Every year, starting in late November and throughout the month of December, we print a lot of Christmas cards. We see some amazing designs and we also have our share of “challenges” with artwork that is not set up properly. Here are some ideas to make your cards look great and save a few headaches at your favorite printing company.
First – a quick history of Christmas cards. Did you know that sending Christmas cards began in England in 1843? Sir Henry Cole helped set up the British postal system and was wondering how it could be used more by average people. Sir Henry and his friend John Horsley designed the first Christmas card and printed around 1,000 of them. Because the cost of postage had fallen to one penny due to the railroads carrying the mail (instead of a horse and carriage, which made the postage too expensive for average people), mailing Christmas cards suddenly became popular. In the late 1840’s, Christmas cards also began to appear in the United States, but most people could not afford them. In 1875, a printer named Louis Prang started mass producing cards to make them affordable. In 1915, John C. Hall started a new company with his brothers that you might have heard of: Hallmark Cards! (source: www.whychristmas.com)
Now, back to the challenges we see when printing cards. I will touch on three of them for this article.
First, make sure to leave at least 1/8-inch margins around the edges of the entire card (1/4-inch margins would even be better). Why is that? During the printing process – which for short run postcards is typically a digital process – the paper tends to move ever so slightly when being printed, and the paper also can shrink or get slightly distorted by the heat in the digital printing process. Also, when the paper is being cut, which could be 250 sheets at a time, it could move just a whisker (a technical term in printing!) when it is cut. So, when the card is being cut and the type or image is too close to the edge, even with a perfect cut some of your type could get cut off or your border could look uneven.
Second, if you have a background image or color that goes right to the edge of the card, you need to extend it 1/8 inch past the edge of the card (called a “bleed”). For example, if the final size of your card is 5 x 7, if you include the 1/8-inch bleed on all four edges, the size you send to the printer would be 5.25 x 7.25. Besides the reasons listed above, printers print on large sheets of paper then cut them down to the finished size of the card. It would be normal to print several images of the same card on one large sheet of paper. When cutting large sheets of paper, perhaps 250 sheets at a time, with several images on the paper, if the image is not perfectly straight or if the paper moved during the printing process, after cutting the paper you could have white lines on the edge of some of your cards. Even a very slight white line at the edge of the card will look bad. Extending the image past the edge of the card eliminates this problem.
Third, use a professional photographer if possible. In general, professionally taken pictures print great. Often, the photographs taken by us “want to be photographers” are too dark or too red, blurry, or do not have enough contrast between the subject and the background. Even the best design can be spoiled by poor photography.
I wish you and your loved ones all the best during this holiday season, and a prosperous 2018!