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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Rack Card Redesign Case Study

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.

4 Responses to “Custom Printing: Rack Card Redesign Case Study”

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