Basic business card printing information. Professional print buyers know this and now you can too!

This information will help get your business card professionally printed, looking exactly as you want it, in the fastest time, at the best price, guaranteed!

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Business Card Printing

The Basics

Business cards or calling cards, whatever your use or intention can be produced in just about any shape, size or material.

For the sake of brevity, we are going to limit the content here to business card printing as commonly found in the United States

The standard card size measures 2.0” x 3.50 inches.  The most inexpensive card you can obtain from your local print professional is usually black ink on white cardstock.  The standard quantity is 500, although in this day and age of digital printing it is not uncommon for orders of 250 or less.


Many customers believe that the lower quantities will save them a lot of money, especially when they are being printed for a person who probably will not use many throughout the year.

Maybe yes, maybe no. Here’s why:

You see, the cost of production of a business card, as with most printing is front-loaded. For example, if we are print a simple one color card using customary offset printing methods,  with real ink,  on a printing press there is the time it takes (in addition to creating artwork) to setup or make-ready, make plates and run the job.  Say, that takes 30 minutes and your investment for the printing only will be $45.00. 

To print 1000 cards it will take 31 minutes and the investment may be $51.00

Why is that? Well, for one thing, it is not efficient to print cards one-at-a-time, even if we could.  Typically, cards are laid out 8 to 12 up on a single sheet of paper.  The printing press, poking along at a slow 5000 sheets per hour only has to print 42 to 63 sheets to do a job of 500, 2.0 x 3.5” cards. Or, only about a minute at run speed.

Below is a typical setup of how we would print a business card that does not require ink from edge to edge. This would allow for 12 cards to be printed on an 8.5” x 11.0” sheet of card stock with crop/trim marks. In this example, .25” of waste area around all four edges allows placement of the crop/trim marks.


Print shops use automated business card slitters to assure a uniform card, but also use a guillotine paper cutter when conditions require non standard cuts.

It takes the same number of plates and setup time to do 500 as it does 1000 and the run time is almost insignificant.

There are many other variables involved that can influence cost. However, those are the basics in the offset printing world.

Some companies that specialize in printing business cards use large 40” presses and gang multiple client orders on a single sheet. That’s why you can buy full color cards so inexpensively. It is also why you have very few choices for paper selection.

Digital printing on high-end production color units have taken over many print jobs that used to go on the offset press.  Even though these digital printing devices, sometimes called “laser copiers” run at a slower speed, they can turn around a job much quicker because there is no ink to dry, no plates to make, no chemistry solutions and no highly skilled press operator is involved.

The quality between the two methods does differ. Many times the digital print devices do not print as well on many paper stocks as the offset printing press. But, if may be that you won’t care a lick. All you care about is getting the job done that is pleasing to your eye, Right?  Your print professional should discuss the specifics with you if your time and budget will be a variable.

The Paper  

Paper type is a critical ingredient as you may or may not suspect and it will affect the look and feel of your card.

If you know exactly what you want, then it is not an issue.  However, if you are unsure or are looking for options, then be sure to ask your print professional.  They will be pleased to show you one of hundreds of paper stocks available from the mills. 

Caveat. If a professional designer has recommended a paper type to you, don’t assume that the paper is available or will fit your budget.  Some paper types are only available if you buy a large quantity of up to 2000 sheets.  Just because the paper appears in a mill swatch book does not mean they will sell a ream for your business card. Thus, before you settle on a paper type, ask your designer or print professional to check the availability. 

Recently the mills have been offering heavier grades of stock to the glee of customers.  The common standard business card paper weight is still “80 pound cardstock” (80#) but more and more we are seeing 100#, 120# and double thick cardstock available.  These heavier weights really make an appealing and sturdy business card likable by all.

So, if your business card feels “flimsy” compared to others, it might be that it is time to tell your print professional that you want to upgrade.

Themography or “Raised Printing”

Have you ever touched a business card where the type or graphics feel textured or raised up? Chances are they have been thermographed.

“Raised printing” (thermography) has been around for many years.  Some people have fallen in love with it so much they have their stationery, envelopes, brochures, and announcements done with it.  We have even seen book covers done with thermography.

The process works like this.  When an item is printed and comes off of the printing press, it goes into a heat chamber where clear resin is dropped on the wet ink and essentially cooked.  The resin adheres to the ink and nothing else.

So, the ink is technically not raised. It is flat as ever.  It is just the resin sitting on top of the ink that bubbles up.  If you look at a thermographed item closely under a magnifying glass you will see plainly the clear resin.

Raised printing does change the ink color appearance slightly. If color is critical we suggest using the “coated” paper pantone guide to get a best guess of how your ink color will look after the “raised” printing process.

This may not be a problem unless you are trying to match an envelope or letterhead flat ink color against a business card ink color that has been thermographed.

Also, very small type sizes tend to plug up and can become difficult to read when the thermography raised print process is applied.

The cost to thermograph an item sometimes carries a price premium so it is best to ask your print professional at the outset.

Creating Your Business Card Design

It’s great if you have the knack for design.  Often there is a huge chasm between designing to print one card and that of laying out the design to print hundreds and thousands.

For novice print buyers and designers this is critical to your understanding. There is much more to know than buying those ready made business cards shells at Office Depot and then printing from Microsoft Word to your inkjet desktop printer.

Professional designers own software to assist them with every possible facet of laying out a design.  The common software suite is Adobe In Design, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe PageMaker, Quark Express, Corel Draw or Freehand. You may also satisfactorily use Microsoft Publisher.

However, if your only software available is Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Excel or something else you will be time ahead by taking your design directly to your print professional for repurposing.

Most designers and advertising agencies use Macintosh computers to create their work. Whereas, the typical business person has a Windows Computer so the file you may provide may not be compatible. The usual exception is if you render a portable document file (PDF). PDF is a cross platform file type. To learn more about why you ought to use pdf see the report “20 Insider Tips Revealed”.

 The print professional has the skill and tools to make things right.

Also, be aware that not all print professionals are the same and have the same capability. Get a second opinion if you do not feel comfortable.

For example, recently a personal acquaintance asked us about printing a business card with some complex full color graphics. His office manager had visited a print professional down the street and was advised that the job would cost $$$$. Thinking that was beyond their means, they set the job aside until asking us about it at a social gathering.

We looked at the card and quickly determined the problem could be solved for a cost the client could easily afford. The difference was talent and tools appropriate for the job.

To reiterate, get a second opinion if you don’t feel comfortable.

Now, back to your card layout. When you are designing a business card to give to a print house, it is a good idea to ask the print professional how they would like it prepared. 

A typical print professional likes to have 3/16” to ¼” white space around the card content elements.  This makes it easy to cut the cards to the standard finished size of 2.0” x 3.5”.  See the example below.



The example above incorporates a ‘Bleed”.  The purple ink goes edge-to-edge. It is not possible to print edge to edge.  Huh?  Yes, it is true.  The way a bleed is accomplished is to print beyond the 2.0” x 3.0” space and then trim the card to the finished size. Thus, it gives the look of edge to edge printing.  The same goes for all bleed printed items. Newsletters, letterheads, brochures, flyers, etc. often use bleed to enhance the appearance.

During a month we see many designs, even from professional designers, that do not allow for the bleed space. Sometimes it is due to simply how they saved their artwork. The layout had a bleed space defined but when it was transmitted or copied to CD, the software switches were set to cut off the bleed space. Other times the client/amateur designer was not aware of the bleed space requirement. Generally, you will be safe if you add 0.125 or 1/8th of an inch for the bleed space.

It is also a good idea to ask your print professional how they would like to have the card setup.  Often your printer will want to do the imposition themselves so all you need to do is setup one card and leave the rest to us.

If you do it right, there is generally no extra charge since you are saving the print pro time in the setup or pre-press phase of the print job.

Can you print on the backside of business cards?

Printing on the backside of the business card is quite common and is generally the same process as printing on the front. You will have a cost savings of the paper. Therefore, backside printing is usually a little less expensive than the front.

Fold over Business cards

Fold over cards are especially useful for those companies that want to use their card like a mini-brochure.  The standard size of a fold over is 4.0” x 3.5”  that folds to 2.0” x 3.5” but often people like to have a shorter front folder over so that the dimensions of the front is 1.75” high and that back of folded card is 2.0”  This makes for a nice looking presentation.


You can find all these services and more at West Printing Company.

There are lots of ways to reach us. Our physical address is, 327 12th Street, Toledo, Ohio 43604. Via internet where you will find contact email addresses.

Of course we welcome your call at  (419) 246-0857

We want to be your print professional. Toledo's West Printing Company knows that trust is something earned. Clients are never taken as granted.  We do our very best to understand your need and desired results.  You are not a number here.  Every one of our clients is valuable and given the utmost respect. Call us today (419) 246-0857 and someone nice will answer.




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