Tagbusiness cards

It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s not easy being green. If you’re thinking about making your next print project environmentally friendly, make sure you know about recycled paper and “green” printing.

You have undoubtedly heard impassioned pleas by environmentalists extolling causes that are good for the earth and posterity. There has been news about the evils of printing and paper and all the damage they do to trees. Frankly, a lot of what is being said is hogwash.

Fortunately or unfortunately, greenwashing (a superficial or insincere concern for the environment) is a trend, and trends catch on even when they are not based on truth.

We are finally beginning to hear about the carbon footprint of reading a book on an iPad or storing a file on a server. Sending an e-mail takes energy, and the bigger the file, more energy is used. Do you really need to copy the attachment on the whole thread and every response? Do you need to attach all those logos to your e-mail signature? The calculation of carbon footprint is very complex.

For example, when the National Geographic Society conducted a lifecycle analysis of its magazine, it determined it made more sense to print the magazine on paper made from virgin pulp. That way, the society could make sure the pulp came from forests that were certified for environmentally responsible management. It could add responsibly managed pulp to the recycling stream. If you buy inexpensive virgin or recycled paper, manufactured in Southeast Asia, you have no idea what the content of that sheet is, or how responsibly that pulp was sourced and the paper manufactured. The National Geographic Society determined China was creating so much demand for recycled pulp, that creating more demand was no longer an incentive to choosing recycled paper.

Responsibly produced pulp was, in fact, a better way to help.

The components of environmental responsibility include the materials, the process, and the design. This is how organizations measure their practices. Printing on 100% Post Consumer Waste paper that will need to be replaced often because it can’t stand up to heavy use is not a sustainable choice. The best businesses have always had sustainable practices because they make good sense. Nobody wants to waste resources, renewable or not. Nobody wants to waste money.

Environmental Choices for Your Client & You
It is important for you the designer to know what choices are available to you and your client. In most cases, your client is going to look to you to make recommendations in line with their values. Here are some choices that you may consider:

  • Choose recycled content when it suits the project.
  • Choose paper certification that aligns with your values.
  • Choose American paper for projects printed in the U.S.
  • Only print what you need.
  • Choose environmentally responsible vendors, from printing to warehousing.
  • Be aware of how you say you are “green.” The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has issued guidelines that apply to environmental marketing claims, such as “recyclable.” For ftc current guidelines, visit www.ftc.gov/green.
  • Educate yourself about the different types of communication, both print and electronic, and choose the most effective combination while taking the environment into consideration.

Here are questions I get all the time from designers and clients alike:

Is recycled paper more expensive?
It depends. Kraft paper is recycled, brown, and inexpensive. Recycled paper that is whitish with flecks is more expensive than kraft, but less costly than a bright white recycled paper with no flecks. To make recycled paper, the mills need to buy or make pulp from paper that has been de-inked, and that pulp costs more than pulp from a tree. That cost is passed to the customer who can then weigh the value versus the cost.

Does recycling paper save trees?
When used paper is substituted for virgin pulp, it reduces demand. Recycling helps to reduce the amount of land that needs to be used for tree farms and may preserve native forests. However, a tree in a native forest is not the same as a tree on a tree farm. A natural forest differs from a tree farm in biodiversity and habitat. In ecologically sensitive areas where pressure to convert natural forests to tree farms exists, recycling can help decrease the demand that causes that type of pressure.

Does the paper industry plant more trees than it cuts down?
Yes, but increasing tree farm acreage at the expense of natural forest is not equal in terms of biodiversity, habitat, etc.

Is recycled paper more environmentally friendly?
A few factors that need to be weighed in order to gauge the environmental footprint of recycled versus virgin paper: is the paper mill state-of-the-art or turn-of-the-20th-century? That makes a big difference. Is the mill in a country that does not allow pollution downstream? China’s paper factories pollute more than American factories. Does the mill reuse effluents such as liquor and sludge, byproducts of the paper-making process, or does it dump these byproducts in a landfill? How fuel efficient is the plant sorting the recycled paper? Are its trucks low emission? Are its conveyor belt motors gas-, diesel-, or solar-powered? How close is the recycling plant to the paper mill? Will the trucks collecting all the recycled paper in the city have to drive a long way to the edge of the tree farm where most paper mills are located? Is an old growth tree going to be cut down to make the paper? This should be avoided at all costs, and several groups have emerged to certify that the source of the paper is legitimate.

How was the recycled paper de-inked (bleached) before being made into pulp?
Some bleaching methods are terrible for the environment and super expensive to boot. Traditionally, elemental chlorine was used in bleaching, but because of its negative environmental impact, most bleaching processes are now Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF). Is the recycled paper appropriate for the project?

For instance, specifying a job with 100% solid ink coverage on a 100% PCW paper stock might backfire in terms of environmental responsibility because recycled papers use up to three times the ink of a virgin sheet when solid coverage is required. What kind of paper is it? A cardboard carton? The page of a magazine? A paper grocery bag? All those objects require much less energy to recycle into that form than a sheet of fine writing paper or the page of a coffee table photography book. Most wood pulp fibers can be recycled about eight times before they lose the structure needed to be a strong sheet of paper and wind up in the sludge at a paper mill.

Virgin paper is important for introducing strong fibers into the paper-making stream and complementing the mix of recycled pulp. It is also important for that coffee table book you want to pass down to your children. Let’s assume the paper comes from a state-of-the-art U.S. mill and was chosen by a very environmentally conscious recycler in a city where all the paper is sorted close to the mill. If all of these conditions are met, then the resulting recycled paper is more environmentally friendly.

Recycling is great so let’s all do our part! Buying recycled paper and specifying recycled paper creates demand. Just don’t specify recycled when you really need virgin, and remember, we need to add virgin paper to the recycling stream.

The two most common names heard in printing are the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and Sustained Forestry Initiative (SFI). If you, the designer, or print buyer specify an FSC-certified sheet, then the printer must purchase from an FSC-certified paper merchant and print on that sheet. If printers are caught substituting other paper, the FSC can revoke their certification.

Print Misinformation, What You Need to Know About Printed Media and the Environment
Misinformation about the environment and printed media is abundant. “Save a tree—don’t print!”; “Print is bad for the environment!”; or “Print is killing the forests!” We’ve all heard statements such as these. The truth is print is recyclable, renewable, and responsible. Let’s examine the facts.

Print and Recycling
87% of all Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs. Of all printed materials in the U.S., 63% are recycled, and this number keeps growing as recycling becomes more popular. Print is renewable and sustainable Trees are a renewable resource; we are not going to use up all the trees for paper. Most of the trees used in paper are grown on “tree farms” as a crop, just like corn or wheat.

Print is Responsible
Only 11% of the world’s forests are used for paper. “Waste products,” such as wood chips, sawmill scraps, and recycled paper, provide the bulk of the fiber for making paper.

More Factoids
Print isn’t going away. It’s not a matter of turning on your iPad instead of reading a magazine. Both the magazine and the iPad are going to be around. Considering these facts, listed below, about the effectiveness of print, you can be environmentally responsible while making print.

  • Seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to receive mail for new product announcements or offers from companies they do business with compared to 18% who would rather receive e-mail (International Communications research survey).
  • A catalog lead costs $47.61 while e-mail comes in at $53.85 per lead, and, furthermore, the response rate to direct mail has consistently been three times higher than the response rate from e-mails (Direct Marketing Association 2011 Statistical Fact Book).
  • Nearly 90% of consumers say they want to receive sales and promotions via direct mail and find offers in the newspaper (Nielsen Research). Consumers in the 18–34 year-old demographic prefer to learn about marketing offers via postal mail and newspapers rather than through online sources such as media sites (Finding the Right Channel Combination: What Drives Channel Choices, icom, a division of Epsilon Marketing).
  • Seventy percent of Americans enjoy reading printed magazines even though they know they could find most of the same information online (State of the Media Democracy, Deloitte Research, March 2011).
  • Seventy-five percent of college students prefer a printed textbook when taking a class, and 53% of college students would not consider buying digital textbooks even if they were available (Student Watch 2010, National Association of College Stores).

You can tell pretty easily if your printer is green. She is up to your standards if she operates like you do. For instance, do you recycle paper, metal, and plastic at home or at your job? So should your printer. When it is time to get rid of old electronics, do you take them to a designated recycling place? So should your printer. Do you work in a leed-certified building? Your printer doesn’t either, I bet. Responsible choices are easy to make. Confirm your printer and all your vendors are doing their part.

Environmental certifications are a way to display the environmental practices a company follows. Some of these certifications refer to a Chain-of-Custody (coc). You can look at the websites of each of these organizations to get more information. It’s easy to take people’s word that they are “the best” or “the leading” or “the largest.” What’s more important is deciding whether what they do is in line with your clients’— and your — values. Bear in mind that in some of the more obscure certifications, the foxes are watching the hen house, so to speak.


Chain-of-Custody Certifications
Forest Stewardship Council (fsc) (printer must be certified) “The Forest Stewardship Council mission is to promote environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests.” There are several types of FSC logos, one if 100% of the product comes from FSC sources, one for 100% recycled paper that contains at least 95% fiber that is Pcw (Post-Consumer Waste), and various Mixed Source logos. (Mixed Source is when a product contains one or more of the following: FSC-certified fiber, recycled fiber, or controlled wood fiber.)

You must use the logo of the printer who will print the piece to maintain chain-of-custody, and the logo must be printed in 378 green or black. The printer’s FSC number is visible on the logo. Positive, negative, black, white, portrait, and landscape versions of each logo are available. The FSC label cannot be used with another label. Your client must choose which system he is following. www.fscus.org

Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) “SFI Inc. is a fully independent, charitable organization dedicated to promoting sustainable forest management.” Your printer must be certified to the SFI standard to use an SFI label. SFI has two main types of product labels: SFI Chain of Custody (includes certified forest content) and the SFI Certified Sourcing.

Sustainable Green Printing Partnership “The mission of the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership is to encourage and promote participation in the worldwide movement to reduce environmental impact and increase social responsibility of the graphic communications industry through certification and continuous improvement of sustainability and best practices within manufacturing operations.”

This organization is relatively new and has a limited number of members. www.sgppartnership.org

I hope this information makes you more confident about advising your clients about environmentally friendly choices. If you’ve got a story about recycled paper or certifications and logo usage, please share it with us!

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Designing Business Cards

The second most common item designers are asked to create is business cards. And with tools like Adobe InDesign at their fingertips, oftentimes, success on smaller projects like a business card may encourage someone to pursue an education and career in graphic design. Although business cards are small, they have a big impact and can be the most used part of an identity system. Because business cards are so often reordered, clients may scrutinize their cost more closely than another item like letterhead. And, like most of graphic design, the printed cost is in the designer’s hands, not the printer’s. There are some things that can make business cards really expensive. Let’s go through and see what’s what.

Some things that make business cards expensive are relative to the size of the company and the number of business cards ordered at a time. Some identity systems depend on expensive flourishes to differentiate their branding. Some are distributed by the millions in mailboxes and need to be as economical as possible. It is up to the designer to explain ongoing costs to their client and also teach them the most economical way to order new cards and reorders in the future. If you are unsure, ask your printer for assistance, advice and if necessary, a meeting with your client. Your printer will be happy to help!

If you are designing business cards for a small company, give or take less than 10 employees, digital printing and gang run printing will be your friends in keeping costs down. The following items are moderate to expensive to add to a design:

  • Foil stamping
  • Embossing
  • Die Cutting
  • Very thick paper
  • Unusual paper
  • Large areas of solid ink

If you are working with a large company, designing a business card that can work with masters will keep costs down. Expensive add-ons such as foiling, embossing and die cutting become much more economical when amortized over a large number of masters (more on business card masters later in this post).


This elegant card uses blind embossing to dramatic effect with its minimalist design. 

Printing presses come in different sizes. As you can imagine, the bigger the press, the more it costs to operate. A large press takes more ink, larger plates, and more staff. For that reason, business cards are normally printed on smaller presses that can print on smaller sheets of paper. These smaller presses (with a few exceptions) cannot print a large solid without compromising the quality of the solid. Small presses (often called duplicators) also may not be able to print more than two colors in tight or precise registration. For this reason, business card designs that take these limitations into account can be printed more economically than designs that do not.

There are some exceptions to this (aren’t there always? LOL). When printing large runs of masters, the mastered elements can incorporate large solids and tight registration because chances are they are going to print on a much larger press sheet on a much larger press. Here are some examples of business cards that are difficult if not impossible to print on a small press:

B card

The tan solid on the reverse side of this business card would be enough to negate the use of a small press, but add-on the tight registration of the purple rectangle, and there are few small presses that can handle this project. Also note the round corners. This can be accomplished with die cutting or round cornering on a smaller machine that makes it economical to round-corner small lots.  


This impressive card uses bright solids and die cutting to make a lasting impression. 


The solid green on the reverse of the card is preprinted on masters. 

Printing business card masters involves designing the variable items (name, phone, etc.) to be printed in one color as an imprint. That leaves the static information (Company name, logo, slogan, etc.) to be printed on masters and held for the imprint at the printer. How many cards is enough to constitute a master run? Well, it’s not just the quantity but also the finishing processes that are added. But in general, estimate 50,000 cards as a bare minimum for a simple design that is mastered on only one side. Ask your client how many employees will get business cards and how many. That gives you a total amount for the initial run. Adding another 30% onto that is a really easy way to put some masters on the shelf. Then, when the reorders start coming in the masters will be available and your printer can track how long they last. The first time cards are ordered, when a company is rebranded, for instance, ask your client what their hiring practices will be for the next 6-12 months. Sometimes they will be adding 200 people and your printer needs to be prepared. Remember that business card reprints should always be ordered in a manner that will not waste a master. For example, if the masters are 4-up and you order 500 cards each for three people you are going to waste a slot. You can change the order to four people or you can double the quantity for one person by putting their name into two of the spots on the press sheet.

  • Business card masters are good for:
  • Better color control on a custom color or large solid
  • Process color on an uncoated paper
  • Speeding up turnaround time on imprints
  • Lower cost of imprints
  • More cost-effective to add an enhancement such as foil stamping, embossing, or die cutting.
  • Using a special paper (such as a duplex cover) when the minimum quantity needed is for zillions of cards.

Business cards should be convenient and useable. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, consider the recent popularity of super-thick business cards. Some of these double pasted papers are 4-6 times as thick as a regular business card. What that means to people who carry and hand out a lot of business cards is they have to refill their wallet, folio, card case, etc. four to six times as often! Is that convenient? No. That’s why people who hand out a ton of cards hate thick business cards. What else is inconvenient… have you ever tried to write a note on a UV coated card? IMPOSSIBLE. Even with a Sharpie marker! If you must use a super high gloss UV, keep it on the front so that notes can be made on the back. 



Here’s a super awesome card! It was printed on white paper with a double hit of black plus
a spot dull varnish over the black and clear foil on the orange. WOW.

Thanks to all the talented designers who designed these cards! Many of these have been saved over the years to the printing inspiration box. If you see your work here please let us know! Have you had a surprise business card experience? Maybe you changed something small and it resulted in a big cost increase? We would love to hear your stories, please share in the comments section.

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Logo Design for Print

If you are creative, are good with color, excel at drawing, love fonts, or exhibit other characteristics of a graphic designer (funky glasses anyone?), friends, relatives, and neighbors will very likely ask you to design a logo for their business. Ironically, the single most complex, vital, long-lasting business necessity is what many small businesses spend the least amount of time on—their logo. Nine times out of ten, the owner sketches the logo on the back of a paper napkin or asks his nephew to create it. Conversely, a professional designer who is well versed in publication work printed in run lengths of millions on gravure presses, may be asked to design a logo and not know anything about the sheetfed paper market or reproduction standards.

A company’s logo and identity system (the letterhead, business cards, etc., used to identify a brand) establish the company’s brand for as long as the company is using that identity. Unlike a brochure or invitation, which might never be reprinted, an identity system will dictate the cost of stationery again, and again, and again, year in and year out. You control the cost through your design, so it is important to know how much your client expects to spend each year on stationery. Is the company dependent on business cards that stand out and make a statement, or are they going to be stuffed into mailboxes by the millions? Designing an identity system that is not compatible with your client’s budget for years two through fifteen can send a message that you are not managing costs, and that could lead to the loss of work on future projects, such as marketing collateral or web development.

I have seen too many logos that were “designed” by the aforementioned category of untrained folk and made to work in Excel (yes, I know, SMH) and printed on a home inkjet printer on “letterhead” for a few months while the startup was getting underway, that later cost a FORTUNE when it was time to print the real deal. Oftentimes the logo owner is reluctant to change their “baby” which is already in  the marketplace. Or, an inexperienced business person may see an exorbitant cost as simply “the cost of looking professional”.

A logo, no matter where it appears, needs to look great under any of the following conditions:

  • It is reproduced in black and white.
  • It is embroidered.
  • It is silk-screened.
  • It is reproduced in one color without the use of screens.

Here are some examples of different iterations of a well-designed logo.
It is easy to reproduce, easy to implement in various color scenarios and consistent.
It is the logo for Mohawk Paper, a paper mill. When it comes to advertising budgets and
spare-no-printing-expense businesses, paper companies have the nth of budgets.

When you are designing a logo for your uncle’s donut shop, it may seem impossible that some of the above conditions would ever arise, but they undoubtedly will. Here are some scenarios:

  • The logo is reproduced in black and white in the church bulletin.
  • The logo is embroidered on golf shirts when the donut shop sponsors a tournament.
  • The logo is silk-screened on t-shirts for the employee uniforms.
  • The logo is reproduced in one color without the use of screens, a requirement for some types of printing (such as on pink bakery boxes).

Following are some tips and pointers when designing logos. They are divided up by the kind of element that can make a logo difficult or expensive, colors that complicate logos and design decisions that absolutely raise reproduction costs.

The following elements make logos difficult to reproduce and should be avoided:

  • Very small type, process color type
  • Hairline rules
  • Tight registration on tiny elements
  • Design elements that are tiny in relation to the whole.

This is a photograph of two rows of “environmental” certifications, each from a different publication. The top row uses color logos and the bottom uses black and white versions. The only logo common to both is the FSC logo. Note how the tiny elements are lost. Note how big type reads so much clearer than the tiny type in the biodiesel logo, what is that tagline? In all fairness, these color logos probably have black and white line art versions that would read just as well as the ones above. But, if they have those other versions it is because the designers went through an exercise like this, checking the readability. 

Color choices that do not work well for logos include the following:

  • Any Pantone* mixture that has more than one part of opaque white. We will go into more detail in another post about ink formulas and the downside of inks that contain high amounts of opaque white.
  • Reflex Blue and Pantone formulas that have large amounts of Reflex Blue take longer to dry (a couple of days) than other inks. Other inks take a few hours or will dry overnight, depending on whether or not the press has an IR (Infra Red) dryer (more on IR presses in another post). Therefore, using Reflex Blue on business cards or any rush job is going to be impossible for a client who is always in a hurry. Many ink companies have an imitation Reflex Blue that dries more quickly, but the color is simply not as rich as the real thing. There will be a post on reflex blue and other colors that require imitation pigments due to a host of problems.
  • A process color logo adds cost to a large company, but for a small or home-based business, it is a fine choice. Do specify CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black) color for tiny businesses. Digital printing has made it more affordable than Pantone Matching System* (PMS) in some cases. For those instances where digital printing will not work, such as for letterhead and envelopes, more to come on that topic, gang run printing offers a cost-effective alternative.
  • Custom color is difficult to keep consistent. If your client can live with inconsistency, then this option is acceptable. With computerized ink mixing, inconsistency is becoming less of a problem. But if you have only one print shop in town, and employees are mixing ink by hand, discuss this before specifying a custom color for a logo.

Sometimes extra expense is justifiable due to the nature of the business. Ask your client, and make sure to explain these costs are not one-time but will continue whenever that logo is reproduced. The following elements look beautiful but add cost:

  • Multiple colors in tight registration.
  • Foil stamping.
  • Reverses out of large solids.
  • Embossing or debossing.

The small presses used to print most business cards often have limitations for reproduction quality. That is not to say they are incapable of high-end work, they certainly are. But the type of high-end work may be in question. And the unhappy truth is that going onto a larger press costs a lot more. If we address the bullets above, multiple colors in tight registration and reverses out of large solids, those items add expense because if the tolerances are too tight, a small printing press with a common blanket may not be able to print the design. Small presses with a separate blanket for each unit exist and for them, the most precise printing is not a problem. How are you as a designer supposed to know the difference? Trust your printer. And for something as common as a business card, that has such a giant impact, keep it simple and you and your client will be ahead of the game.

Stay tuned, next up, designing business cards!

Confused about digital printing?

For a limited time to can get the actual decision tree in my book, for free! The ultimate tool for figuring out if a project can be digitally printed or if it needs to go on press. PLUS you'll get a heads up when the Kickstarter campaign launches.

We respect your privacy.