Getting business cards printed? Great! You probably have the design and text down pat, now you’re just looking at the printing options.
Years ago, you just printed your name and contact details on some heavy card stock and called it a day. Nowadays, the materials used and the printing method you choose also affect the wow factor and marketability of your brand.
To help you, I’ll breakdown the popular printing methods to explain how they work. I’ll also describe and show you a sample of what the printed output looks like so you can make an informed decision.
Popular Methods to Print Business Cards Explained
1. CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Key (Black) also known as Four Color Process or Full Color Press
It’s annoying — rage-inducing even— to spend hours designing a business card only to discover that the printer got it wrong.
It’s not you. Computers and printers just interpret colors in different ways.
Computers by default, show colors via a combination of tiny red, green, and blue (RGB) pixels. RGB-based colors appear darker because they start with black and then layers of RGB are added to reproduce the matching hue.
If you print in RGB, the more pigments are added, the darker or heavier the resulting print of your business card will be.
This is where CMYK or Four Color Press comes in. Unlike RGB, which only combines three colors, CMYK uses four colors and a subtractive model. It’s more accurate because it can reproduce almost 70% of the colors visible to the naked eye.
How it works:
The subtractive model of the CMYK means the ink pigments are lighter and are recreated using reflected light. The printing starts with a white background followed by cyan to block red pigments, then magenta to filter green hues, and so on until the desired color is recreated. Colors are created with LESS ink.
Your chosen colors will be recreated using super tiny overlapping dots (halftones) of CMYK pigment, which are invisible to the human eye but combine to create the specific hue. For instance, the combo for the iconic Tiffany blue is Cyan 95%, Yellow 0%, Magenta 3%, Key/Black 27%.
2. Spot Color or Pantone Matching System (PMS)
Sometimes, combining four colors just isn’t enough…. Enter Spot Color or PMS.
Spot Colors refer to a pigment that’s precisely matched to a color matching system. The most popular color matching system for graphic printing is Pantone, while RAL is a European method for plastics, coatings, and paint.
It’s just like going to the paint store to get paint that matches your current living room’s color. You can bring a scrap of the peeling paint and compare it to available swatches, and if nothing matches, the attendant can make a custom batch by combining different pigments on their machine.
As you can imagine, Spot Color is extremely precise. That’s why it’s expensive and often only used in printing big batches.
CMYK is used to print most business cards, but Spot Color can be used in conjunction with it to get specific logos or branding colors right.
Learn more about the differences between CMYK, PMS and RGB colors.
3. Foil Stamping
People are dazzled by shiny things. It gives a luxurious yet classy vibe. If this is what you want for your brand, go for the foil stamping method.
How it works:
Foil stamping uses a custom cut die of your chosen design coated with a mylar-backed foil — the same material used for space blankets. When the die heats up, the foil coating imprints or stamps on the paper stock resulting in a shiny print.
Because heat is used, heavy paper stock is used for foil stamping.
The finished product will look like liquid gold or metallic gel ink was poured onto it, like what you often see in wedding invites. Its shiny and reflective finish adds a touch of subtle opulence to business cards.
4. Embossing and Debossing
These two options are perfect for those looking to make a strong impression. As the name suggests, business cards printed with either method will have a 3D or tactile feel to it.
How it works:
Embossing creates a raised bulge effect on the business card, while debossing stamps it down for an indented effect.
These techniques will use either heat or dry embossing, depending on your chosen printing medium. With heat embossing aka wet embossing, the design is stamped over the chosen card stock, sprinkled with embossing powder or ink, and then heated.
Dry or relief embossing, on the other hand, uses a stencil and stylus to trace a pattern of the design onto the card stock.
5. Laser or Die Cutting
If your brand gives an artsy or homey vibe, laser cutting or die cutting will be great for you.
How it works:
Die cutting is the method of molding or cutting materials like fiber, cardboard, or rubber to create custom cut outs in printed materials. It works just like a cookie cutter, cutting dough into different whimsical shapes. Some printers will even allow you to layer cards with different die cuts together for a 3D effect.
Pro Tip: Die-cutting logos and other images on business cards may be expensive because each mold is custom made. However, your printer may have standard dies for typical fonts and basic shapes.
Laser cutting works just like you see in action movies. Instead of a die, a focused beam is used to cut the design, allowing it to create more intricate designs like flowers and mandalas. The heat won’t warp the materials though, so don’t worry.
What might worry you though, is that laser cutting is more expensive and time-consuming because the task requires 1:1 focus on the cutting machine.
6. Combining Print Methods
Can’t choose between foil or emboss? Don’t worry, as long as you use the right printing medium for your business cards, you can combine two or more printing methods.
For instance, if you have an established brand, you can use spot colors to get the logos and branding text right. Then, use CMYK colors for the rest or embossed print for added texture.
You can even combine different tactile printing methods like embossing, die cutting, and foil stamping if you really want to. It is recommended, though, to pick two printing techniques, ideally one style of color method and another style for the tactile effect.
And while you can combine CMYK with spot colors, it’s not ideal to combine 3D effects like debossing with laser cutting because that may jeopardize the structural integrity of the materials. Remember, you’re only printing a small business card, not a banner.
Coating Methods to Protect and Enhance a Business Card
Now that we’re done with the different ways you can design and print a business card, let’s talk about the different ways you can coat AND protect it. As with anything, there are a few things to consider before selecting a coating.
7. Soft Touch
Coat your business card with a rubbery, velvety texture and gives it a matte finish. Some say it feels like a moleskin. It’s a great choice for luxury and modern/minimalistic brands.
8. UV Gloss
Ultraviolet (UV) coating is a shiny gel-like coating that’s applied to the paper and heated using ultraviolet light. It’s the same principle as gel nail polish but on printed card stock instead. Because of its shiny finish, images and rich colors like blue and violet really pop out in UV coating. The UV gloss will protect your card against chips and stains too.
9. Spot UV
As the name suggests, spot UV highlights a specific part of your business card to create contrast. In most cases, a matte coating is applied first, and then a spot UV will be applied to give certain areas a glossy finish.
- Don’t use UV on metallic inks or foil stamping.
- Use paper over 100 GSM or 68 LB.
10. Matte Lamination
UV gloss protects your business card from stains, so by definition, you can’t write on it either. If you need a card where you can write extra details, go with matte lamination.
Matte laminated business cards have a velvety feel that doesn’t reflect light, so they tone down the bright colors on them. Remember, CMYK uses reflected light to recreate the colors in print, so the colors might look different after matte coating.
You can also combine different coating techniques to make your business card eye-catching and durable.
BONUS: Painted Edge
Painted edge, also known as coloured edge, involves applying ink to a business card’s edges. This edge painting technique offers different colour options, such as CMYK/Pantone, fluorescent, or metallic finishes. The result is an eye-catching appearance that sets these business cards apart from generic ones!
Painted edge works well for uncoated stocks and also appears more noticeable on thicker stocks. So be sure to check with your printer when it comes to cardstock selection to achieve that optimum result.
Knowledge is Power, Even in Printing Business Cards
I hope this guide clarified the different lingo you read about printing business cards. If you still have questions, consult a business card designer to pick the best printing and coating for your card.
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