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Designers' Ultimate Guide to Printing Unique, Custom Business Cards

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First impressions are the ones that last. That’s not just some saying your parents use or a little thing we tell ourselves to justify buying new shoes… it’s backed by science.

Studies suggest that first impressions are made in less than a second. In that time, people form some pretty striking assumptions about your trustworthiness, influence, and much more.

In many settings, a business card is the first introduction to your branding. By the time your friend from the networking event looks up your website, the business card you handed them already locked in their impression. Your business card is integral to your overall appeal, no less important than your website or storefront.

All this is well and good, but how can designers get the most out of this phenomena? By making striking, standout cards as part of the overall experience of meeting someone.

How does that work? 

Imagining the ideal business card

Close your eyes and imagine a business card. Chances are you imagined a pretty standard business card — flat typeface, white or cream color, monogram logo. A real Patrick Bateman style card.

Now, visualize the last time you were really wowed by a business card. Did that card look like the one you imagined before?

The reality is that there’s a substantial gap between the business cards we imagine and the ones that make an impression. Maybe that memorable card had especially vibrant graphics or subtle texturing, maybe it had a die cut logo or raised typeface.

That card likely didn’t come from an online template or a big chain store print shop. The card you remember was probably made with special care. The cards we remember are part of an overall experience (or actually create that experience themselves).

So, here’s our ultimate guide to designing a custom card that stands out.

Let’s get ultimate.

 

Putting the Fun in Fundamentals

Creating an engaging business card is about knowing where and when you can break boundaries. One of the founding principles of design is that you should understand the rules before you throw them out the window.

That said, there are certain rules about business card design that aren’t meant to be bent or broken. You will want to use a font that’s legible on the card, appropriately position all design and text… things like that. Here are some key commandments:

  • Color — Design in CMYK unless you are exclusively working with spot colors
  • Resolution — Ensure the best image quality by working with Vector files. However, 300dpi files are acceptable as well. 
  • Safety Line — No matter the size or shape of your card, keep all key copy at least 1.5mm or 1/16in away from the trim edge
  • Bleed — For designs that run to the edge of a card, extend the design an extra 1/16in past the trim edges to account for the cutting process

Font size will depend on a number of factors: typeface, color choices, paper finish and texture, et cetera. Always make sure that your important information — name, contact info, company name — is clear and legible on the screen before you go to print.

Ask a friend or colleague for a second opinion, you may be missing something big.

Misunderstanding the capabilities of your chosen paper and ink media can lead to big mistakes that even accomplished graphic designers make. When converted from digital to print, serifs on letters in small font sizes can obscure, connect, or blend letters together. Alternately, minimalist sans-serif fonts are popular for their lightweight look, but they may all but disappear when printed too small on a dark background. When in doubt, go a little bigger to ensure legibility.

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The Building Blocks of Style

Each element that makes up a business card design can be used to create innovative effects. Many designers get caught up on what’s on their laptop screen, forgetting the creative license they can take with the cards themselves. Great card design uses the whole card to create impact.

In order to make a truly unique custom card, first you should know a little something about what cards are made from. You have a number of custom options available, each of which will influence the total look and feel of your card. Remember that business cards are about more than just visuals — texture is as big a part of the Silkcards Experience as anything else.

BASE MATERIALS

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LINEN
Linen is a popular base material that creates professional looking, lightly textured business cards. Made using cardstock with a slightly woven pattern, sturdy linen cards are uncoated. Additionally, linen is a traditional, more conservative staple in business card design — which makes it ripe for innovative, uncharacteristic twists.
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SUEDE
Soft to the touch with a rich thickness, suede business card material is elegant and modern. Suede uses weight and touch to defy expectations and create an impact for the recipient. It’s one of the most popular choices for Silkcards brand business cards.
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ONYX SUEDE CARDS are made using a deep black suede paper stock. When paired with spot UV — maybe a foil logo or text accent for color — this base creates one of the more standout contemporary minimalist looks available.
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COTTON
Cotton business card paper uses a combination of pulp blended with cotton fiber to create a soft and pillowy texture.

Thicker than other uncoated papers, cotton paper is highly responsive to debossing, the process by which indentations are created using a metal stamp. On the surface, cotton cards are lightly textured with a soft touch.

Often incorrectly referred to as letterpress, Cotton paper is a throwback classic that has a more refined quality, but offers a lot of creative freedom.

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WOOD
Paper cards are only the beginning, though. The boldest statements are made with non-traditional media that wouldn’t be possible only a few short years ago.

The best example? Wood business cards.

Wood cards are made from razor thin veneers of real wood, usually birch or beech. Each veneer is selected for its quality of grain, and uniquely finished to create a vibrant, natural effect. From there, your logo and information is etched into the wood and the card is custom cut to shape.

Hand someone a wood card and you’re telling them a lot about your brand.

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PLASTIC
Creativity is one thing, but utility matters, too.

Paper business cards are designed to stand up to pockets and wallets, but not water. They aren’t ideal for people who do business at marinas, poolsides, on jungle cruises, foam parties, and so on.

Plastic business cards present a clean and attractive alternative for people who need business cards that will stand up to the elements.

Thicknesses

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Standard

Your standard business card is between 14 and 16 point. 14 point cards are best used for wide exposure, while 16 point cards are more personal and valuable (the difference between an industry conference and a client dinner).

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Thick

Cards with a 32 point thickness are qualified as, well, thick. These cards are twice the standard thickness of a high quality standard card. Thick cards are more rugged than standard cards, which keeps them looking great even on the go in a laptop bag or jacket pocket.

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Ultra Thick

Then there’s 48 point business cards, which are popular with frequent travelers who don’t want to carry a card holder. Ultra thick cards are rigid and stand up to wear and tear well. They also make a bold statement, and look great with a color edge effect.

Did You Know?
Card stock business cards are measured in thickness “points.” Each point equals 0.001 inch

Sizes & Shapes

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TRADITIONAL
Traditional business cards are 3.5” x 2” in size. Back when everyone kept a rolodex on their desk, this was the size that fit perfectly into them. Even today, business cards that are larger than this size don’t fit well in wallets or holders.
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SLIM
Not every card is a standard size nowadays. Creative designers have started tweaking the format they use for business cards. Slim business cards are one popular example. Made with a shorter height, they subvert expectations and create an experience in the process.
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SQUARE
Perhaps the most popular non-traditional card shape is square. Square cards are large enough to not get lost in the shuffle, while still communicating the uniqueness of your brand. Combining a square shape with a non-traditional material like wood will make a big impression.
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CUSTOM SHAPES
Die or laser cut business cards give designers more creativity than ever. Using custom die cuts, you can create a card in the shape of your logo — a truck, a pineapple, whatever it may be! Take a bite out of your card or make your logo pop with a tasteful cut accent. The world is your oyster (which is another shape you could choose for your card).

Paper Finishes

SILK
Silk paper finish is gently laminated to create a smooth touch. This finish is perhaps the most versatile choice, in addition to being highly receptive to both ink and other add-on touches. Our highly popular Silkcards is a 16 point paper with a silk finish.

SUEDE
A softer touch than any other, suede finish cards are lightly textured on the surface to create a tactile effect. This finish will help fight the wear and tear of getting put in and taken out of wallets, as it is mostly scratch resistant. Suede paper is popular for brands that strive to present a clean, modern sophistication.

 

Going Beyond

FOILS
Foil touches make a business card shimmer in the light. Added to logos and text, foil can draw the viewer’s eye to key information. Foil takes advantage of the attention grabbing quality that a little glimmer can create.

SPOT UV
Spot UV introduces a highly reflective  effect to a matte card. A clear high gloss layer is selectively used over text and visuals, spot UV accents key aspects of your design — logos, headlines, names, so on. Adding Spot UV to the background can be used to create a watermark-like effect.

DIE CUTS
Die cuts create dramatic contour on the card. Die-cutting uses a machine to cut shapes in paper, which can be used to create custom shapes and cutaways. By layering cardstock with die cut accents, designers can add depth to a card that introduces a visual texture unlike any other.

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Finding your Vision

Now that you understand the tools you have available, it’s time to tap into your creative spirit.

BRAND STRATEGY TOOLKIT
Branding is one of the most important aspects of marketing in today’s competitive business landscape. Often, the deciding difference between two very similar products or competing services will be the brand voice they express.

How do you lock in a brand voice that connects with your audience?

The first step is understanding what your company is all about. When Silkcards underwent a recent brand revamp, we had to sit down and ask “what company values guide our mission? What matters the most to our customers?”

We took the experiences we had during our rebrand and collected them into this indispensable brand strategy toolkit, which takes you from a-to-z when it comes to a rebrand:

Download our Brand Strategy Toolkit to Define Your Brand Voice

Download Now

Transcend Limitations
Once you have your branding in place, you can start pushing creative boundaries.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Where do you start?

One approach is to define your present expectations and see where you can push beyond them. For example, people historically have thought of business card design as a strictly two-dimensional affair. Silkcards introduced multilayering to the equation — the ability to form one card from two, three, or more sheets of cardstock — and added a whole host of new shapes, textures, and more to the picture.

Looking to do something wild and original? Move beyond expectations, industry norms, best practices, and traditions — and see where they start to crack.

Inspiration
Looking for inspiration? Take a drink from the creative well.

Here are some of our most innovative, creative, and inspired looks:

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Going Beyond

A brand vision is only valuable when it extends across the whole company.

That means taking what you’ve established for your business cards and extending it to other offerings — postcards, folders, catalogs, stickers, you name it!

Now that you have a brand story, don’t shy away from telling people. Your brand voice is how people will remember your company. Let the world know what you’re all about — create an experience they won’t forget!

Learn what the Silkcards Experience is all about. Design your own creative cards!

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