraged my client to choose a thick, uncoated stock for all rack cards and for her business card as well. (I wanted all elements of her promotional package to not only go together in terms of their design but also their physical “feel.”)

The Design (Type, Color, Design Grid)

I told my client that she only had a few seconds to interest her prospective clients once they saw her rack cards and business cards. People are busy. They are multitasking, and these days they have only a limited attention span.

Her current rack card design included the name of her business, a relaxing image of stacked rocks in a pool of water, a little copy about Reiki (what it is, and how clients might benefit from a treatment), and contact information. All type was reversed out of a green background.

Unfortunately, there was only a minimal difference in size between all groupings of type on this side of her rack card. So the reader had to think about what to read first, second, etc. I told my client that anything that slows down the reader risks losing her/his attention entirely.

Therefore, in redesigning this side of her rack card, I kept the green background, but I shifted back and forth between reverse type (for headlines) and surprinted (or black) type for text. I changed the centered type to flush left (so the reader’s eye would always come back to the left margin). I also put the photo of the rocks at the top, just under the name of the business (so the reader would associate the business name with the sense of peace—even if she/he stopped reading here and got nothing else out of the rack card). I then surprinted one of the quotes (about inner peace) over the photo to reinforce the message.

I told my client that readers who skim text go through the page in an “F” formation. They read from left to right through the headlines as they move down the page (left/right/down, then left/right/down). To increase the likelihood of their grasping the most important information instantly, I made the headlines white on the green background. I also reversed the contact information. So if potential clients got nothing else from their two seconds with the rack card, they would see the following:

1. The name of my client’s business.
2. What is Reiki?
3. What are the benefits of Reiki?
4. How do you contact my client’s business if you want Reiki?

The other side of the rack card repeated the green background, a screened silhouette of the calming pile of rocks (cairn) in the pool of water, a large reversed quote about Reiki, and, most importantly, all of the contact information again. No matter what side of the card the reader started with, she/he would see the name of the business, the benefits (either in list form or as a pithy quote), and the contact information.

Finally, I noted that I had chosen my preferred typeface for her job. I asked my client to consider the typeface carefully (along with the green background color). I asked her to consider whether the type, color, imagery, and overall design grid supported her message and whether they would attract the potential buyer for her service as she envisioned her/him.

The Imagery (Photo Treatment)

I encouraged my client to buy rights to use an appropriate photo purchased through a stock image bank (to be found online) and in this way to avoid copyright infringement. I described the difference between “rights managed” and “royalty free” imagery (you can Google these online to get a detailed explanation). I also said that an image of the rocks in the “public domain” would sidestep both copyright infringement issues and potential costs (i.e., the image would be free to use and would avoid a lawsuit).

Since the image will show up on all rack cards and on the business card as well—plus the website—I asked my client to read the image reproduction rights license carefully to make sure the image could be used “promotionally” for “however many copies my client wanted to distribute” both “in print and online.”

I also wanted her to make sure the image was of sufficient resolution (300 dpi at 100 percent size, or at the size it will actually be used). I wanted to avoid any image pixellation.

Final Words—and the Website

I also asked my client to consider all elements of the promotional package together: the rack cards, business card, and website. I asked her to consider how she wanted to move the reader from the rack card, or business card, to the website to get more information and then to the telephone to set up an appointment for a Reiki session. (This encouragement of the reader toward what marketers term “conversion”–i.e., getting the prospect to step forward and commit to the product or service—would be enhanced by the specific wording of the text on the rack card.)

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Everything is an ad: a business card, a rack card, and a website. Keep this in mind when you choose paper, select typefaces, choose images, and craft the design structure. Keep it in mind particularly when you write the copy.
  2. Paper is power. It is a subconscious influence on your prospective buyer. Choose one that supports your message and your image.
  3. Pay for your images. In addition to supporting the photographers, it protects you against litigation.
  4. Make sure all design elements across all channels (printed pieces and electronic media) are coordinated. Don’t confuse the reader by making things look different. The more times your reader sees the same images, type, and design structure, the more immediately recognizable your branding will be.
  5. All of this drives increased sales.

Custom Printing: Design vs. Production of a Rack Card

Wednesday, June 14th, 2017

In addition to brokering commercial printing and writing about printing, I also do a little graphic design on the side. I used to be an art director, and I like keeping my hand in computer aided publishing because it keeps me aware of what full-time designers go through in designing their projects and preparing them for print.

The Design Project

At the moment, I’m designing a rack card for a Reiki practitioner (a bartering job, actually). Over the course of the past few weeks we have been going back and forth with various proofs, changing fonts, photos, and overall design treatments.

A few days ago my client approved the art. “Can we send it to press today?” she said. They’re having a sale. (She had chosen an online web-to-print service to keep costs down by ganging up her rack card with numerous other rack cards, presumably on a large offset press.)

“Whoa,” I said. “We have to slow down.” “Design is not production. We have things to do.”

Now this is just how I work. And I’ll assume that many other graphic designers will also do what are essentially upscale mock-ups on the computer to communicate with the client. Once the designer and client have agreed on the “look” of the piece, there are numerous technical issues that designers address, check, and fix before the job can go to press. These take time and careful attention.

In my client’s case, here are the issues we will need to address:

The Paper

My client’s Reiki practice is a form of healing work. It appeals to earthy and artistic people, so I suggested either an uncoated printing stock or a matte coated stock. It would have a softer, “crunchy granola” feel, unlike a gloss coated rack card that would have more of a corporate feel. My client agreed. She said the online commercial printing vendor she had chosen offered a matte coated press sheet.

The Press Run

I asked for the press run for two reasons. The more immediate was that I needed to know how many copies she wanted the printer to produce. But more than that, I wanted to get a sense of what technology the printer would use. My assumption was that for an ultra-short press run (say 100+ rack cards), the job would be digital. For 500+ rack cards, I assumed the technology would be offset lithography.

The Custom Printing Technology

If the length of the press run would require offset lithography, I knew an uncoated paper would be more likely than a coated paper to absorb the ink. In addition, for a press run probably ganged up with numerous other jobs, I did not expect the web-to-print vendor to adjust the ink flow for my client alone (as would be the case if only her job were on press). Therefore, I encouraged my client to choose the matte coated press sheet instead of the uncoated sheet, because the ink would sit up on the surface of the paper better and would be less likely to seep into the paper fibers. This would keep the images crisp and bright, and avoid a muddy appearance.

I also told her that, in my experience, if the job will be short and therefore digital, the toner particles will also be more likely than the offset ink to sit up on the surface of the paper. However, to be safe, I still thought a matte coated stock would be best.

The Images

My client chose to take the photos herself. She had a good camera and a good eye, so I decided to teach her the technical issues she needed to address in order to provide print-ready images.

For instance, she had been giving me 72 dpi images for the mock-up, which I had then changed to 300 dpi and enlarged (a bad habit called interpolation, which creates image information out of nothing—fine for a mock-up but not for press-ready images). Therefore, my client is now reshooting the two photos (with minor changes) at much higher resolution. As per my request, she will provide RGB JPEGs, which I will adjust and then save for the printer as CMYK TIFF images.

The Silhouettes

Two of the photos are silhouettes. They are also screened back or ghosted (not 100 percent in intensity). Therefore, I did some research, and then practiced with the pen tools, paths, clipping paths, edge refinement, feathering, and other Photoshop tools to make sure the transition from the contours of my client’s silhouetted wooden bridge photo to the background green color will be subtle and smooth. I also chose to produce the green background in Photoshop rather than InDesign. (I could have done either.)

The Color Space

I will need to make sure the job is specified for CMYK and not RGB, and that all images are also 8-bit or 16-bit CMYK TIFFs. I will change them from RGB JPEGs to TIFFs at the very end of the process, once I am satisfied with the color, since I’ll see any potential color shifts right on my monitor.

The Printer’s PDF Requirements

I asked my client to send me the specs from the commercial printing vendor for creating press-ready PDF files. This includes information such as the trim size, bleed size, font-embedding, and a host of other specifics I have discussed in previous PIE Blog articles. This document will tell me exactly how this particular printer prefers to receive his art files (based on the needs of his prepress system).

For instance, when I started the job, I measured the prior version of my client’s rack card with a ruler. The online listing of rack card sizes is much more precise, so I will need to change the document size slightly in my art file and add the appropriate bleeds of the background colors and images that will extend off the page. (All of this has to be exact, whereas for the design mock-up I just had to make the screen version look good.)

Preflighting the Job Prior to Submission

Even before I distill the PDF files, I’ll check the InDesign color separations on-screen (you can look this up online). I find this useful, to make sure nothing will show up on a different printing plate than I intend or expect. I’ll also make sure I have removed any extra unused colors from the colors palette in InDesign.

I’ll look for any typefaces that have been altered (made “bold” or “italic” in InDesign rather than by using the proper bold or italic font). I’ll probably also print a laser copy of the job to look for errors, and I’ll run any preflight diagnostics available in InDesign (the little red or green light that shows up at the bottom left of the screen to let you know whether the file has problems or is ok to print).

Finally, I’ll review the printer’s PDF sheet once again to be doubly sure. I’ll distill the PDF file as requested, and then I’ll “compress” the file before sending it to the online printer’s website (compression makes files safer in transit over the Internet and avoids PDF file corruption).

Just to be safe, I’ll probably look at the images one final time to confirm their resolution and color space, and particularly to check the edges between the silhouettes and their backgrounds. After all, I will only see an online proof (unlike most brick-and-mortar printers, the online printers usually keep prices down by sending only virtual proofs to their clients).

When I explained this to my client, she understood completely that there was more work to do, and she set off to reshoot the photos at a higher resolution.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

The best thing you can learn is that design is not the same as art production (preparing final, press-ready art files for the commercial printing supplier). For me, trying to do both at the beginning of a design job is like editing my work while I am writing. It completely shuts down my creative process.

In contrast, the production step of the process is more logical and precise. It’s all about measurements, color spaces, and all of the other technical specifications that will ensure an accurate printed representation of your beautifully designed art file. It’s equally important.

Rack & Door Hanger Cards: A Cheap and Effective Way to Advertise

Monday, November 5th, 2012

The goal of a rack card is to capture the attention of paying customers while they wait in line to complete transactions. Traditionally, rack cards have promoted services and destinations related to tourism.

You have probably seen a rack of cards in a hotel at one time or another. These vertical cards are all lined up, side by side, row after row. Or perhaps you have been in a bus station and have seen card racks promoting various destinations.

Think of rack cards as a “middle step” between a business card and a brochure.

Rack cards take advantage of a captive audience. However, if you’re standing in line at a hotel, you might be wondering what to do now that you have reached your destination. So these cards promoting theme parks, museums, and the like may actually be a welcome sight. And in recent years they have expanded their subject matter to include such services as dry cleaning, massage spas, and restaurants.

Rack cards often include a 2” perforated card at the bottom, which can be a coupon for a discount or a promotion, a ticket, a business card, or even a map.

Door hanger cards are similar to rack cards in their vertical format, but they are left on your door, often in a hotel. A “Do Not Disturb” sign would be an example, but you may have received many other door hanger cards on your front door at home, cards offering lawn and home repair services and the like.

Printing Considerations for Rack & Door Hanger Cards

Rack & door hanger cards have been around for a long, long time because they are effective sales tools that are cheap to produce. Rack cards have a traditional size: 3.5” x 8.5” and 4” x 9”. It is prudent to keep to these sizes since they will fit in most card racks. Door hangers are usually 3.5” x 8.5” or 4.25” x 11” (with a hole at the top for hanging on the door knob).

You will also need to choose a paper stock (most rack & door hanger cards are printed on standard stocks ranging from 13 to 15 pt. gloss, matte, or uncoated cover). Many printers offer gloss aqueous or UV coating for durability, and some even offer foil stamping on the rack & door hanger cards to better catch the eye of the viewer. By standardizing the format and production methods, commercial printing suppliers can keep the prices low.

If you will need fewer than 500 rack cards or door hanger cards, your printer may choose to print the job digitally. For more cards, your commercial printing vendor may opt for offset printing.

While you’re compiling custom printing specifications and working on the design, also consider whether you will want rounded edges on the cards and whether you will want the cards shrink wrapped (and if so in what quantities).

Design Considerations for Rack & Door Hanger Cards

First and foremost a rack card must compete for the viewer’s attention with all other cards in the rack. If you think back to the last time you saw a rack of cards, you may remember ten, twenty, or even a hundred cards in the rack.

This is the time for a bold photo and a gripping headline. It’s also prudent to focus on the top half of the rack card first, since the cards are staggered in a metal rack, and each set of cards obscures a portion of the cards immediately above it. So focus your design on the first few inches at the top of the card.

Unlike a brochure, your card will be seen from a distance, surrounded by numerous other cards. So use color dramatically, and consider making a mock up and placing it in a card rack. This will help you see whether your design is eye catching from a distance and whether it stands out from a group of other rack cards.

Use the front of the card for the headline, photo, a call to action (or an offer), and contact information. On the back you can include a list of benefits (to encourage the viewer to buy your product or service). You may even want to include a map to your establishment. If your business is a restaurant, consider adding a menu on the back of the card.

In short, remember that a rack card has two sides when you are considering what to include and how to lay it out.

A Final Step

As with real estate, location is of prime importance with rack cards. Think about where your promotion will be seen by the most people (in restaurants, hotels, airports, and such), and then distribute the cards far and wide. You’re looking to capture foot traffic. The good news is that unlike a sign, a rack card is meant to be taken. Your prospects may hold onto it as a reminder of what they want to do, or buy, in the near future.

Used with thought and marketing savvy, rack & door hanger cards can be inexpensive, and yet incredibly effective, tools for advertising your business.

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