It was finally time to get new business cards. Although my work address changed in the middle of 1999, I had gotten away with handing out copies of my TidBITS business card with the address and phone number crossed out. I figured the important pieces of information were my email address and the Web URL, so why go to the trouble of reprinting? Plus, most of my correspondence occurs online or on the phone, so I use physical cards mostly at trade shows, where I give them to people who promptly take them home, and, if they're anything like me, lose them in a large pile of other business cards. However, TidBITS is only one part of my professional life, so I can't hand over a distinctive TidBITS card when I'm trying to represent myself in a different role.
I've always liked business cards from a design standpoint: how do people take a common item and make it unique? Could I make mine distinctive enough so that someone (a possible client, perhaps) would do more than throw it in the pile of other dull business cards? More important, could I do it affordably? And, just to be difficult, could I do it online with a minimum of fuss? I can't speak objectively for the quality of my design - though it has prompted a few compliments - but I can say that the process was easier than I expected, inexpensive, and fast.
The Grand Design -- Before launching into the particulars of where I had it printed and how much it cost, I need to review the design briefly to give you an idea of what I was working with. While redesigning my Web site, I had worked up a rough idea of the business card for my business, Never Enough Coffee Creations. It's composed primarily of two colors, black and mustard-yellow, that extend all the way to the card edges, known as a "full bleed." The card also includes my logo, a full-color coffee mug cast half in shadow - an element I'm attached to, but which would potentially cause the most problems because it's such a dark image. Lastly, the card has the text of my contact information, rendered in Adobe Minion and Adobe Myriad fonts.
This wasn't my first foray into printing business cards: the first batch I made several years ago were one-color, fairly expensive, and didn't turn out as well as I would have liked. This time around, I was willing to spend a little extra if needed to print full-color cards that met my expectations. As it worked out, the new batch ended up better in both price and quality.
Playing My Cards Right -- When looking for any type of service, from printing to plumbing, I've found that a personal recommendation leads to the best results, especially when there are many companies offering seemingly similar services. In this case an office mate, illustrator Jeff Tolbert, had recently printed new cards for himself and directed me to Copy Craft, a wholesale printer based in Texas.
Copy Craft charges $100 for 1,000 cards, using a four-color, 300-line-screen waterless printing process on 10 point C1S Super Premium Kromekote stock (a crisp white paper) with aqueous coating. Additional charges apply for options such as printing on the back of the card, adding a drum-scanned photo, or color-matching the card's background with preexisting letterhead paper. These prices are based on Copy Craft using artwork you supply; if their technicians need to modify your files for whatever reason, extra charges are incurred.
Like other members of the TidBITS staff, I'm always on the lookout for services on the Web that save me time or hassle. Copy Craft may be headquartered in Texas, but all I had to do was build and deliver a file their machines could read and print. I didn't have to drive around town or hunt through the phone book collecting bids from various printers.
The next question became: what type of file to build? I assumed that they would be able to handle most any modern desktop publishing program, and checking their Troubleshooting FAQ assured me that I was fine in the software department. The design, however, presented a few challenges. I originally set up the card using Macromedia FreeHand, which enabled me to manipulate type easily and retain the crispness of vector paths, create the two broad swatches of background color, and import the TIFF file of my coffee mug logo. Unfortunately, when I proofed the image as a PDF file (an increasingly accurate proofing method), the blacks in the logo didn't match the black of the background, making the edges of the TIFF image obvious.
My solution made the process infinitely less complicated: I rebuilt the card in Photoshop 6. I was able to mask out the areas of the coffee mug logo that needed to be completely black, then mount it on a layer above the black background layer for a seamless melding of the two. Better yet, Photoshop 6's new typographical controls meant that I could manipulate text all I wanted - Photoshop 6 treats type as a vector object by default.
Once the text was set, with each section on its own layer, I used Photoshop's Convert to Shape command (found on the Type submenu of the Layer menu). This locked in a vector rendition of the text that would print crisply without the pixelization apparent when rendering text as an image in Photoshop. This also meant that I didn't have to send the fonts with the file, or export the entire image to an EPS (encapsulated PostScript) file.
To accommodate the full bleed of the background, I increased the size of the image by one-eighth of an inch on all sides. I also lightened up the logo by applying a Levels adjustment layer to the logo layer (an adjustment layer modifies the appearance of the source layer beneath it without changing the values in the source itself). Finally, I made sure any other specifications required by Copy Craft were met, such as setting Photoshop's Printing Inks Setup to SWOP (Coated), and converting the file to CMYK.
After checking with a sales representative that Jeff Tolbert had recommended, I was able to send the native Photoshop file to Copy Craft. (You must work with a sales rep to place an order, but don't get squeamish about dealing with salespeople: I exchanged only four or five email messages with my rep, who was always quick to respond to my questions.)
Proof or Dare -- Jeff Tolbert's cards initially printed too dark, so I decided to spend an extra $35 to get a dye-sublimation proof. Copy Craft also offers an Agfa PressMatch proof for $50. I uploaded my file to Copy Craft's FTP servers, then received the proof in a few days.
Although not terrible, my first-level proof ended up being quite a bit different than the final product. It helped me determine that I should lighten the coffee mug further, but otherwise it wasn't too helpful. The mustard-yellow color of the background was richer than the final card, and the text was fuzzy. The yellow color, for me, wasn't much of an issue, since it still fell within the hues that I expected. However, if you're concerned about the accuracy of your colors, I'd recommend springing for the second-level proof (though I didn't end up ordering one, so I can't vouch firsthand for its accuracy; but PressMatch proofs tend to be far more accurate than dye-sublimation prints). After lightening the logo a bit more, I uploaded the new file via FTP and crossed my fingers.
In about five days my cards arrived, looking exactly as I had hoped. Coincidentally, TidBITS had new cards printed at roughly the same time, so now I also have a new set of TidBITS cards - with the correct contact information. My only problem now is wondering how I'm possibly going to give away 1,000 cards! If you run into me at the next Macworld Expo, please insist on taking a dozen.