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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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Blog Articles for PrintIndustry.com

Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Cheap Printing Services as Long Term Solutions

Saturday, April 10th, 2021

Printing plays an important role in making elements of a business visible in front of consumers. These consumers do not always have to be end users, but could be representatives of other businesses. Different types of printed materials commonly required are brochures, flyers, books, posters, T-Shirts, key chains, and others. These days, suitable print coordinators who can get in touch with various print companies all over the world are available for such tasks.

Businesses have resorted to digital print services due to various reasons, one of them being cheap printing services. Technology has made it possible for printing machines and their related costs to be low, enabling companies to decrease their printing rates. There is no company which does not make use of digital print services at present. A Publishing House is an example of one such company. It makes great sense to carry out internal communication in the form of magazines and newsletters with the help of such printing services.

More About Digital Prints

In addition to providing cheap printing services, digital print enables companies to complete printing projects at a rapid pace. The print medium also helps a company clearly communicate with its target audience. Low volume print jobs like newsletters can be easily completed through digital prints. It is also suitable for proofing purposes.

One of the reasons why it is so efficient is because it can print to different media from digital-based images. It creates professional samples, allowing users to get detailed samples of their print jobs in a short time.

Yet another benefit of this technology is that changes with respect to colors, text, and photos can be made easily, but without slowing the process much. Businesses can benefit from customized marketing campaigns through this method. However, those who want high volume prints need to look for offset printing companies instead.

Kinds of Prints

While some companies look for specific types of printed matter, there are others who look for a variety of printing solutions. Common kinds of printed matter are as follows:

  • Letterheads
  • Notepads
  • Banners
  • Flyers
  • Standees
  • Pamphlets
  • Membership Cards
  • Brochures
  • Hologram Stickers
  • Leaflets
  • Posters
  • Plastic Cards
  • Mouse Pads
  • Grocery Bags
  • Car Wraps

Since printing coordinators can be contacted online, there is no need to travel to a new geographical location for finding a print vendor. Payments can also be made online, using wallets and payment gateways. It is possible to check the rankings of final print companies with the help of customer reviews on Google and other websites.

Print Offers are Available Online

Visits to various reputed print websites through the coordinators will help customers look at attractive discounts from time to time. Such discounts on good quality services are rarely available at offline stores. Quick delivery is also made possible, usually within a day or two, though this is based on the nature of assignment.

Print quality gives information about the nature of business. Therefore, it is important to choose reputed printing companies for the best results.

Custom Printing: Engage the Reader’s Eye with Page Design

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

Whether you’re designing a print book (everything from the cover to the table of contents and the interior text pages), or you’re designing a poster, a brochure, or even a web page, your first goal is to make the design inviting and readable. If you can’t capture the reader’s attention, you can’t engage the reader. You can’t tell a story, teach the reader something, or persuade the reader to buy your product or service. If you don’t do this, all of the information on the page is meaningless.

But how do you organize text and images on a page to make the print book, poster, or brochure both enticing and readable?

Grouping Similar Information

Group things together that are related, and make things that are different look different. Also, give the reader a hierarchy of importance in the design. (What’s the most important element, then the next most important element, etc.?)

In this light, I remember reading a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that was particularly frustrating because it had no punctuation and no paragraph indentations (as a method of illustrating the stream of consciousness of the main character). Had the print book not been required reading for my college class, I would have missed a captivating story.

So, a device as simple as a paragraph indent will indicate to the reader the transition from one idea to the next. What would otherwise be a sea of gray type becomes a series of groups of ideas.

A good designer can use type style and size; width of margins; and contrast between the headings, subheads, and text copy (including type size and contrasting fonts) to group some information together and set this apart from other information.

But what other methods of organizing book content does the designer have at hand? One of these is the distinction between the cover and the main text pages, and between both of these and the front matter and back matter of the print book (i.e., the table of contents, copyright page, and title page in the front of the book, and the index and afterword in the back). The best way to learn to craft this global organization of a book is to observe, copy good design, and then create your own design work.

A Few Points on Magazine Design

In contrast, on a magazine page spread, the graphic artist has a few more design elements to consider than a print book designer. (Of course, this depends on the complexity of both the print book and the magazine.) These may include photos, captions, color screens and solids, and pull quotes. All distinctions (i.e., contrast) between one design element and the next will work together to serve up little chunks of information in a manner that aids in the reader’s comprehension.

It is up to you as the designer to determine this order of reading and to use your page design skills to facilitate it. The building blocks of page design include contrast in type size, contrast between type styles, size and color contrast within and between photos, and the use of white space on the page spread.

With magazine design, as with print book design, you use these to group certain visual elements and indicate their relative importance. There are a plethora of tips and tricks to create this “road map” for the reader. but in just a few words, your primary goal is to direct the reader’s eye around the page.

A good way to learn how to do this by studying design grids (the structure of a page: how things are placed within a predetermined “scaffolding,” also referred to as “page geometry”) of the books, posters, and brochures you find striking. Observe. Notice what you like. Then deconstruct it and articulate why you like it and what design rules the graphic artist has used to give order, structure, and unity to the layout.

Eye Movement (Some Samples for Illustration)

One of the key methods for leading the reader’s eye around a print book page, a magazine page, a poster, or a brochure is to note the visual direction implied in photos or other visual elements (even the style and placement of type).

For instance, my favorite design book (Design Basics Index by Jim Krause), to which I often refer in the PIE Blog articles, includes four sample business cards for a surf shop. Each sample includes the client’s contact information and a blue ocean wave. Nothing else. The four samples are very similar. But here are the differences:

    1. In the first option, the wave is breaking to the left (toward the edge of the card), but all contact information text is stacked and on the far right of the card. Because the wave is breaking off the left side, it leads the reader’s eye off the left side of the business card. It does not lead the reader’s eye to the name, address, phone number, and other contact information. It may look pretty, but the design and the intended eye movement are at odds. (Krause says as much in the text of his print book, but I would add one other observation. In this culture we read from left to right. So if the wave leads the reader in the opposite direction, this goes against her/his expectations and hinders the reading process.)

 

    1. Option #2 has all contact information stacked on the left of the card (set flush left). On the right the wave crests and is about to “break” off the edge of the business card. The reader’s eye goes to the cresting wave first, but then it has to “back up” (go back to the left side of the card) to get to the contact information. If you only have a second to make an impression, this card may only give the hasty reader an image of the cresting wave, and she/he may miss the contact information. The takeaway? Assume the reader will unconsciously read from left to right. Make sure your placement of design elements both reflects and encourages this eye movement.

 

  1. (Actually both option #3 and #4) Krause’s third and fourth design samples are very similar. The only difference is in the way the wave is drawn. In both cases the wave crests and is about to fall to the right, onto the contact information. On the third sample card, the wave beyond the curling crest exits the page exactly horizontally. But on the fourth sample business card, the curve under the crest of the wave cradles (or contains) the lines of contact information (because it curves upward slightly on the right as it bleeds off the edge of the business card). This particular design, unlike the other three, includes a cresting wave falling onto the most important part of the card (the text), but it also holds the reader’s eye in place with a simple rising of the water to the right of the wave.

The Takeaway

Learning design can be a lifetime pursuit. I personally learned my design skills not in school but on the job. But what has helped me the most has been looking closely at the design work of the masters and asking myself the following: What was the overall goal? And how did the designer achieve the goal using the elements and principles of design?

The elements of design might include type style, size, and weight; page geometry, or the design grid; color; and imagery such as drawings and photos. And the principles of design might include repetition, contrast, unity, and the like.

So the short answer is: Observe, deconstruct, understand, create.

Custom Printing: Achieving Visual Contrast in Print

Monday, December 14th, 2020

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

If you’ve ever seen the high-contrast drawing of one vase or two faces (called the “Rubin Vase,” if you Google it online), you understand that contrast makes “things” stand out: like the proverbial “can’t see the forest for the trees” quote suggests. One’s perception of the Rubin vase switches back and forth between two black facial silhouettes and one white vase (called a “bi-stable image”) only because of the contrast between the stark white and black achromatic “colors.”

My fiancee and I were discussing this concept with our autistic art therapy class recently, and I thought about how contrast as an important element of design in the fine arts was equally relevant to graphic design for commercial printing. After all, if you research the famous masters in art history print books, you will notice that many of them were also graphic designers.

Contrasting Images

With this thought in mind I did some research in the Design Basics Index, my go-to textbook on publication design. Jim Krause’s print book notes one of the cardinal rules of design, “Styles between images should be either identical, or noticeably different” (p. 200, Design Basics Index).

This echoes one of the maxims of the first boss I had from whom I learned graphic design, “Whatever you do (regarding contrast), make it big.”

In Design Basics Index, Jim Krause says the same thing. Krause includes three versions of an advertisement to illustrate “contrast in style, agreement in theme” (p. 200, Design Basics Index). All three versions are of a symmetrically designed ad (its balance achieved with all elements centered vertically), with a large photo of the arch above a (presumably) cathedral doorway, in color, containing a half-circle stained glass window with radiating sections (like a cross section of an orange). In its presentation, the image looks “painterly,” as though it had been rendered with a brush or even with colored pencils.

Below this image in all three versions of the ad is the tag line in what looks like actual handwriting (it might be a faux handwriting font). This approach resonates with the artistic treatment of the 4-color image above. Below this is a small, vertical photo of another part of the building, then three lines of type (two in a brown hue and one in a more yellow ochre tone).

Finally, in a grey tone, at a larger point size, is the logotype for the historical society the advertisement promotes. Behind all of the type, and abutting the 4-color image of the arched window above the cathedral door is a cream-colored background screen to tie everything together. The screen unifies the design along with the earth tones in the photo, the “antique” look of the handwritten headline treatment, and the browns and yellows of the type in the bottom half of the ad.

So here’s the difference (from one ad to another) and the lesson Jim Krause is teaching with the three versions of the advertisement. The smaller image alone changes from ad to ad. In the first ad, the small image (which appears to be an architectural support on a Gothic cathedral) is a warm-toned (sepia, perhaps) image, which contrasts with the more painterly treatment of the large image of the cornice and stained glass window.

In the second rendition of this ad, the same small image is treated as a high-contrast photo overlaying a ghosted and much larger version of the same image in the background.

In the third version of the ad both the larger image of the stained glass window above the door and the small image of the curvilinear support structure are rendered in the same 4-color, painterly style.

What Jim Krause teaches us with these examples is the following:

  1. Treating both photos the same (both in a 4-color, artistically distressed manner) makes the two photos compete for the viewer’s attention. They are too similar, even if one is much smaller than the other.
  2. The high-contrast-positive image of the support structure (and the screened back, much larger version of the same image in the background) hang together and provide ample contrast with the large, 4-color, stained glass window photo at the top of the ad.
  3. The thematic associations (hand-written headline, earth tones for the type, light cream background screen to tie everything together) all visually unify the ad.
  4. But the treatment of only the larger photo in a saturated, 4-color, painterly manner gives this image prominence because of its contrast with the remaining type and monochromatic imagery.
  5. Or, as my old boss said, “Whatever you do (in this case, contrasting the treatment of images on the page), make it big.” (Another way to say this is that minor contrasts between images look like an accident, whereas major contrasts create drama.)
  6. I would even go one step further on this theme: The huge difference in size between the large image of the arch with the stained glass and the support structure of the (presumably) Gothic cathedral creates drama in and of itself. Difference in size also creates contrast and interest in a design (in both the commercial arts and fine arts).

The Same Is True for Type

As I was learning graphic design (on the job, over many years), I always read that you should limit the number of font changes within a design to two or three typefaces at most. In fact, I learned that it wasn’t even a bad idea to design something with only the various weights (bold, italic, etc.) of a single typeface.

I also learned that, when choosing a typeface for headlines and a different typeface for body copy, I should make the contrast obvious. Choosing two similar sans serif typefaces was not a good idea, and choosing two similar, but not quite the same, serif typefaces was not advisable. If a headline type and a body copy typeface looked almost the same, that would give the impression that the choice was an error, an oversight. Making the contrast between the headline type and body copy type a “big,” or dramatic, one would create more energy in the design of the ad, publication, poster, etc.

Interestingly enough, the ad I deconstructed above, from Jim Krause’s Design Basics Index, actually illustrates this point with its choice of typefaces.

As noted above, the headline of the ad (all three versions) is either handwriting or a handwriting font. All of the remaining type (two font choices, as my old boss taught me) is in a tall, narrow, and perhaps severe Moden typeface (that is, with dramatic shifts between the thick and thin strokes in the letterforms). I can think of no typeface that would contrast as dramatically with the handwriting font (or handwriting) as a stark Modern font. In addition, the handwriting is also more horizontal and less tightly tracked (the space adjustment between successive letters) than the more vertical treatment of the narrow (perhaps even condensed) lines of copy and the logotype at the bottom of the ad.

Again, a big difference in letterforms (from one section to another) creates contrast and drama.

What Can We Learn from This Deconstruction and Analysis of an Advertisement?

  1. The first thing is to learn to observe. Look closely at every ad that appeals to you, every print book design, every magazine that takes your fancy. Then consider what design elements the graphic artist has used to create visual interest, a sense of unity, and even contrast in order to evoke a dramatic mood.
  2. Realize that contrast comes in many flavors: contrast in size, contrast in typeface design, color contrast, contrast in artistic treatment, and so forth.
  3. When you’re designing something, make sure that all of your design decisions support the thematic whole. That is, make sure every choice of type, photo treatment, color, and placement of design elements is congruent with the intended message—what you’re saying and even the mood you’re trying to evoke. Making something look good for its own sake is not enough. To quote a famous architect, “Form follows function” (Louis Sullivan).

Custom Printing: Designing for Digital Printing

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

Designing for digital printing is a subject that needs regular attention these days. Digital and offset printing are not the same. While each has its benefits, they both have potential drawbacks that you can minimize based on your approach to the design of your custom printing project.

Moreover, between the quick turn-around requirements, versioned printing and variable-data printing requirements, and ultra-short print run requirements of recent years, it behooves you to study the various ways to minimize the visibility of the flaws inherent in digital commercial printing.

Sooner rather than later, you most probably will need to address these issues.

An Example

Here’s an example. In my commercial print brokering business I currently have a client who is designing a floor sample box. It is a die-cut, fold-up product with 32 separate samples of flooring (1” x 2” x .5” wood chips) inset and glued into wells in the interior panels. On the liner for the interior of the box/book, the names of the wood products are printed (or reversed out of the background). The exterior panels are printed (photos, marketing text, company address information, etc.).

For a while during the design process, all exterior, visible panels of the book/box, including the front and back covers and the spine, were to be printed in 4-color process ink. Inside the box, the liner (which covers the chipboard box structure and surrounds the die-cut wells for the wood chips) was first white with black type, then black with white type, then 4-color process to match the dark bluish-black within the front cover photo. (That is, the design of the box is an evolving process.)

All of this would have been fairly uneventful in an offset print run, barring the need to adequately dry and then laminate the heavy coverage ink. However, both the prototype for the box (a one-off sample that will convince the client to either go forward with the printer or go elsewhere) plus the extremely short press run for the box (100 or 200 copies) will necessitate digital custom printing.

Offset vs. Digital Printing

At this point it may be helpful to review the differences between offset printing and digital printing:

  1. Offset printing involves applying ink from an on-press reservoir to rollers, then to a printing plate, then to a rubber blanket, and then to the paper substrate.
  2. Digital printing involves the building up of an electrostatic charge on a drum to attract toner particles (dry toner or toner suspended in a liquid or oil), apply them to a blanket or belt, and then deposit them onto the paper substrate.
  3. For the most part (and to a lesser extent with coated paper than with uncoated), with offset printing at least some ink seeps into the paper fibers as it dries or is cured with UV light.
  4. With digital printing, most of the ink sits up on the surface of the paper.
  5. Offset printing is static. It cannot apply different information (such as different addresses) to each copy printed. Digital printing can.
  6. For very short runs, offset printing is cost prohibitive (all of your money goes into preparation for the short press run). However, since there’s almost no prep work for digital, you can print as few as one or two copies of a digital press run.

Back to My Client’s Flooring Sample Box

So, my client needed one initial copy (the prototype). It required heavy coverage of ink, 4-color process work, gloss lamination, die cutting, gluing, and assembly. And the final production run will need all of these processes for just 100 or 200 copies (well under a 1,000- or 5,000-copy run—for instance—that might be cost effective for an offset printing job). Therefore, digital custom printing is the way to go. And the potential pitfalls of digital commercial printing will be crucial for my client (the designer) to address.

Potential Problems

Uneven Toner Laydown and Problems with Gradients

Unlike offset printing, digital printing involves electrostatic charges—noted above—that may not be even across the entire press sheet. Therefore, the laydown of toner (toner deposit) may not be completely even. This can lead to artifacts (little bits of toner here and there, marring the precise, even deposit of color) and “banding” in gradient colors (visible bands of color across a press sheet when you’re transitioning from one color to another). The unevenness will be even more visible if you’re printing on a perfectly smooth, coated press sheet.

The Solution

To reduce banding and artifacts in tints or gradations, use Photoshop to add noise—i.e., a visible texture—to the graduated screen or tint. Or use Gaussian Blur on the background screen. Also, make tinted areas smaller, or keep them apart from one another in the design.

In addition, ask your commercial printing supplier about the best length for gradients (the physical length from the start of one color to the end of the transition to the other color) and the best starting and ending percentages for the transition (perhaps 80 or 100 percent gradually reduced to 15 percent across the length of the gradation). Ideal gradations may vary from one digital press to another, or one printing resolution to another, so discuss this with your commercial printing vendor.

Issues with Cracking Toner at Post-Press Folds

Since toner (whether dry toner or toner particles in viscous oil) sits up on top of the press sheet, printing heavy coverage of a 4-color process “build” and then folding the press sheet off-press can lead to cracking of the toner/ink.

Solution

Avoid heavy toner coverage over folds, or score the press sheet before printing and folding it.

Color Matching Problems

Most digital presses either have no accommodation for PMS match colors or only a handful of match colors you can choose (such as a the available mixed colors for the HP Indigo press). Therefore, if your cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink builds don’t match the particular corporate logo color you want, you don’t have the same options as with offset printing (i.e., printing PMS match colors using an additional inking unit on the offset press).

Solution

Keep your colors within the printable CMYK gamut (which is smaller—i.e., has fewer distinct colors—than RGB or PMS match colors). This is not a workable solution in all cases.

In general, to ensure color accuracy, ask your printer about color profiles (ICC profiles) and whether to save your images (photos) in TIFF or EPS format. The latter, EPS, will allow you to embed color profiles into the saved images.

Trapping Problems

In my own experience (and this may be in the process of changing), tolerance for movement within the digital press is not quite as precise as in an offset press. So if colors have to abut, any imperfections in paper transport can cause problems (visible white lines between colors that abut). In addition, trapping technology, in general, seems to be more comprehensive in offset lithography than in digital printing (again, this has been improving significantly). (Trapping is the intentional, slight overlapping of abutting colors to avoid white lines between them in case the ink or toner placement is not exactly right.)

Solution

Keep colors apart, where possible. Also, research trapping options for digital printing. Keep at least one common color (cyan or magenta, not black or yellow) within the two colors that trap. If you design with type printed on a solid or screened 4-color build, consider using black type on a light screen. Or reverse the type from a dark solid or screen.

Transparency Issues

Transparency (this pertains to opacity, glows, feathering, blending, and drop shadows) can cause problems (particularly when “flattening” the file).

Solution

Keep the transparency on the uppermost layer (research “stacking order” of elements in transparency). Flatten the files before handing them off to the printer. Proof the page early and often.

Issues with Bleeds

Bleeds can be a problem because digital press sheets are usually smaller than offset press sheets.

To achieve a bleed, your printed image has to extend past the end of the final-size printed page and then be trimmed off to give the illusion that the ink goes off the edge of the page. This often requires a large press sheet. Digital presses often accept press sheets that are closer to 13” x 18” than to the 25” x 38” or larger press sheets an offset press can accommodate.

Solution

Larger digital presses are being made. Ask your printer about the acceptable press sheet sizes for his press. As an alternative, find another printer with digital press equipment that can accept a “B2” press sheet (which is just under 20” x 28” in size).

If You Remember Nothing Else…

I personally like to walk away from a discussion of pitfalls with a general rule of thumb: a failsafe way to avoid problems. In this case, here is my advice. Proof early and often using the same digital process for the proof as for the production run (which you cannot do with offset commercial printing but you can do with digital printing).

If you review proofs before proceeding, you will see whether your work-arounds have minimized banding, artifacts, and other problems. If it looks right on the proof, the final run should match exactly.

Creating and Publishing Coffee Table Books

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

If you are into self-publishing, then you understand why book specs are so important, especially when it comes to coffee table books. When we talk about coffee table books, they have to be vibrant and appealing. A picture speaks a thousand words, and a coffee table book must incorporate photographs and illustrations that are meant for casual reading. Coffee table books are placed on a coffee table at cafes, lounges, or homes so that visitors can go through them while they enjoy their coffee.

Today, modern cafes and coffee shops use coffee table books as a way of disconnect from reality or as a symbol of class. If you were always into photography or love drawing illustrations and want people to see them, then there is nothing better than converting your art into a coffee table book. The best part is that with online printing services, the coffee table book printing costs are quite reasonable. Here is what you need to know.

Work on a Theme

The first step towards creating a coffee table book is brainstorm themes. Your coffee table book can have any theme as long as it is intriguing and appealing to the readers. It can be anything from wildlife photography to dramatic selfies, glamorous interior designs, and even distinctive portraits. The primary goal of a coffee table book is to inspire others and have them start a conversation. It is all about celebrating your favorite form of art. A good coffee table book comprises a cluster of images with little context. So, you have to work on a theme and curate the best pictures. You are always free to ask for a second opinion before sending in the photos to the printer.

Design and Layout

Once you have curated your best pictures and decided on a theme, work on creating an outline of your project so that you know in which format you want it to be. Creating a layout will help you in making necessary changes before it goes for the final print. While the online printer will provide you with a plethora of designs and layout, you would want to create your own layout given the fact that it is your artwork, and nobody knows better than you. It is highly important that you only choose high-resolution pictures for a clean and crisp effect.

Choose the Paper Wisely

The coffee table book printing costs can be significantly reduced if you choose your paper wisely. If you are on a budget, always go with the standard size for the book and use the regular paper that other publishing houses use. This way, you will be able to maintain the feel and look of your coffee table book while cutting down costs.

B&W Photographs

Nothing can give you the premium feel and classiness as black and white photographs. Nevertheless, printing high-quality images in B&W is much more affordable than printing images in color. Or you can have a mixture of color photographs and black and white photographs to give your book a distinctive appeal.

Last but not least, always have a good design by your side when designing and creating a coffee table book. A designer will make sure that everything looks appealing.

Custom Printing: Designing Mock-ups for Our Boss’s Tattoo

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

Photo purchased from … www.depositphotos.com

I usually like to limit my writing to subjects I know, understand, and/or have researched heavily. But earlier this week one of our bosses (my fiancee and I have multiple gigs we have cobbled together, including art therapy with the autistic, graphic design, writing, and commercial printing sales) asked us to help design her new tattoo. For free, obviously. She is our boss. She also needed it immediately.

Even though we had done nothing of the sort before, my fiancee is an art therapist, and I have a background in fine arts, commercial art, and commercial printing, so designing for ink on skin seemed do-able. After all, design principles are design principles—whatever the substrate.

This Is How We Approached the Assignment

Our boss is becoming a member of a religious organization, and she had found two relevant phrases, in Latin, that she wants permanently emblazoned on her arm. Our task was to come up with designs she would approve and then pass on to her tattoo artist the next day.

We started with the two Latin phrases and our boss’s comment that she wanted something feminine, and we went to the computer. Since the computer in question has no design software at the moment, we opened a word processor file and copied the two Latin phrases four times. My fiancee and I both had the idea that a script font would be the ideal rendering, so we chose four script fonts (on which we could both agree), set the type, and sent a PDF off to our boss.

We figured she would choose one of the four, and the script type renderings of the phrases would be the base of the tattoo design. We would then embellish the words with floral artwork. She chose the Latin phrases set in Zapfino, a legible script face (of key importance but not always a foregone conclusion for script typefaces).

She wanted the Latin phrases enhanced with flowers, birds, and such. So we went online and found samples of floral flourishes for her approval. Being old and somewhat less technologically advanced, we regressed to our cut-and-paste roots, and took photos of the computer screen to text to our boss.

She liked the flowers, so we proceeded to quick-and-dirty sketches, known back when I was doing graphic design for a living as “roughs.”

Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we would usually start with “thumbnail sketches” (small, loose drawings by hand just to suggest the “concept,” the idea behind the logo. (A logo is the closest thing I can envision—within the corporate world–to the tattoo my fiancee and I were in the process of designing.) Since we already had the concept (approved by our boss), we skipped the thumbnail sketches and went directly to the “roughs” and then the “comps.”

Now in normal circumstances, if I were designing this alone, for my regular rate, for a client with a budget and a reasonable time frame, I’d probably do the roughs and comps directly on the computer using proper graphic design software. I’d save the PDFs and then send them on to the client. I’d include comps developed from full-size roughs developed from numerous hand-sketched thumbnails. My client would first approve the concept through the thumbnail sketches, then pick perhaps three of them for me to develop into full-size renderings and then an almost-finished final comp.

But my fiancee and I were doing this as a favor. This was an immediate design challenge to address, and I had to get back to my other work. Also, all our boss needed was a handful of somewhat-developed ideas (i.e., more akin to the “roughs” stage noted above).

So I reverted to the handwork, tape, and photocopying I did in the ‘80s and ‘90s because I could do this in my sleep, quickly, without needing a computer or printer (once I had the raw materials).

I printed out two sets of the text file and various sizes of the drawings of flowers, vines, and such, to cobble together by hand until my fiancee and I both liked the results. My fiancee took a set and I took a set, so we could do two different options simultaneously (and so our design ideas would not be potentially in conflict).

This Is What We Tried to Do

Whether it’s a design on paper, banner fabric, or skin (as a tattoo), presenting type and imagery has to address certain design fundamentals. Here is what we had to consider:

  1. The rendering had to be legible. Custom printing in ink, applied with a tattoo gun on our boss’s arm, would require a typeface of a readable size and type design (as noted above). It had to be script but it couldn’t be too floral because it had to be readable from a distance at a reasonably small size (two phrases, one above the other, containing three Latin words each).
  2. The flowers we added had to be recognizable at a small size. Our boss wanted the dots above two letter “i”s to be birds, and she also wanted a sun between the two phrases. We showed her in our quick-and-dirty paste-ups rendered with paper, scissors, and tape, that even at a large size these would be difficult to grasp as images.

(We knew that anyone who saw the tattoo would also see it only briefly, so—like a logo—immediate recognition and simplicity of design would be of paramount importance.)

When all was said and done our boss had three options created by the two of us, in quick-and-dirty format for her tattoo artist to review and amend.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

Design principles are the foundation of everything from the paintings in the Louvre to print books and magazines to tattoos rendered on people’s arms. Here are some things to consider, no matter what you design.

  1. The message is key. In the case of the tattoo, the readability of the text was more important than the attractiveness of the flowers, sun, and birds.
  2. That said, the frame enhances the portrait. The floral style of the type and the flowers nestled in between and around the words provided a tone or atmosphere for the overall tattoo.
  3. Size matters. If the overall image looked good at the large size at which we had created it but then became illegible when reduced down for application to our boss’s arm, it would be useless. It would not communicate its message. Think about this if you’re designing a logo. If you can’t read it on a business card (or if a logo mark is confusing), you’ve lost your audience. Conversely, if you will need to enlarge the logo for a sign, a vehicle wrap, or an exterior banner for the side of a building, make sure you look closely at a physical print of the final-size logo (or other image). Does it still look as good?
  4. Think about the substrate. In the case of our boss’s tattoo, the substrate was her arm. Arms move around a lot compared to business cards with logos on them. You can easily miss the tattoo words or floral design. Design accordingly. You may only have an instant to create an impression.
  5. In addition, colors are affected by their surroundings. In the case of the tattoo, our boss is Caucasian. Perhaps too much yellow in the tattoo would be excessive. Perhaps blues and purples would create a nice contrast. Consider this when you’re printing four-color work on a cream paper stock. The cream paper will affect the colors of flesh tones.
  6. When in doubt, hire a professional. That’s why we handed off the drawings (photos of the rough options for our boss’s tattoo) and let her move on to the next steps with her tattoo artist.

Book Printing: Visually Organizing a Print Book

Monday, August 24th, 2020

People’s attention spans seem to be getting shorter. Too many things to see. Too many things to read. All these visuals coming at you at once.

When I was in school, textbooks had a few photos, charts, and graphs, but mostly I read page upon page of straight text.

In total contrast to this, I found a fascinating print book at the thrift store this week. It’s essentially a sociology textbook for those who have already graduated (laypeople rather than students). And it does a masterful job of visually organizing a vast number of complex topics into timelines, charts, and bite-size chunks of text. Exactly the way we consume material on the internet. Visually and spatially.

The book is entitled The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained, and it was curated (edited, compiled) by the following contributors: Christopher Thorpe, Chris Yuill, Mitchell Hobbs, Megan Todd, Sarah Tomley, and Marcus Weeks.

The Key Is the Visuals

Since graduating from college, I’ve learned more about things I didn’t study in school than things I did. Everything from economics to history, to all the other subjects I avoided. In the last 40 years these subjects have become interesting to me because they have become relevant to my daily life. There are probably many other people out there who could say the same thing.

In those 40 years (and before), experts have learned a lot about how people consume and master information on new subjects. In addition, between the ‘90s and the present, the internet has created a shift in how people consume content from a linear reading style to a more random, or at least spatial, approach that favors images, video, sounds, and short chunks of copy (such as bulleted lists).

This is not to say that “long-form” (the current name) journalism and literature have disappeared. The more spatial way of consuming information (like jumping around among a stack of books collecting facts and quotes for a term paper) has just grown exponentially in part because of our exposure to the internet.

The other point to consider is that you can consume and retain information more efficiently if it is presented in an organized manner. When you see how large concepts are connected, you can understand them and remember them better.

The Sociology Book

All of this information on how people learn (based on my reading in psychology, human perception, blog and other marketing, consumer behavior, and advertising) leans toward a more visual treatment of content. This includes an increasing use of photos, captions, call-outs, quotes, time-lines, and flow charts. The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained is replete with all of these, and the book employs them masterfully.

I’d even go further in my description. This print book contains fire-engine red, full-bleed divider pages to set apart one section from another. It also includes screened sidebars describing the influential social thinkers (who would be called “thought leaders” today). And there are full-color photos and also infographics to visually show how concepts are related and how one event or process leads directly to another.

There are also screened “In Context” sidebars that place the concepts discussed (such as globalization) within a setting of historical events.

Finally, in describing the organization of The Sociology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained and how this organization facilitates learning, here’s a description of a sample chapter. Keep in mind that after the front matter of the print book, each article (instead of chapters) follows this graphic presentation.

  1. Each section begins with a double-page divider, with a red solid block of color bleeding off all sides and surprinted with the title of the section in all capital letters in an ultra-bold, sans serif typeface.
  2. The next two-page spread includes a red half-inch bar (a timeline) extending from the left page to the right, bleeding on both sides. Above and below the line are dates in a black sans serif type with arrows pointing to short paragraphs describing significant events. All of these snippets pertain directly to the subject of that section, such as “The Foundations of Sociology.”
  3. Each section then contains a handful of related articles (maybe 10). There is an opening “pictogram” for each article, printed in black ink over the local color. (By local color, I mean one of the many bright, saturated colors that distinguish each article from every other article. These colors do repeat occasionally throughout the print book.) The benefit of the pictograms is that they illustrate each concept in a simple, visual way, and they immediately grab the reader’s attention.
  4. To the right of the pictogram is the title of the article in the all-caps, sans serif font, printed in black. Below the title is the name of the sociologist under discussion, and above and below this title block is a 1/2” solid bar of the local color. The effect is that the reader’s eye goes here first, without question.
  5. Then there’s the “In Context” box immediately below the pictogram (all within a three-column layout) to give the historical surroundings of the key concept or subject.
  6. Some articles include quotes (to enhance the reader’s level of trust in the content of the book). Each quote includes large screened quote marks above and below the text and solid color bars (the local color again) to frame the quotation and the quote marks.
  7. Some articles include flow charts (hand drawn circles and arrows around short blocks of text, which are set in roman type with bold type highlighting the most important words).
  8. The book includes running heads at the top of the page, typeset in uppercase letters and screened to gray. You always know where you are in the book.
  9. Finally, the print book includes a three-column layout of text, which is still important in this visual layout. The text of each article begins with a drop cap in a heavy slab-serif typeface. The text itself is set in a small roman version of this typeface. With all of the sidebars and quotes, the solid bars of color, the duotones, and the pictograms, the reader’s eye–or at least my eyes–appreciate the white space (even if it is within the text columns).

What We Can Learn from This Book

This print book is a wonderful case study in how people learn today. And if you’re a designer or a writer, you can make yourself incredibly relevant by studying the design of print books like these and incorporating what you learn into your own design and writing work. Here are some observations:

  1. If you set up a design structure for a book that treats all chapters (articles or whatever else you call them) in the same way, your reader will understand that these are all equal-value components of the overall print book (i.e., design reflects function).
  2. Do the same with the cover, front matter, and section markers. In the sample sociology textbook described above, you can understand the book’s structure immediately. Whether you do this dramatically or more subtly than the book I described, create a consistent, overall structure for the book. Your reader will immediately know where she/he is in the text.
  3. Keep chunks of information short and self-contained (as in the sociology book’s sidebars and quotes). Bulleted or numbered lists are good, too.
  4. Be aware that people learn better if you show how the concepts are related. A flow chart is good for this. It shows how one concept or event continues into the next (cause and effect, if you will). Make sure the design reflects this.
  5. Pictograms (often used in infographics) are immediately recognizable because they are so simple in design. Think about the signs on bathroom doors. There’s no question about what they mean.
  6. Quotations (short ones are best) can capture the essence of an idea. They also add to the credibility of a book or magazine. (If such and such expert says so, it must be true.)
  7. Drop caps (initial capital letters) date way back to the illuminated manuscripts monks drew and painted by hand. They grab your attention. You immediately know where to start reading.

The Take Away

Increasingly, people prefer to learn from either videos or short bursts of information presented in a visual manner. This makes your job as a designer all the more important. Do research. Study how people are best able to digest and retain new information. You can learn this from marketing, advertising, psychology, and similar textbooks. If you are skilled at presenting information in an easily digestible way, your design skills will always be in high demand.

Custom Printing: Asymmetrical Balance in Your Design

Sunday, April 19th, 2020

When I first started designing publications forty years ago, I had no formal training. I made a lot of errors. Or, worse, I produced a lot of mediocre work.

In part this was because I had started in publications as a word person. I wrote and edited, but did not yet think in terms of how to design a page for a print book, a brochure, or an advertisement in such a way as to grab the interest of the reader. I could, however, recognize good design.

Over time, I found a number of print books on publication design, and I collected an expansive “swipe file” of printed products (everything from business cards to printed shoe boxes to posters) that I considered excellent examples of their own particular category.

The Rules of Design

I am a great believer in practicing the “fundamentals,” just as a basketball player practices dribbling and does lay-up after lay-up daily, I study the rules of design and composition. So year after year I studied “the rules” of design, first of all becoming aware that the rules of graphic design were no different from the rules of fine art. (I had studied painting and drawing for years before moving into art production for commercial printing, so I had absorbed many of the design rules already.)

This is how I think my entry into the field of design for commercial printing might be relevant to you, if you design anything from print books to brochures to banners for hanging on the sides of buildings. In some cases you may have come into the field by accident (without formal training), and as you develop your own skills, you may be looking for pointers.

In this light, I found a book at the thrift store entitled Graphic Design Basics, which was written by Amy E. Arntson. Basics, fundamentals. This book fits the bill.

Principles of Balance

When I speak of “rules,” I want to be clear that I think design rules can be successfully broken. That said, if you break the rules, you have to do it for a good reason, so the first and most useful step is to learn the rules from the masters.

Graphic Design Basics contains everything you need to know (so you can absorb the information and then practice it for the remainder of your career). Because the print book is so comprehensive, I’m going to pick just one concept as a starting point for this blog article, one that I think is particularly effective for spicing up your design work: asymmetrical balance.

To define our terms, the opposite of “asymmetrical balance” is “symmetrical balance.” Your face is pretty much symmetrical. If you draw a line down the center, everything on the left side has a corresponding element on the right. One eye, the other eye, one nostril, the other nostril. Everything is visually in balance. You can tell this intuitively. It’s just right.

You can approach a conservative business card or a formal invitation in much the same way. You can imagine a central vertical line with everything centered, balanced on the left and right, going from the top to the bottom of the card.

Symmetrical balance provides a sense of formality, gravitas, security, to a design. You can do the same thing with photos and text. Just draw an imaginary vertical line down the center of the page, and make sure every element on the left has a corresponding element (of equal visual weight) on the right.

Unfortunately this can become very boring very quickly.

Asymmetrical Balance

Whereas symmetrical balance works through a rigid balance of equal visual elements, asymmetrical balance works through contrasts. Based on things like size, color, and placement on a page (toward the center or toward the edge of the page—perhaps using a single-page advertisement as an example), you can achieve a visceral (or gut) sense of balance that is far more dynamic than a stolid symmetrical balance. This sense of energy and movement can be a useful way to capture reader interest.

But how do you do this? What are the rules? Fortunately, Graphic Design Basics lists a number of them, which I will share with you. You will find the same rules of asymmetrical balance also apply to works of fine art. Therefore, I would encourage you to both visit museums and also study samples of commercial printing.

Here are the principles of asymmetrical balance as noted in Graphic Design Basics. As we discuss these, consider how you might balance weights on a seesaw (teeter-totter). For instance, you could put a large weight on one side, close to the central fulcrum, and then actually balance this heavy weight with a few smaller, lighter weights at the far end of the opposite side (far away from the central fulcrum). Consider this metaphor when you read these rules, and when you look at samples of commercial printing work, I believe you will develop an intuitive, gut reaction to what is or is not “in balance.”

The rules (from Graphic Design Basics):

  1. Location: A large shape in the middle of a page is already in balance. It feels anchored (probably based on our intuitive understanding of symmetrical balance (half of the shape on either side of the imaginary central vertical line of balance). You can balance a large central shape with a much smaller shape if the smaller shape is near the edge of the page (any edge). This is just like the seesaw metaphor noted above. To put this in the terms of graphic design, the central shape might be a large photo, and the small shape near the edge of the page might be a smaller photo. Or, the central shape might be a photo, and the smaller shapes near the outside edges might be call-outs (pull quotes) or even large initial caps beginning paragraphs of text. Squint as you’re designing, and you’ll see the artistic shapes instead of the typeset words.
  2. Isolation: If you position a small shape surrounded by a lot of white space (negative space) on the page, this graphic element will have more visual weight than a much larger group of small objects. The key word is “group.” For example, when you’re designing a page, you can balance a group of head shot photos with a single photo positioned away from this collection of photos.
  3. Texture: “A small, highly textured area will contrast with and balance a larger area of simple texture” (Graphic Design Basics, p. 72). For instance, if you’re designing an advertisement, you can balance a large block of body copy text about the product with a more complex but much smaller headline, perhaps set at the top of the page and extending into the margin, maybe even at an angle. The visually-perceived (as opposed to actual, or physical) texture of the headline, with its complex letterforms, will contrast with and balance the much larger “sea of grey” provided by the body copy of the advertisement.
  4. Value: High contrast adds to the visual weight of a shape in a design. For instance, a small black and white photo on a page (if it has a lot of contrast and rich black tones) will balance out a much larger light (high-key) photo or an area screen of a color. The contrast between the overall black (or other dark color) of the photo and anything else on the page will give the dark photo more visual weight than the lighter, larger shape (perhaps a block of text typeset all in one size).
  5. Shape: “Complicated contours also have a greater visual weight than simple ones” (Graphic Design Basics, p. 74). An example would be a starburst design (in an ad) out of which you might reverse the words “Free Trial.” The jagged edge of this much smaller shape would contrast with, and balance, a much larger photo on the opposite side of the imaginary central line of balance (again, always think in terms of this central line, whether you’re creating a symmetrical or asymmetrical balance in your page design).
  6. Color: Bright and intense color (used sparingly) will balance out much larger design elements in less bright, less saturated color. Think about the use of an intense red color in any ad you have ever seen. Usually a little red goes a long way. In fact, if you highlight even a few words in deep, intense red, the rest of the advertisement can be printed in black, and yet the reader’s eye will go directly to the much smaller shapes (letterforms) printed in red.

What You Should Remember

  1. All of this comes down to two things. If you want the reader to be comfortable, find ways to create balance in a page spread. However, you may want to make the reader uncomfortable in order to confront or challenge her/him. In this case, consider ways to subvert the rules described above.
  2. The main goal is to lead the reader’s eye through the printed page in a specific order you have chosen, based on the levels of importance of the content (or the relationships among the elements of content). Think about the lines of direction and movement you create (for instance, if a model in a photo is looking in a certain direction, your reader will do the same; therefore, it might be effective to place an important block of copy there).
  3. There are many, many more rules (textbooks full). This is only one brief topic. So collect design textbooks and steep yourself in them. Then forget the textbooks and rules, and look at printed design and fine art you like. You’ll see more, and the rules will become a part of you. Some you’ll follow; some you’ll discard.

Commercial Printing: Thoughts on Developing/Using a New Logo

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020

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.

Commercial Printing: Developing a Letterhead Design

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

A book printing and design client of mine sent me a photo of a flower a few weeks ago when we were discussing her corporate identity. She wants to rebrand her writing business, and she has liked my designs for her poetry print books (and my feedback on her marketing initiatives) enough to ask for my logo-design help.

So this week she asked that I create temporary letterhead (while we work on the rebranding), incorporating the flower image she sent me, as well as her name, address, phone number, and email information. At this pivotal moment, I thought to myself, “How do I proceed?”

Steps in the Process (The Image)

My client had asked for a centered, symmetrical layout, with all of her contact information in the center top of the page under the photo of the flower. So this is what I did—first. I figured I’d give her what she had requested, but then I’d give her some other options as well.

So I placed a small, square image of the cropped photo at the top of the page. Working quickly, I didn’t bother saving the image as a TIFF (or changing it from full color to greyscale). I just wanted to essentially make sketches as the ideas came into my head. (I will say that on the second pass, the next day, I did change the image to greyscale. At that point I also considered the tonal range of the photo (light vs. dark areas). I wanted to make sure that even at such a small size there would be detail in the image. Even (or especially) a small photo had to immediately look like a flower.

I used curves rather than levels in Photoshop. It allowed me to almost posterize the image (i.e., to use a handful of distinct levels, from black to dark grey to medium and light grey, to white). At that size, simple would be best.

I wanted the image to work in black and white first. I didn’t want the saturated red of the original flower photo to distract my client from the overall design. Also, I knew that if my client wanted to print the photo in another color, I could always add one. I also assumed (at this point in a very fluid design process) that it would cost more to print 4-color letterhead than one- or two-color letterhead—which, of course, might not be true for custom printing only a short run of the job digitally).

Looking down into the flower from above (the vantage point of the photo) made for an interesting shape around all of the petals. In addition, all of the interior parts of the flower (the parts the bees like) made for an interesting shape—but it was more abstract, less immediately understandable as a flower. So I cropped to the outer shape of the flower. Immediate recognition, I thought, trumped “cool design.”

I also noted that seeing some of the greenery around the flower petal was desirable (for its immediate recognition as a flower), so I loosened the tight photo crop just slightly. I did keep to a square format, though. I thought this would be more dynamic and solid than any other geometric form (like a rectangle).

So I had my central image, which I had every reason to think my client would like because she had given it to me, and I had presented it in its best light (aesthetically) and its most recognizable form (practically).

A Caveat Before Proceeding

I had fortunately taken the advice I always give others to ask the client what she likes in other people’s logos and letterhead, and what adjectives she considered relevant to the “tone” or ethos of her business. She said she didn’t like anybody’s marketing collateral, but she wanted me to present an upscale, dynamic look, with the elegance of Vogue magazine.

So I had my goal for the next steps.

Type Choices

Even for a letterhead treatment with a photo and a handful of address information there are an infinite number of options. Getting a client to be specific makes this easier. Getting the client to provide physical samples makes this easier still.

So with Vogue as a target I chose a serif typeface at random based entirely on what looked good to me (elegant and dynamic). I figured I could always change it later. I just needed to sketch out (so to speak, on the computer) maybe five different treatments of all of this visual and textual information, using the limited palette of black ink only (which could later be augmented). I think the typeface was Minion. It was the one at the top of the font list on my computer, and I knew that a serif face would seem to be a little more “classy and opulent” in its tone.

To enhance the upscale Vogue look I set my client’s name in caps and small caps (large initial letters in each word of her name and smaller, albeit still capital, letters for the remaining letters in each name). There are three words in her name (it looks like she uses a former married name as well as her own). It would be even more upscale if two of the names were hyphenated, but you can’t always get what you want. I made sure the name was significantly larger than the address, phone number, and email information. And to be safe, I made these one point smaller than I had initially planned. Then I made sure my client’s name was not so large as to be awkward (it still had to be sophisticated).

Page Geometry

When I was starting in design in the 1970s, we used to call this “layout.” Now I think some people call it “page geometry.” Regardless, it’s the placement of design elements on the page.

To start the process, I made exactly the layout my client had requested. (I mentioned this earlier in the blog article.) Then I started to move the elements around on the page. I tried various centered (symmetrical) and asymmetrical options. I put some address information at the bottom of the page with and without a .5 pt horizontal rule. I even realized that with the photo and three chunks of copy, I could set up a layout grid of four columns and put the image and the three chunks of copy on an invisible horizontal line across the top of the page (to anchor them).

When I was done, I went online (Google) and looked under “letterhead samples.” I found a few more ideas and modified them to accommodate my client’s design elements. Then I had five good options. Each was different from the others, in terms of the overall design grid or placement of the name (above or below the flower image, for instance). I wanted to make sure there was enough of a difference to warrant showing my client each of the options. I also remembered the advice another designer had once given me: Show the client only what you like. After all, it’s hard to advocate for a design you’re not pleased with yourself.

Logic and Practicality

When I had printed hard copies of each option (and I strongly encourage you to do this in your own work, because no online image will “feel” like real letterhead and show you the exact size of all design elements), I realized something. I looked at where my client would need to start her typed (or laser printed) letter on the letterhead. Some designs (those with all design elements at the top of the letterhead page) made it essential to start the typed letter farther down the page. Other designs that put the address at the bottom and the flower image and my client’s name at the top left more room, higher up on the page, for the letter my client would write on the letterhead.

This was a practical approach but also a prudent one.

Then I sent off the five options to my client as PDF attachments to an email. The email basically said “Anything can be changed. Let me know what you like and don’t like.” Fortunately, when I awoke this morning, my client’s email registered her overall delight. I was grateful. This doesn’t always happen.

What You Can Learn

  1. Ask your client questions (such as, “What adjectives describe your business?” and “How would you describe the values your business espouses?”). Then listen to the answers.
  2. Ask for printed samples of (or online links to) logos and letterhead treatments your client likes.
  3. Think in terms of the emotional tone of various typefaces, and the tone of all caps, all lowercase, and small-caps treatments.
  4. Think about what colors you will use for the custom printing, but first make sure the design works well in black ink only. Color can detract from your accurately assessing the quality of the underlying design.
  5. Think practically: How much will it cost to do what you want (i.e., the number of printed colors and this effect on the cost of an offset print job vs. a digital print job)? And how much space are you leaving your client to put her/his actual letter on the letterhead?
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