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Start Your Business Startup Basics

Designing and Printing Your Business Card: How to Do It Right

Designing and Printing Your Business Card: How to Do It Right
Credit: Andrey Saprykin/Shutterstock

Your business card is often your first introduction to potential clients and associates. It's a primary marketing tool for many small businesses. Finding a printer that does a great job will be important as your marketing and printing needs grow. This guide will help you find the best printer for your business needs.

Here are some guidelines for designing and ordering an effective business card.

"You have to consider the audience," said Alfred Poor, founder of the Center for Small Business, a small business consulting firm. "A B2B card is going to be very different from a card you're going to use with consumers. A card for art is going to be very different from one for something legal."

As with any marketing campaign, before you embark on designing and ordering your business cards, consider the following questions:

  • Are your customers primarily consumers or businesses? 
  • Do you offer services or products? 
  • Who is the person you need to attract? 
  • What do you want that person to feel or think when they hold your card in their hand?
  • What is the call to action you want your business card to encourage? Do you want the recipient to go to your website and order products, call you to make an appointment, visit your store or restaurant to buy, or something else? 

Your answers to those questions will directly impact the decisions you will make about your business card. 

In the pre-internet days, a good business card was like a personal calling card. It included your name, company name, title, physical address and phone numbers. As digital took over business communications, many cards simply added a slew of new information: website, email address, social network IDs, etc. And that's a problem, because the more you put on your card, the less likely people will read and remember the important details.

"Don't water down your message with clutter," said Nelson Rae, the owner of Nelson Rae+Associates,  "Clutter can ruin an opportunity."

Here are some guidelines on what text information to include on your business card:

  • Be sure to have all the essentials: Your website, phone number (if you want customers to call you) and your email address. 
  • Include your street address only if you need people to come to your physical location. 
  • Make it obvious what you do and/or offer. That typically involves a tag line under your company name or elsewhere on the card.

Business cards have two sides. Keeping the back blank has value, especially if you'll be in a situation (such as a trade show) where the recipient will want space to write notes about you and your business. On the other hand, that backside can be valuable real estate for information that can influence how and if potential customers will respond to the card. 

Here are some ideas for using the back of your card to make it a more effective marketing tool:

  • Turn your card into a discount coupon.
  • Provide a longer, more compelling tag line about who you are and what you offer.
  • Highlight awards received, special accomplishments or quotes from satisfied customers.
  • List special services or products offered.
  • Include your hours of operation or other pertinent information.

Your business logo and marketing colors are your all-important brand identity. When people see your logo, you need them to think immediately about what you do and how it would be useful to them.

Marketing specialists and business experts highly recommend having a logo professionally designed. 

Using a professional designer means that you're not going to see your logo on someone else's card, Poor said. "If you use the logos on the design templates from the printer sites, somebody is going to hand you their card with your logo on it. It's an issue of quality and professionalism. You don't want people to perceive what you do as a cookie-cutter business that could be done just as well by someone else; your logo should reflect your unique position within the marketplace," he said.

Rae, on the other hand, believes that sometimes, clip art is enough. That's particularly true if you offer consumers a service that would be best identified and remembered by using a typical symbol, such as a lightning bolt for an electrician or a wrench for a plumber.

The middle ground – and the most difficult route – is to design your own logo. 

Here are some guidelines for designing your own logo:

  • Be simple and coherent.
  • Use a minimal number of colors. 
  • Create a design that will look clear and attractive printed quite small or large.
  • Make it relevant to your business.

Some people put their headshot on their business cards instead of a logo. That's of value only if the personal relationship is important to your sales and business relationships. For instance, a photo can be an advantage for real estate agents and public officials who want the public to remember them personally, and for individual entrepreneurs whose personality is synonymous with their brand. 

Most online print services have two options: 

  • You (or your designer) can design a card on your own computer, then upload the completed file to the printer service
  • You can use the online design interface to create your design.

"Typically, I prefer to do my design on my own computer with my own tools," Poor said. "Most of the services that have design templates look like templates, and the editing tools that they give you by their nature are constrained. The whole point is to make it easier for the customer. So by making it easier, you eliminate choices and sometimes those are choices I want to access to." 

On the other hand, Poor said, the online software is usually very easy to use, which can be a major advantage when you're in a hurry to get your business cards designed, ordered and delivered.

If you decide to go the upload route, be sure to follow the precise specifications provided by the printing service. These will tell you the exact size your business card file must be, and what "safe" margins you'll need to establish (i.e., the border space that should be devoid of graphics or type). Most printer sites offer free downloadable blank templates, which will set up your file with all the correct dimensions and margins.

When you order your business cards, you will have to choose among the following options:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Paper weight
  • Texture & coating

The appropriate business card size and shape is dependent on your market, what people will do with your card, and the recipient's sensibilities and expectations. 

The traditional shape of a business card is a 3.5 x 2-inch rectangle.  If you're in the kind of business in which the recipient will use a card scanner to put your contact information into their computer, do not deviate from that size or shape. 

Poor, who functions mostly in the B2B world, said he thinks cards of unusual size or shape pose problems for customers. 

"It's very annoying. I lose them. They don't stay in the stack. And they don't have enough room to write anything on. To me, tiny cards, circles, die cuts, etc. – that's being too clever. Unless you have a compelling reason, stick to a nice traditional size and shape."

However, sometimes the very act of handing someone a rather different business card can make your meeting more memorable. The few extra seconds that the recipient may take when looking at an unusual card can create a conversation opening. And when he or she takes that card home, it will stand out from the crowd as a clear reminder of your meeting. If you want to try for that kind of impression, you might want to consider ordering:

  • An oversize or folded card, which will also give you more room for information about your business, service or product.
  • A tiny card (though these tend to get lost).
  • A die-cut card in a shape relevant to your business, such as a guitar for a musician or a barrel for a bar. (Die-cut cards are more appropriate for consumers than business-to-business relationships.)

"Paper is a powerful tool – on par with typography and design – in its ability to deliver, enhance and create an impression," said Chris Harrold, vice president of Mohawk Papers, a paper manufacturer. 

However, our experts disagree on how important it may be to use heavyweight paper. It all comes down to those questions we asked you to consider at the beginning of this article. Who is your audience and what message do you need your business card to convey?

  • If you want a card that makes an impression when you hand it to someone,  you might want to consider thicker than normal, nicely textured cards. Luxurious business cards leave a more lasting impact and can make business introductions more effective and memorable than a thin, flimsy, coated paper business card, Harrold said.
  • If you don't have a compelling reason, get the default, Poor said. In other words, you can save money by getting a medium-weight paper with a gloss coating if you're dealing with people who are more interested in what a card says than how it feels.
  • Rae, of Nelson Rae+Associates, is more concerned with storing and carrying cards. "If I'm a salesperson running around, I will want a lightweight stock so I can get 200 of them in my pocket," he said. Lightweight paper stock costs less, too.

Business cards are relatively inexpensive as well as easy to design and order. So go ahead and try different styles, paper, coatings, designs and so forth. Then note how people respond to them. Eventually, you'll fine-tune both the medium and the message to deliver the results you need to see from this everyday marketing tool.