You Can't Hustle a Hustler, Part 2

Craig Wood

December 2006

In last month’s article we looked at factors that go into having your business materials printed, including how to go about hiring the right printer and designer for your job. We also discovered how the number of colors your job uses can affect your budget. Now that you’ve (presumably) found your printer of choice (and designer, if applicable), it’s time to get your hands dirty in the production phase. It’s time to learn about prepress.

The Good, the Bad …
As your resident man in the print industry, I see the very best (and worst) of business materials (business cards, letterheads, envelopes, etc.) on a regular basis. So what exactly makes a good business piece?

Simplicity. Think of your business materials like still-frame commercials. Our goal is to attract the attention of your audience without overwhelming them with too much information—doing so will cause them to quickly lose interest. In the design world, the rule "less is more” is often applied, especially when it comes to corporate identity. That said, fewer colors and a minimum number of typefaces will have the greatest impact on your viewer.

Figure 1 is an example of a business card that isn’t applying a theme of simplicity. It uses several different fonts and font styles, multiple colors and seems to be cluttered with an overwhelming amount of information. It’s also fair to mention that because this set is using so many different colors, the overall cost to print them will increase significantly.

Figure 2 is an example of simplicity in its purest form. Here, only two fonts are used with a bold style applied to the key points of information. Also notice the colors. This particular job uses only two colors, black and blue, but by using different tints of those two colors (see sidebar on page 83), it gives the card a little variety, but not too much.

Continuity. This is perhaps the one design element that is most overlooked. Like construction, continuity ensures that our job remains consistent throughout production and prevents any unwanted mishaps from occurring down the road.

Figure 3 is a set of business pieces from one company. Each has a nice design, but as a whole, they do not have uniformity. This is not a good way to present your corporate image because the group presents three different appearances for one company. Imagine if McDonald’s used different colors, logos and fonts for all of their materials. Without the presence of their traditional red and yellow colors as well as the infamous golden arches, how is the consumer to know that the product they’re viewing is that of McDonald’s?

Figure 4 is a set of business pieces that not only have an effective design but are continuous in appearance from one to the next. Although this may seem like an easy concept, it’s often overlooked in the production phase, and that will ultimately hurt your corporate identity rather than reinforce it.

Walking the Paper Trail
Contrary to popular belief, paper isn’t just paper. There is a dramatic difference between high quality printing paper and the bulk packs purchased from your local office supplies store.

Reach into your printer or copy machine and pull out a sheet of white paper. Hold it up to the light and take note of all the dark, splotchy areas you see. This is cheap, mass produced paper—useful for making copies or simple text documents, but worthless when it comes to heavy color absorption.

Quality paper produced by name brand companies (French, Xpedx, etc.) will not have any blemishes because its production is a very complex process that is monitored from beginning to end. High quality paper will dramatically affect the overall presentation of your business pieces. A paper’s weight/category, coating, finish, texture and color all serve as catalysts for the end presentation of your piece.

Weight and Category. There are several diverse categories for paper, but for your business materials we’ll stick with just two types: text and cover stock.

Cover stock is thick, like a piece of poster board, and is extremely durable. It’s useful for pieces that need to hold up well in any environment. Text stock is not as thick as cover stock and is ideal for letterheads because they can be written on or run through an office printer without any difficulty.

For business cards, you’ll want a heavy weight that will stand the test of time in someone’s wallet, pocket or Rolodex—an 80 pound cover stock should do the trick. It’s thick and can greatly absorb ink to ensure longevity. For letterhead, stay between 24 and 28 pound text stock so that you’ll have no difficulty with writing, additional printings on the same sheet, or mailing. For standard #10 envelopes, use a correspondence style.

Coatings. A paper’s coating determines its gloss reflectance from the paper’s surface and is measured by its overall brightness. Many coatings are good for various projects, so it’s your budget that will have the final say in which coating is used for your particular project.

The most common types of coatings are these:

Gloss. "Shiny” surface; high amount of light reflectance. This is common for business cards, postcards, covers, and high-end self mailers.

Dull. Little or no gloss; more sheen than shine. This is common for business cards, letterhead and covers. Typically more expensive than gloss coated.

Matte. The least shiny of all coatings; good for text-only documents such as letterhead.

Finish. A paper’s finish refers to its overall texture. When you touch the paper, the finish will give it a unique feel. The finish can range from very smooth to very rough, and will play a role in your piece’s presentation due to the relationship of ink absorption and paper finish. There is no right or wrong choice when selecting a finish, so your personal preference (and budget) will be the ultimate deciding factor. For your business materials, we’ll stick to some of the more common paper finishes for the purpose of this article.

For business cards, the options are limitless. The point of a business card is to leave a memorable impression on the recipient, so a unique finish will stand out above the rest. Have your printer provide some printed samples of paper finishes such as supercalendered (in other words, very smooth), smooth, wove, antique, vellum and laid. Use your own judgment and preference when deciding which finish to pursue.

For letterheads you will want to use a simple finish for ease of readability and overall aesthetics. The best choices are a dull, linen or felt finish. All three finishes are great for letterhead, and all three will absorb the ink in slightly different ways, so again, your personal preference will determine the appropriate finish.

For envelopes, the most cost effective choice is a "woven” finish for a correspondence style #10 (standard) envelope. These are the most common types of envelopes used in the business world; they also are made to be printed on high-speed equipment and handle the abuse of insertion equipment and post office machinery.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel
Prepress is named such for a reason—it is the production or fabrication phase that occurs prior to sending your materials to the printer. By making wise decisions about color and paper choices, you can always come up with to print your materials within your budget. Once your materials are ready to go, your next step is to send them to your chosen printer for the home stretch of your business material creation.

In the upcoming finale of this three-part article in next month’s issue, we’ll cover these topics:

Déjà vu. A last-minute checklist to ensure we’re sending all the required materials to the printer.

100 proof. What to look for when you receive a press proof, and how to address concerns.

Satisfaction guaranteed? In the event of a printing mishap, we’ll find who was at fault and rectify the situation.

About the Author
As this magazine’s designer, Craig Wood continues to use his printing expertise to help you run a more successful business.
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