Business Card Design Considerations

Business cards are a way to introduce yourself, and since the beginning we have striven for the unique, that little something, that sets our card apart from the others, so we will be remembered.

Since I first wrote this post in 2011,  many options on business cards have gotten cheaper – namely, the price of second side printing is negligible – though design costs remain the same and UV coatings are the same price as AQ coatings.  These are 2 common options that are used every day.

I have also added a video, with some humour along with a serious look at some options available today…the video uses my old company name “we print ink” which is now “HarrisWeb Creative” to reflect better all of my offerings.

Business cards are a way to introduce yourself, and since the beginning we have striven for the unique, that little something, that sets our card apart from the others, so we will be remembered.  A parody of which was captured in the movie American Psycho (the clip is in the video above) with all the oh’s and awe’s as the characters compared subtle differences in their cards that were essentially all the same – but I digress.

Appealing to the Senses

Business cards appeal to basically 2 senses, sight and touch and the processes used to print business cards effect both at the same time.  I will highlight some unique features that you can use to make your cards stand out from the pack.

Standard Sizes

In North America the standard size for a business card is 2” x 3.5”; there are some offerings out there for different sizes, but for the most part, I believe this to be a passing fad that will not last because these cards do not fit in the standard card storage options.

Colours of Ink

Colour is the first option we will explore: the availability of  cheap, fast, process colour has allowed everybody to print whatever they want on their cards, to express who they are and what they do.  In the past, to have 3 or 4 colours on a card got very expensive and was normally only seen in large companies where coloured “blanks” were printed with the standard company colours and the contact information was printed, in black, at a later time.  Spot colours still have their place where a precise colour is required to keep consistency in a logo, for example.  Also, process colour cannot even approximate the metallic inks available.  Spot colours are also mostly used in raised ink processes (thermography) but process colour thermography is available but not widely seen.

Metallic  & Raised Inks

Metallic inks are not available from every printer, so this is an easy way to make your card stand out.  Print something in silver on your card, this is especially eye-catching if your background is dark.

Process colour thermography is only available from a few printers in Canada and is very unique but must be used carefully.  It looks great when used to print logos and artist’s renderings of an object but when used to reproduce photographs, especially faces, it often looks a little creepy.  I will re-emphasize  this, because I have seen it done, it looks terrible.

Paper Stocks

The next thing we will explore is paper stock.  Most process colour cards are printed on 12pt or 14pt coated stock; though linen stock and uncoated recycled stock are becoming more readily available in the marketplace.  If spot colours (pantones) are used, whether flat or raised, the card can be printed on almost any stock that is made.  The cost of this can be quite high for the increase in “uniqueness factor”.  People are often surprised by the price increase in going from a 12pt plain stock to a coloured linen stock, or even a fiber-added stock (giving a speckled look).  I often advise customers to look at other options that may achieve a bigger wow-factor for the same price. The reason for this is that every Pantone Colour is unique, unlike the process or CYMK colour model that uses 4 colours to reproduce a wide spectrum of colours – this model assumes a white background, the pantone 185 red is always the same colour of red regardless of what colour it is printed on.

Using Ink to Simulate Texture

Fiber added stocks, that give that speckled look are much more expensive than a linen or laid finish.  Using ink to simulate the speckled look is a good alternative.  To do this print process colour on a linen stock and use the ink to simulate the speckled look of a fiber-added paper stock.  Yes the back of the card will be plain white if you do not print it, but this can be desirable sometimes.

Coatings and Finishes

Coatings work in conjunction with paper stock.  The most common coating is AQ (Aqueous) which coats the ink, giving some protection to the card and adds a medium gloss to the card.  AQ coatings can be written on by most ballpoints while the other coatings cannot.  The second most common coating is UV (ultra-violet) which gives a high-gloss finish to your card.  UV can also be applied on only part of the card, in any shape, it is printed on like an ink, this is called spot-UV.  It should be noted that not all printers apply UV coatings as well as others.  The quality of the UV coating is important, a badly applied UV coating gives a rough look to the card and makes it look cheap.

The other 2 “coatings” are laminates, which can give a high-gloss or matte finish to the card, depending on which is used, but also add thickness to the card  This is another way to appeal to the touch sense, a more substantial card representing a more substantial person, well maybe.  Today you can get a 26pt business card that is a combination of thicker stock and laminate –  quite substantial.  Use laminate to build up the thickness of your card.  A gloss laminate will give a high gloss to the card while the matte laminate makes the card easier to read and a silky finish.

Spot UV

Use matte laminate to give that thick silky feeling and a spot-UV on top to highlight an important part of your card, or to print a ghost of your logo over top of your card.  This gets a little expensive, but I believe the dollar/uniqueness-factor is one of the best returns on your investment, at least until everybody else starts doing it.  This is still, if designed properly, is very impressive looking.  The design must be on a dark background or the effect is lost.


Embossing has been around a long time and the price has come down considerably in the past couple of years.  The thing is, you have to have something worth embossing.  If you are just going to raise your name, then raised ink is a much better solution.  Also if you are going to emboss, do not print anything on the back of the card, it just looks stupid.  Embossing is a nice touch when dealing in an industry that does not lend itself to flashy cards, like law, or gynecology, in these cases embossing gives a uniqueness to a card without screaming, “I’m a shmuck.”

Uniquely Shaped Cards

Die-Cutting, like embossing requires that a die be made in the shape desired, but for something as simple as rounding the corners of a card, the printer probably already has the die pre-made and this will not cost you an arm and a leg to get.  Other die shapes will have to be manufactured at an up-front cost and in most cases, in my opinion, render a card that will not be kept because of the odd shape.  There are many more “standard shapes” available from printers these days.  Also the advent of laser cutting allows for small runs of cards to be shaped economically.


Foiling, unlike metallic inks which give a dull metal look, has a highly reflective surface giving a shiny metal look.  Gold and silver are the most common foils in use, but there are a number of different colours available.  The foil is pressed onto the paper stock with a die formed in the shape desired, be it a word or a shape.  In this way foiling and embossing are similar in that they both require a die to be cast out of metal; an upfront cost that has to be considered.  That being said the process is comparatively cheaper than in the past. Like the combination of matte lamination and spot-UV, foiling can be used on its own or in combination with matte lamination to make the foil POP!  I like using foil to accentuate an award like, best in class for 2011 or something similar.  Or it can be used to highlight your tag-line.


All-in-all there are many options that available at modest prices in the marketplace today.  Some of these options can be used in combination while others should be used alone.  When seeking to update your card the advice of a graphic designer should be sought.  Be sure the designer has experience designing for print, many designers today focus much of their attention on web design and forget the eccentricities of print design. Some combinations or options will render a beautiful card that will be remembered while others will just make it look gaudy.  Industry and audience are other considerations as is the overall message that wants to be conveyed.

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