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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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Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Developing/Using a New Logo

I’ve been “refreshing” the corporate identity of a client of mine for whom I have been brokering commercial printing. In developing a new logo and new business card, letterhead, etc., I have been reminded of all the issues that arise in logo development and implementation: the issues I have mentioned a number of times in the PIE Blog articles.

The Logo Development Process

At my client’s request, I started with her three names (first, middle, and last) set across one line. Since my client had expressed the desire for a sophisticated logo similar in tone to the logos in Glamour magazine, I started with a classic serif font and set her name on one line. I used initial caps and set the remaining letters in lowercase form.

Below this I drew a thin rule line. Below that, I typeset the name of her company. For contrast, I used a thin sans serif typeface. At my client’s request, I removed the periods after her initials (used in her business name) and the comma before the LLC notation. This simplified the text treatment. Overall, the “stack” comprising my client’s name, the rule line, and the name of my client’s business created a tight rectangle due to the left and right alignment of the first line, the rule line, and the second line. In my experience, simple geometric forms help the reader (viewer) better organize graphic information.

By itself, this communicated the essential information, but it was boring. A huge number of logos look like this. So, to give this logo a unique sensibility and to continue the visual theme of sophistication and glamour, I added an image. My client had shared with me (for a purpose unrelated to her logo) a silkscreen portrait a friend of hers had created many years ago. In this portrait, the artist had framed my client’s head resting on her hand, with her hair cascading down in the background. It was the perfect glamorous image.

So I vignetted this image (fuzzed out the edges to give a dreamy tone to an image that already looked a bit posterized, with only a handful of discrete tones) and placed it above the type. I also produced an option using the same image to the left of the logotype (the reader’s eye will go to the image first and then read to the right, to the words in the logo). My client chose to use both versions, one for the business card and one for the letterhead.

Using the New Logo

A logo can look stunning and yet be totally worthless as a communication device. Design and marketing utility are two distinct issues. So, once I had the two logos in hand, I began to explore design uses to see what problems would arise.

First, I chose a vertical treatment for the business card. With the screen print of the model’s (my client’s) face and hand centered over my client’s name and her business name, I felt a vertical treatment would be unique, would allow for symmetrical balance in the card design, and would allow me to enlarge the logo enough to ensure readability.

After positioning my client’s email address and phone number, centered below the logo, I printed out a version of the business card and ruled it out (drew lines connecting all crop marks). I did this because it would be the exact size of a real business card. (It’s too easy to make design decisions for commercial printing by just using the computer screen at an enlarged magnification, which bears no resemblance to the final, printed business card. One easily forgets this in the moment of design.)

Granted, I did not (and have not yet) add color, although I did suggest to my client that she only add a highlight color in a minimal way, perhaps to the three words of her name (first, middle, and last name).

Issues with the Business Card

Nothing good happens without work, so I was not surprised to find areas of the business card to tweak.

  1. I made the screened image of my client’s face and hand larger in the Adobe Illustrator logo file.
  2. I made the name of my client slightly taller relative to its width (i.e., slightly condensed). This allowed me to enlarge the type on the card to improve legibility (within the small sized width of the vertically oriented card).
  3. I experimented with vertical spacing in an attempt to create balance and allow for maximum white space around all content on the card. (Generous use of white space suggests opulence and sophistication overall.)
  4. I chose the next darker version of the same sans serif typeface I had used for the name of my client’s business. I did this because reducing the size of the logo for the business card had made this typeface too light. It impeded readability.

In toto, I probably printed out ten different versions before settling on one to send my client. My goals were to maximize type size and image size in the small space to ensure legibility.

Moving On to the Letterhead

I actually did the letterhead first and liked it, but when I moved on to the business card and had to thicken the logo type and lighten the screen print of my client’s face and hand, I created a logo treatment that had become visually different from (and incongruent with) the logo treatment I had initially used for the letterhead. So I adjusted all elements of the new letterhead logo (with the screen-printed image of my client to the left of the logotype rather than above it) and then positioned it in the bottom right corner of the letterhead as an anchor. I made it large enough that the reader’s eye would go to the logo first, regardless of what else was on the page.

Then I printed out the letterhead and compared the business card and letterhead. I looked at them, walked away, came back later, and printed out another several versions of the business card and letterhead, tweaking both to make them just right.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

  1. Design the logo first. Get it as close to perfect as possible, but remember that this is only the beginning.
  2. Print everything out on paper. It’s too easy to make bad decisions on screen, assuming an enlargement that looks perfect on the monitor will look perfect when the physical business cards and letterhead arrive. Rule out the business card with a pencil, from crop mark to crop mark. Make sure you leave adequate trim margin all the way around between any text and the edge of the business card. (Ask your printer for confirmation, but 3/8” to 1/2” is a good start.) You will be surprised at how little of the card is left for art and type after you allow for the margins.
  3. You can enlarge type a little in one direction (making it taller) so you can fit more on the card at a larger type size, but remember that typefaces were designed with a specific ratio of height to width. If you distort the type too much, it will look odd.
  4. Try every possible option you can think of, in terms of placement of the logo type and image. Try a horizontal and then a vertical treatment of the business card. See which works better. Put the job aside and come back to it. You’ll have a fresh approach. Also, show it to several people and request feedback.
  5. Keep in mind that readability takes precedence over design (ideally, you really need both). If a logo on a business card is unreadable, you need to find ways to improve its legibility. In most cases, the logo you use on the business card may be slightly different from the same logo used on the letterhead or on a large format print sign. Keep going back and forth between/among all items in the corporate identity until all treatments are readable and all logos “look” (rather than “actually are”) the same.

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