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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: Designing a Corporate Identity Package

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I know the words may sound overly business-like: “corporate identity package.” Another term for this is your “collection” of print business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, and anything else related to your “brand.” This might even include a pocket folder or a coffee mug. All of the items need to look like they go together, but the design of the individual items can’t be so similar as to be predictable or boring.


Way back when, cowboys with herds of cows branded them to ensure their immediate recognition as “their cows.” A burned-in mark on the cows couldn’t be rubbed off, and a unique mark conveyed more than indisputable ownership. It reflected quality.

Today a brand does the same thing. It reflects quality. It also identifies the owner of the brand. Think about Starbucks. I don’t even drink coffee, and yet I recognize the specific green color, the twin-tailed mermaid (called Gorgona in modern Greek), and every instance of this mark on Starbucks store signage, Starbucks cups and mugs in the thrift store, gift cards my fiancee receives, and even on the Starbucks products and signage at the grocery store, where there’s a lot competing with this signage for my attention.

So how do you create a brand look that can be reflected in all of the printed material a company sends out?

Build (or Grow) Outward from the Logo

When I was an art director/production manager for a government-education non-profit foundation back in the 1990’s, we freshened up our logo. It was still an eagle, to represent the US government, but the style was very different from its predecessor: simpler, more stylized, and more contemporary.

The logo had been designed by an outside design firm, which specialized in corporate re-branding. When their logo design had been approved, it was up to us to implement it. We had to grow, organically (even more so than build out), a recognizable look. It had to be reflected in all print business cards and letterhead materials, but it also had to be reflected in all of the brochures, signs, and print books we produced during the year. Plus, all of these printed items had to retain their own individual look as well.

I was new to this aspect of publications design at this time, and we didn’t have as widespread access to imagery on the internet as we do now, so the in-house graphic designer and I worked together with printed samples that exemplified superior brand design, along with the designer’s own drawings and mock-ups, to implement the logo and create an overall branded look for the non-profit foundation. This was one of the most challenging jobs (at least to do well), and at the same time one of the most important jobs, I participated in during my time as an art director. And I started with the logo and the best in-house designer we had.

Elements of Brand Design

If I were approaching the same job today, the first thing I would do is Google “corporate identity packages.” I would encourage you to do the same, if you need to grow a logo into a complete identity package. When I do this now (using Google Images) and peruse the myriad photos that come up, I see the following general elements of design to consider for such a design task.

The Logo

As noted before, this is the central element of the brand package. This particular discussion presumes that you already have one. (Otherwise, approaching the design of a logo would probably constitute a book-length explanation in itself. This is probably why the bosses of the organization at which I was an art director farmed out this part of the job.)

The logo has to be recognizable and attractive at many different sizes, from very small to very large. Think about the twin-tailed mermaid of Starbucks fame. Throughout its history and its various iterations, it has been simple. Usually just green and white, or maybe green and black and white, with or without the name Starbucks Coffee, and with a logomark (the mermaid) crafted from only a few lines and no gradations. Because of this it is recognizable at a postage-stamp size or on the side of a building as a banner.

A more complex design might be more nuanced, but the few details of the actual logo (flowing mermaid hair, crown, twin tails) make the image more immediately recognizable and understandable. And as with anything else in marketing (particularly in a grocery store where thousands of visual impressions are competing for your attention), immediate recognition is essential. If you can’t get my attention in an instant, you’ve already lost me. Don’t waste my time.

The Typefaces

For a moment I’d like to shift back to the internet, Googling corporate identity again. It’s a lot more general than the Starbucks example, but when you see photo after photo of “laydowns” (like clothes laid down in a clothing catalog photo) of multiple corporate branding elements all together, the design concepts start to sink in. Many of these are probably fictitious. I don’t recognize any of them. It doesn’t matter. I see patterns.

This is what you can learn. In some way or another the logo is on everything. It is prominent, but it is often larger or smaller from item to item, although the treatment of colors is consistent. If the exact same logo colors are not used, it seems (from all the online samples of corporate identities) that solid black versions or logos reversed to white out of a solid color are optional presentations. When business cards, letterhead, custom envelopes, pocket folders, shopping bags, notepads, coffee mugs, caps, etc., are laid down together in these Google Images photos, the same logo, in different sizes, presented in either identity colors or black or white, all look like part of the same family. That, of course, is the goal.

Working organically, a logo is composed of a mark (drawing) of some kind, the name of the company, and sometimes a tag line. These words are rendered in a typeface relevant to the tone, feelings, values, and images one might associate with the company. This specific typeface (or these typefaces) should be repeated elsewhere, brought into the design of the paper coffee cup, calendar, custom label, or anything else the company prints. For instance, there might be additional copy on the pocket folder and surely on a brochure. This typeface, or these typefaces, if they are consistent with the typeface(s) in the logo, will create a cohesive look. Unity: a principle of design. Variety is another principle of design. You can create interest by varying the size and placement of the words set in this typeface.

Color Usage

Many of the samples I see in Google Images incorporate only one, two, or three corporate colors into the overall design. Some of these “paint the press sheet.” That is, they are used in heavy coverage, and they bleed off the edges of the printed item. This provides an “ample” look, a feeling of abundance.

In many cases, from corporate item to corporate item, the colors are used in different (but complementary) ways. For instance, the color of a brown logo printed on one item (in a small-sized space) may be repeated on another item as the background color bleeding off all edges (i.e., what was the accent color on the first item is now used more abundantly on this other item). This creates a “rhythm,” which is another element of art (both the fine arts and graphic design) along with unity and variety.

The Takeaway

The best way to start thinking along these lines (where unity, variety, rhythm, color usage, typography, and such become second nature) is to view collection after collection of corporate identity materials online (which is easier than collecting them all in physical form).

Then, once you have an intuitive grasp of the concepts, once you kind of know on a pre-verbal level what you want to do next, start making thumbnail sketches. Make them simple. That’s why it’s not good to skip this step and move directly to designing on the computer. You’re not committing more than a few seconds to each drawing. The idea is to sketch out as many ideas as you can, free form. Then you can go back, edit them, choose a few you like, and start making more developed mock-ups using your computer. I always try for at least three different approaches (not just alternate iterations of the same concept).

Then you can start applying the logo and surrounding bits of text to the business card, letterhead, custom envelopes, etc. Lay everything out on a table. In fact it doesn’t hurt to print laser proofs and then cut them to size, and tape the laser proofs to a pocket folder or mug (or whatever other physical item you’re working with). See how everything looks together as a family of promotional items.

Then be ruthless in your editing. Decide what works well individually and what works well together. Make changes. Print out new laser proofs and cut and paste them to make your revised collection. If you have a color printer (inkjet is fine), all the better.

Then show people you trust and respect. Consider their suggestions. Make changes. Rinse and repeat. It’s a lengthy process (perhaps even a journey), but each revision will get better and better, and the group of items will look more and more cohesive.

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