Design & Printing Tips for Business Cards
So you're ready to print your business cards but don't know exactly how to prep the file? Not to worry, there's lots of help here to get your business card files ready to go to the press. From the basics to the specifics, the key to any successful print run is careful planning. However, it's tough to plan when the basics seem cryptic so let's start with some key concepts.
Size & Layout
The size of a standard U.S. business card is 3.5” x 2”. Card layouts can be made in a number of programs but the layout will be the same in any of them. The most important layout issues have to do with the trimming of the card – what’s close to the trim (safe area) and what extends past the trim (bleed). First, let’s look at bleed.
All business cards produced on the ONBC site get trimmed to size. If there is any element – image or text – that touches the trim, that element is said to bleed. This effectively means that the bleed element needs to extend past the trim edge so there is no gap between the element and the cut. The amount of bleed required for your art is 1/16” (.0625”) all around which adds a total of 1/8” (.125”) to the size of the card. In short – if your card has elements (text or image) that go right to the edge you need to extend those elements 1/16” past the edge so they will trim correctly.
The final size of art with bleed will be 3.625” x 2.125” which is the exact dimension of the ONBC upload template. Some layout programs will have difficulty making output to that exact size but that’s not a problem. Just make sure that your final print file – whatever layout program or format – has 1/16” bleed when you’re ready to upload. You can manage the positioning and scaling when you place your art in the ONBC upload template.
Bleed happens outside of the trim but it’s also a good idea to make sure what’s inside the trim is safe and clears the trim adequately. A good rule of thumb is that any important text or graphic should be 1/8” (.125”) inside of the trim line. Also take into account any corner rounding that might affect safe area.
Also – and very importantly – try to avoid borders that are thinner or closer than 1/8” to the trim. They will not appear even when trimmed.
Crop marks are not required for art submission. The ONBC upload template editor has crop marks in the background which will help guide you. They show where the card will be trimmed and allow for the 1/16” bleed discussed above.
In our modern world of computer desktop publishing there are two basic ways that color is described - RGB (emanated light) and CMYK (reflected light).
Your computer monitor emits light based on the RGB model making the various colors by the combination of Red,Green or Blue light coming from your screen. Since the addition of intensity to these colors produces white it is also called an "additive" color model.
In contrast, a printed piece gets its color by the light reflected from it which comes from the inks used and the ambient light. Most printers use an ink scheme called CMYK, which stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (Black is almost always the key color. Just think of the "k" at the end of black and you'll remember CMYK). Since the subtraction of these colors produces "white" (or whatever the color of the paper underneath) it is also called a "subtractive" color model.
The important thing to understand is that RGB color is very different than CMYK color and you need to make sure that the images and colors used for print are correct. Most important is that not all RGB colors will print CMYK as you see them on your computer monitor. Bright blues, bright greens and pinks are notoriously difficult to convert from RGB to CMYK as you can see in the samples below.
RGB to CMYK Color Variances
However you supply your business card files to be printed, the colors should be designed or converted to CMYK. This can be done through a photo editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, layout programs such as Quark Xpress or Adobe InDesign or when converting to Adobe Acrobat PDF format using the Press Quality settings. You'll find more information on creating PDFs below.
Resolution and Printing
The other digital art format that is used for printing is called a vector art file. Vector art formats use algorithms to describe the image giving it three major advantages for printing.
Vector art is used where line art or graphics are appropriate and is often used to set type since it describes type as lines rather than pixels.
For more information on image resolution go to
For more information on graphic file formats go to