Business Card: Making the Master

Now that I’m pretty settled on the design, it’s time to prepare the file for printing. Over the years I’ve picked up a few tips about making sure things come out OK.

First…don’t trust your monitor or your printer when it comes to color, unless you’ve calibrated it. I haven’t calibrated my monitors, so I grabbed my trusty Pantone Process Color Guide and used them to verify how the colors I had selected would actually print.

Pantone Guide This picture was taken at my desk under half sunlight, half artificial light, which is terrible for color checking because of the unnatural color spectrum; lamps are either reddish (halogen, incandescent) or somewhat greenish (fluorescent). So I went outside as it was a bright clear day and ideal for color checking; natural daylight is the standard. An overcast day or standing in shadow would have imparted a blueish cast to the colors.

My Process Color guide shows me how colors actually look on paper. Process color is a combination of 4 primary colors used in color printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black. With these colors, you can create a pretty good mix of hues, but it’s not perfect. What looks good on the screen will usually look dustier and less intense on paper, especially when printing on uncoated paper stock. An uncoated paper is naturally dull, whereas coated stocks tend to show colors brighter. I’m planning on printing on uncoated stock because I want to write on the back of the cards, so I may have to get them printed by the local full-service printer to get them the way I want.

I selected some likely oranges, yellows and blues from the process color guide that looked good together, sharing the same saturation and tone so they all stood equal in weight. I picked colors that didn’t have black added to them, because adding pure black tends to make colors look muddy.

I also tinted the blacks. While I could have specified 100% black for everything, it’s common to add a bit of color on top of it (but not too much, otherwise the ink might smear from overloading). I again checked the Pantone process color guide, looking at some examples of rich blacks, and added 35% blue to the black text running under my name (thus unifying them by subtle hue grouping), and adding 35% yellow to the text inside the process boxes. If I’d used pure black in the yellow boxes, I think black text would have knocked-out the background color, and look a little disassociated. Adding a little bit of yellow might help. We’ll see.

With the colors squared away, it was time to reassemble the Illustrator into something print-ready.

Business Card Layout This document has been sized to the dimensions of the card (2×3.5 inches). Colors are defined as global masters, so changing one swatch changes all objects that are colored by it. Outside the document in the non-printing area are instructions about this particular printjob. Additionally, there is an additional layer for text that has been converted into outlined shapes. By doing this, I don’t need to supply font files to the printer, which simplifies the way this works. The original text layer, which remains editable should I want to make changes in the future, is set to “not print”, as is the printing guide layer.

On a side note, it’s interesting to compare the screenshot above with the printed image from my home printer:

Business Card Printed Colors The screenshot shows much more difference between the inner yellow and the outer orange than what actually shows in the print. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen at the printer without doing a “proofing print”, which is their best guess at how the actual print job will come out. If I was super anal, I would do a “press check” to look at the prints as they were coming off the actual press, which gives us some flexibility in adjusting some parameters. Anyway, as my home printer isn’t calibrated either, that’s why I’m relying on the Pantone process color guide as a reference and winging it.

Checking the card again, I decided to shift the entire card right a tad, to help optically center the design a bit more. Before, it was centered mathematically, but the dotted line jagging to the left shifts the center balance slightly.

Now…to have the card printed! So many choices to pick from.