Stylish do-it-yourself business cards on the cheap and quick
While companies such as Vistaprint.com made it easier to create professional-looking business cards at a fraction of what would have been at local print shops, there are often times that call for a do-it-yourself option.
As many new business operators soon discover, there are simply never too many business cards once they get serious about promoting what they do and have to offer. From local networking groups to coffee shop bulletin boards, there are many places where handing out or exchanging business cards is a must in creating leads and gaining clients.
In the last 10 years, options for making business cards have grown from only a local printing shop in your town to several, both brick-and-mortar and online. On-demand short-run printers such as Vistaprint can now provide them with visually pleasing, full-color business cards in a matter of a week (if you don't mind sharing the same design with possibly thousands of other people), for a fraction of what was once charged by local print shops.
But for some business operators would still like to make their own business cards with their own computers and printers for a variety of reasons: scalability in expenses, flexibility and speed. If you are making your own cards, you can decide to spend as little as you want and can change the message or contact information on the fly. You will also have a full control over the design and content. The best of all, it is an instant gratification; you see with your own eyes that the cards come out of your printer, and presto -- they are ready for your next meeting starting in 15 minutes.
However, the do-it-yourself option has many traps, and it can also become very frustrating unless you are adept at producing business cards. It can also make your business cards too dull, too plain in this age of ready-to-use full color templates offered by Vistaprint, or even worse, look too unprofessional and messy.
Here I would like to offer some of the tricks used by the pros to overcome the disadvantages inherent in the do-it-yourself option to produce a great business card that can stand out.
1. Your printer matters. Check your ink, and see if your printer is fading or producing uneven printouts. It is important that what you print looks clean and crisp.
2. Use a desktop publishing software, not word processing program. The former gives a precise control over exactly where each letter and image should be located on the sheet of paper, while the latter may print in a way you do not expect while seeing the same on your monitor. If you do not have Adobe InDesign (expensive) or QuarkXPress, I recommend Scribus, which may be downloaded free of charge at http://www.scribus.net/.
3. Do not overdo on colors and gradients. Even the best of the printers available for general consumers is no comparison to what a professional printing company uses. What can be printed beautifully at a printing shop may not turn out as expected, or look discolored, when done by yourself. In fact, limit yourself to clean black-and-white or clean two colors plus black for the best results.
4. Use templates. There are free templates available online for various software that can produce a file that is compatible with do-it-yourself business card sheets from Avery. If you are trying out Scribus, I have a free Avery 8879 template (and also try my United States Postal Service standard postcard template while you are there) at my free resources page, http://iridiacreative.wordpress.com/category/free-resources/. Go to http://wiki.scribus.net for self-study tutorials and technical support.
5. Do not use JPEG, BMP or GIF for logo or brandmark. These files, called raster files, disintegrate when resized. They become either squished when shrunk, or look like a blurry mosaic when blown up. Instead, make your images as vector files (such as SVG, AI and EPS) that can be resized without losing the crispiness. If you do not have Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, there is a free, open-source alternative called Inkscape. Unfortunately it will take a while for an average person (like me) to get used to Inkscape, but free is a good price. Download and tutorials are at http://www.inkscape.org/. The only time you should use JPEG is when you are placing a photograph, but even then, you should have resized and cropped the photograph with Photoshop (or GIMP, its open-source alternative: http://www.gimp.org/) so no further resizing is necessary.
6. Vary typefaces and font sizes, but not too much. It is important to make an eye-catching design, and it is wise to avoid boring, non-descript typefaces such as Verdana and Times New Roman. But it will look chaotic if everything is in different typefaces, sizes and alignments. Ultimately this is an art of finding a balanced proportion and good layout. Choose styles that reflect your personality, your business and your values or missions. A Turkish website http://www.fontyukle.com/en/ provides many TrueType fonts for you to experiment with.
7. Information overload is bad. In a typical American-style business card you have exactly seven square inches of space (2 inches times 3.5 inches). Your inner artist not only needs to create a visually attractive, balanced layout, but also must be selective about the pieces of information you include on the card. You do not need to list every single professional affiliation on the card. You do not need to put five phone numbers. Certainly you cannot put your 250-word mission statement. Too much information makes it hard to read and understand in such a high-density surface. The best practice here is to keep it simple and essential.
8. And finally, the quality of paper matters, but a fancy stock of paper is not always the best. I recommend pre-perforated business card sheets made by Avery (readily available at any Office Depot, OfficeMax or a better-stocked stationer), but if you choose to use different kinds of paper, be sure to use paper with smooth yet porous surface (coarse-surfaced paper does not do well in a typical computer printer or photocopy machine; conversely paper that is laminated or plastic coated is also a bad choice) and a good, strong paper cutter that can give you a precise and sharp cut (FedEx Office usually is a good place to use one).
(Note about software recommendations: They are available for Windows XP, MacOS X, Ubuntu, Debian, Fedora and Mandriva as a pre-packaged installer file. If you use Ubuntu or Debian, the version you may find on your repository may not necessarily be the newest stable version if installed using Synaptic or Aptitude. You may need to download a package directly from the software project website and install it with dpkg or gDebi.)
Learn more about the author, Sarah Morrigan.
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- graphic design
- desktop publishing
- do it yourself
- promotional materials
- business cards