4 tips to get you started in business card design

Jürgen Heiss

If your niche is business card design, or you would like it to be, then this is the article for you. There are many factors to keep in mind before starting the design process and deciding on things like typeface and color. Here are 4 important tips that will help you get started with a successful business card design.

1. Orientation

The size and orientation of a business card is the first element you should think about. I’ve split the sizes into 3 groups:

  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Square or Special Cuts

Landscape

Landscape business card
By IS Creative Studio.

The landscape format is the most common orientation. On a positive note, it is easy to read landscape formats quickly especially when they are sitting in a card holder. Landscape format can be printed by every printer.

On the negative side, it is almost too common. Since most designers use landscape, it’s typically not a unique execution and is hard to stand out from the crowd.

Portrait

portrait business card
By belinda love lee

The portrait format definitely has a more elegant and cleaner look . I, personally, love this orientation and many of my clients would agree. Portrait cards can be printed by any printer, just like landscape cards.

The main problem is that this layout is hard to read when the card is placed in a business card holder, but beyond this they are perfect.

Square or special cuts

square business card
By Presshaus LA

If you really want to be unique than a square or special cut is the way to go. It’s an eye catching way to present a business card to your clients because it’s totally different from standard cards.

Many printers offer business cards in square format. And some printers can cut a card in any shape like a droplet or circle. But note that not every printer can print these unique shapes.

Again, the negative effect is trying to fit the cards in a business card holder. The costs of special cuts are quite a bit higher than regular cards.

business card
By Michaella Dirkes (via Naldz Graphics)

So how do you choose the right orientation for your clients? The first factor is to check out the business’ personality and to study their branding guidelines.

The second factor is the budget. If the client is looking to save money than you should use a more basic layout.

Now that you know what orientation you should use… let’s move onto the different material options.

2. Material

The most common materials for business cards are:

  • Paper
  • Plastic
  • Stainless Steel

Of course their are many, many more you can choose from but in most cases, you will be using one of these.

Paper

business card
DIY paper business card by Art Bar

This is definitely the most used material for business cards. Printing companies have different types of paper, from thin to thick and uncoated to coated.

There are even different shades of white to choose from but keep in mind that you need to check out each printer because different printers use different paper.

Just like paper can vary in weight and color, the price can vary as well. You can get a very thin paper for a low price but the quality of such paper isn’t great. Thin paper tends to crack easily and it ends up looking like it was folded or scratched. It’s better to invest a little more money and go with thick paper.

Plastic

In my experience, most clients who have used plastic cards don’t want to use them again. They are great to touch and can’t fold like paper, but they are quite more expensive than even the thickest paper card. For most clients there is no real reason to pay more money when good ole’ paper will do.

transparent business card
Transparent plastic business card by Martyna Wędzicka

Please note, that not every printer offers plastic business card prints. You should let your printer know if the cards are transparent, frosted or opaque.

It is important that you think about transparency while designing since you can see everything from the front side on the back.

Stainless steel

This is one of my favorites since there are different execution possibilities and it’s a unique material. You can do more unique cut outs because the edges won’t rip as easily as with paper cards.

The biggest problem is the high production price and finding a printer that will be able to specifically print on this material.

As I stated, there are tons of other materials you can use like wood, fabric, etc. The key is pick what’s best for your client, his business an of course his budget.

Once I’ve picked the material for the card design, I begin thinking about ink.

3. Printing and inks

There are several ways you can print a business card:

  • 1 or 2 Color Printing
  • 4 Color Offset Printing
  • 4 Color plus Spot Color(s)
  • Foil ink

1- or 2-color printing

Some clients really have small budgets. In these cases, you can go with a simple 1 or 2 Color print which most printers offer.

A good way to stay within a small budget is by using black or gray for the logo and information.

4-color offset printing (CMYK)

This is the default printing option that most people know about. The colors that are used are:

  • (C)yan
  • (M)agenta
  • (Y)ellow
  • (K)ey (Black)

In most of the cases you will use CMYK printing for your designs.

4-color plus spot color(s)

This is the same as above with the addition of other colors that you can’t get from mixing CMYK — they are separate colors.

When would you need to use 5 or 6 colors? Think about gold or silver… a real gold color can’t get printed out of CMYK and if it was it would be a brownish or yellowish, dull color. Instead of mixing a gold color from CMYK, the printer uses an additional gold color with the CMYK. The gold on the card gets printed with the gold color and the rest gets printed with CMYK.

Some printers offer fluorescent colors that glow in the dark and can look quite nice. For example, I used fluorescent colors once for a disco dance where normally it would be hard to read the card in the dark 🙂 Again, the problem here is budget.

Foil ink

foil ink business card
Foil accented business card by Lotta Nieminen

I use foils often in my designs and, so far, my clients are really happy with them. The nice thing about foil is that it’s a very attractive element that’s shinny and glimmers when the card moves.

However, not every printer offers foil pressing. If you want to use foil ink on a business card, be sure that your printer offers it. Also keep in mind that printers have different foil colors like green, blue, gold and silver. Yes, foil ink is not the cheapest ink. Lastly, keep in mind that it’s not a good idea to use foil ink with small fonts.

4. Decorative effects and finishings

The last thing I think about before I start designing is, what I like to call, decorative effects and finishings. In this headline, I group the following things together:

  • Cut-outs
  • Emboss/Deboss
  • Spot UV

Of course, there are more effects that you can use but I like to concentrate on the ones that are most used for business card design.

Cut-outs

cut out business card
Cut out design by Coolville

If you don’t know what cut-outs are you can take a look at my tutorial Create a Print-Ready, Cut Out Business Card. I love cut-outs but this can depend on the logo from your client if it will look good or not.

The simpler the logo, the better the effect. If the client’s logo looks great in one color than it will look perfect as a cut-out. You should try to cut out some parts of the logo, even if it’s just a letter.

Emboss/Deboss

Personally, I love to use emboss on logos with initials or if I want to make a card look more fancy. Again, this is most effective when used with a simple logo.

The negative is that the price tends to increase with this effect and not every printer offers this kind of decorative effect.

Spot UV

Spot UV business card
Spot UV business cards by The Forgery

Spot UV is the exact area where a coat of gloss will be printed. I use Spot UV often because the price isn’t as high and it helps make the card stand out.

In the example to the right, you will notice that it is a great addition and nice to use as a background pattern.

As you can see, it’s really important to keep your client’s business and budget in mind. We all love to make elaborate and crazy cards, but sometimes less is more – and it’s important that you find a balance between fancy designs and a client’s budget.

Any questions or tips about business card design? Share them in the comments.

Cover photo: Artotem (via Flickr)

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