Along with the holiday season comes an opportunity to design holiday cards for friends, family and clients. While the candid nature of holiday cards often calls for the design to be light hearted and fun, there are some aspects of the card design process that require a skillful workflow – especially handling the fold and bleed. This article outlines one workflow that is both simple and effective.

1. The plan

In this workflow, the programs used will be Illustrator and Indesign. Illustrator will be used for the creative design process and InDesign will be used to put it all together. Note that the principles in this guide also allow for the creative process to take place in Photoshop rather than Illustrator.

2. Illustrator setup

The first challenge that arises in card design is approaching the fold. Because of the fold, the final sheet that prints out will have card “faces” that are both right side up and upside down in relation to each other. To remedy the issue of having to design the “faces” upside down, each one can be designed individually in Illustrator.

In this guide, a landscape format card will be made on an A5 (148 x 210 mm) sheet. Therefore our Illustrator card “face” files will be half that, or A6 size (105 x 148 mm).

Card File Set Up 2

3. Illustrator bleed handling

The next challenge that arises is handling bleeds in Illustrator, given that the program is not as well equipped as InDesign in that regard. The issue is that, unlike InDesign, Illustrator does not hide the bleed of design elements and having these visible bleeds can be distracting to the creative process.

One quick solution to this problem is to create a new layer on top of the rest called “Bleed Cover Up”. Within this layer, a rectangle roughly twice the size of the artboard is made, followed by a rectangle exactly the size of the art board.

Card File Set Up 3

The smaller is then punched out from the larger using the pathfinder tool. When centered, this creates a perfect “apron” around the art board which hides the bleed elements.

Card File Set Up 4

Lastly, to make it visually unobtrusive, the color can be matched to the grey background of Illustrator.

Card File Set Up 5

This technique ultimately allows a designer to see the card as it will be seen in its final form (after the bleeds have been cut off). The great importance of this is that the bleed elements will not mislead a designer’s instinct. Notice in the pictures below how the “Cover Up” layer can be hidden or revealed to show/hide the bleed.

Card File Set Up 6


Card File Set Up 7

4. Assembly

The final step is creating a print ready file in InDesign. Depending on the printer (home, local or commercial), the ideal file might be a packaged InDesign file, two separate pdf’s, or in some cases a two page pdf. In this example we will assemble a packaged InDesign file.

Inside InDesign, a two page file (not facing) is sized to an A5 sheet, or in other words twice the size of the Illustrator file, and given a 5 mm bleed. Remember: the top half of the card outside prints upside down, the bottom half prints right side up, the top half of the card inside is commonly blank, and the inside bottom prints right side up. With this in mind, the Illustrator files can be linked appropriately (inside bottom not shown).

Card File Set Up 8

Finally, the file can be packaged and sent off to print.

Card File Set Up 9

What do you think of this holiday card design workflow? Tell us in the comments!