7 Tips for Successful Print Design

You’re at a critical networking event, and you see a colleague you’ve been wanting to collaborate with for quite some time. You work up the nerve to speak to them and have a wonderful conversation, and before parting, you reach into your pocket to pull out a business card. As the person looks at it, you see them squint; they look curiously at it for a while before offering you a smile and thanking you for the chat.

After they leave, you start thinking: was the type too small? Did the art make the layout feel crowded? Did it have a border with a super-thin margin that made everything feel off-centered? Was there any pixelation in the images? Was the paper thick enough? In the end, you never hear from them.

The cliché is true—you only get one chance to make a good first impression. The best thing you can do when networking is to have printed assets that are clean and professional. This is especially true if you’re a freelancer who is selling your personal brand in addition to your service. Below are 7 tips for successful print design that will help you slay those networking parties and get ahead of the competition!

1. Limit the color palette.

We see the world in full color. Some parts of it are beautiful, other parts of it are tacky. (Note: no judgment on your Christmas sweater, but…) The more colors there are to process, the bigger the risk that something is going to clash. You also run a bigger risk of making the text hard to read—and let’s face it, if they can’t read your phone number, you won’t be getting any calls.

Additionally, if you think you’ll be printing in different processes, it will save you money to use fewer colors. For example, using a one-or-two-color design will open you up to both offset and letterpress printing at a variety of quantities, at a more affordable rate than if you have three, four, or five colors.

Successful print design is all about communication. So when it doubt, keep it simple.

2. Give the piece room to breathe.

Always make sure that there’s ample space around text and images. Having them cramped at the border will feel…icky. (That’s a technical term.) People may not be able to say why looking at your piece has them feeling uncomfortable, but they’ll be less likely to ever look at it again. If these elements are too close to the edge, you also run the risk of having crucial information cut off when the piece is trimmed down from larger sheets. We generally recommend a ¼” (0.25”) text-safe margin for all items to compensate for any shifts in registration during printing and cutting. For particular pieces like a business card, this may seem like a lot, but take out a ruler and actually measure it. It’s a smaller difference than you think, and will give you a better end product that people will love to hold and to read!

3. Avoid borders when possible, and keep it spacious when not.

If you’re looking for a way to spruce up a simple design, you may think that adding a decorative border around your copy will bring a touch of elegance to it. You wouldn’t be totally wrong on that, but borders need to be done correctly, or you risk crowding your copy and making the design unappealing. Just like other elements in your design, you want them to stay within the 0.25” text-safe margin. If there are any shifts in registration, an uneven border will stick out like a sore thumb and potentially ruin an otherwise successful design. Additionally, make sure that you’re not trying to fit too much copy within the border—include only what is essential. You can always add a web address as a call to action to RSVP to an event or request more detailed information.

Another thing to consider is this: when working on a computer screen, people tend to think, This design is pretty good, but it would look especially nice if the copy were framed in some way. Again, they’re not wrong! But guess what? The piece will have a natural frame when it’s cut down to size. That’s right—the edges of a business card, postcard, invitation, and other items all provide a natural frame for your design. If you have any questions about how a particular design is working, paying for a printed proof will provide more answers than looking at it on the screen.

Then again, maybe we would all be better off if we just abolished borders entirely.

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