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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Business Card Printing: Design with Printing Limitations in Mind

I had mentioned in my last blog posting that I was designing and purchasing the custom printing for three new jobs: a business card, an oversized postcard, and a large format print banner. I’d like to share a few things that have happened along the way because they may help you in your own design and print buying work.

Keep “Live Matter” Art Away from the Trim

I had saved a copy of the business card file in PDF format. This had eliminated all visible InDesign rule lines and grids, making the job look exactly like the final printed business card would look. Sometimes InDesign’s measurement tools and grid lines can make it hard to see the underlying design. Making a PDF will solve this problem while preserving the InDesign measurement notations. You can turn off the measurements in InDesign, but sometimes it’s nice to have both the InDesign file with the measurements and grids and a PDF copy of your file open at the same time.

The Problem

On the back of the business card, I noticed that the small text was close to the trim. I was concerned, so I reduced the leading between paragraphs slightly.

The Lesson

In your own design work, keep all “live matter” text at least 3/8” from the trim. Assume that there will be some variance in the custom printing vendor’s trimming equipment. After all, trimming is a physical process which by its very nature can be imprecise. An error here can make type look uncomfortably close to the edge of your business card.

Be Mindful of Legibility with Light Ink Colors

The Problem

My client’s business card looked huge on my monitor, even though it was only a 2” x 3.5” standard card. Therefore, the type size was misleading as I was designing the job.

The Lesson

In your own work, never rely on the computer monitor for a digital or offset custom printing job. It’s always prudent to print a hard copy of the job. This way you can actually hold in your hand a facsimile of the printed product your client will distribute. Handing out business cards is a physical, or analog, process. Check your card mock up in a physical medium, and make sure all information is readable.

Another Problem

I had set some type on the back of the card: a list of tips provided by my client. (In marketing parlance, this is “content” that will establish my client as a “thought leader.” In reality, it’s helpful information for those receiving the business cards.)

I had made the 11pt. “Quick Tips” headline blue, using the accent color from my client’s logo. I had also made the 9pt. “Bonus Tip” in-line headline blue. They looked great enlarged on the monitor.

I had used a bold sans serif typeface in both cases (less problematic for registering the halftone dots of a 4-color build).

The color composition of the blue type was c77m19y14k0. There were only two predominant colors: cyan and magenta. The yellow would have been light enough to have been invisible had the type been out of register. Mostly it was cyan ink. But at such a small size–9pt. and 11pt.–it would have been a challenge for the commercial printing supplier to hold the color register throughout the press run.

To compound matters, when I reduced the screen image of the business card to its actual size, the blue type was almost unreadable. I realized that black type would be much more legible. So I changed the design, putting readability and printing limitations ahead of my aesthetic “wish list.”

The Lesson

    1. Consider the composition of a color build used for type. Remember that it will be made up of halftone dots. If you’re screening type that’s of a small size, the halftone dots will be larger relative to the size of the type letterforms. Within a small type size, these 4-color dots laid over one another may impede readability. If they’re out of register, they will also look fuzzy. For a color build, try to use only two process colors, unless one is yellow, which is light enough to be forgiving. And expect the printer to not hold perfect color register.


  1. Consider readability. Text printed in a light colored ink is harder to read than text printed in black ink. Since type letterforms are not a solid block of ink, the PMS chip (or 4-color chip) from which you have chosen the color (prior to conversion to 4-color process ink) will look darker than the actual type. After all, the chip is a solid square of ink, and the type is made up of lighter strokes and curves.

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