Can I put a picture on my business card, and should I do it? This is a question that I encounter quite often at our print shop in NYC. Many people seem to want photographs printed on their business cards or other printed items. Although it isn’t difficult to do, there are two really important issues that need to be addresses every time. These issues have to do with technical limitations and design considerations. Since I find myself spending a decent amount of time discussing this topic, I figured it makes sense to blog about it.
First off, lets clarify exactly what we mean by printing a picture on a business card. When we refer to printing a picture on a business card, we mean a photograph. A common example would be a headshot for an actor. Many people in certain industries tend to request having pictures of themselves on their business cards. This is especially true in the entertainment industry. Another example would be putting a photo of a given product on a card. Many companies do this as well. They will typically include a color photo of a popular piece of merchandise and add it to their business cards. One last example would be photography. Many photographers try to include an example of their work on their business cards. These three examples are just some of the instances where we see pictures on business cards.
As mentioned earlier, there are two main things to consider before adding your picture to a business card. The first thing we will discuss is the design consideration. When you add a photograph to your business card, you must accept the fact that it will likely occupy more space than anything else on the card. Even something as seemingly small as a headshot requires at least one third of the business card in most cases. This can cause problems for business cards that have a lot of information on them. For example, a business card might have a logo, contact information, company information, and maybe some additional divisions. If this is the case, it would be very difficult to effectively add a picture without seriously compromising the look and usability of the business card. If you plan on adding a photograph to your business card, make sure it doesn’t take away from the design. This is very important.
The second, and arguably more significant issue with printing a photo on your business card would be the technical limitations. The first thing that I find out from a customer who wants a picture on their business card is how particular they are about color. Color photographs are pretty much always printed in CMYK. The issue with CMYK color is its lack of consistency. With this knowledge, it’s important to clarify to the customer that the business card they see on their computer screen might not be what the printed product looks like. This might sound surprising if its the first time you are hearing it, but believe me its true. You can do the research. Although exact color control is impossible with CMYK, it is however possible to calibrate the design files and the equipment to come close to the target color. The issue here is that it require extra time and costs to calibrate. It essentially require test prints, which serve as a base to calibrate against.
If a customer decided that they want to run some test prints, we would first decide which printing method they want to use. There are two options, digital and offset printing. Offset generally yields the higher quality results. The problem is that you cannot run small test runs. You would just have to place an order and hope its close enough. If its not, color adjustments can be made, but then you would need to place a whole new order to get those changes. If your budget permits, offset printing is worth it because of the quality. The second option is digital printing. With digital printing you can test print as low as 1 single sheet. There is a slight increase in cost, but its much less than placing the two whole orders that offset printing would require. The drawback of digital printing is the lack of versatility in printing materials, as well as slightly lower quality of the prints themselves (note, some digital presses rival offset quality).
At the end of the day, its important to consider these two things when you put a photograph on any printed item. If you are particular about color, you absolutely must run a test print. This allows us to calibrate based on the results of the test. If you aren’t picky about color, its just a question of design.