Everyone's got one, but far too many people don't have a professional looking one. Without getting into the aesthetics of business card design (that could take a book to cover), let's delve into some of the practical considerations around setting up good business card files.

First, all business cards are 2" x 3.5." You can certainly choose to deviate from this if you've got a great reason to, but keep in mind that all card racks, card holders and card filing systems are designed to hold the standard sized card.

Second, whatever the margin is you use on a business card, make sure it's consistent. If you have text close to the left and right sides of the card, make sure you leave equal margins on both sides of the card or it will look very amateurish. The same goes if you have text or graphics close to both the top and bottom. There are exceptions to this, but do not break this rule unless you have a very good reason to. A margin of 3/16" usually works great, although you may want to have it as big as ¼" if you're using printing or cutting equipment that does not register perfectly.

What setup should you bring to the printer? If you do cards infrequently and don't care to learn imposition, probably the best way is to bring in the card "1-up", with a page size of 2"x3 ½" in "printer friendly" file format. Check with your printer in regards to what formats and fonts they support. In this case, the printer will charge a small fee for setting up the imposition of your card, but it may be well worth it if you don't want to go through the learning curve of doing it yourself.

If you set up cards frequently, you definitely want to learn how to set up the imposition for them. 4-up and 10-up are the most common set-ups. There are others as well, but if you learn these ones, you should be able to figure out how to do just about any kind of imposition.

To create a 4-up layout for cards, the steps are the same in just about any professional software. First, create a page size of 4" x 7". Then, you'll want to drag in guidelines for the inside edges of the cards, as well as for the margins. For the 3/16" margin example, you'd have vertical guidelines at 3/16", 3 15/16", 3 ½", 3 11/16" and 3 13/16" horizontally and 3/16", 1 13/16", 2", 2 3/16" and 3 13/16" vertically.

Also, since crop marks (cut lines) will only automatically appear at the corners of your 4" x 7" sheet when it's printed, put crop marks at 3 ½" and 2" respectively, making sure to leave at least 1/8" from the edge of the card so there's no chance you'll see traces of the crop mark on the finished product.

Here's a sample of what this page will look like. The page edges are shown in black, the guidelines are shown in blue and the crop marks are show in red: 

Simply use any one of the four 2" x 3.5" areas to create your card, ensuring that you use the guidelines appropriately for setting your margins. When it's time to duplicate the card into the other 3 areas, be sure to use your software's numeric tools for duplicating, stepping, or multiple pasting. This will ensure that the cards have been duplicated into the exact correct spot. As I was told once after screwing up the imposition on a set of cards, "the word close doesn't apply to imposition, it's either perfect or its wrong." While this might seem to be harsh, truer words were never spoken. If your card is not perfectly imposed in all 4 positions, at least half your cards will end up looking off-center by the time they are cut.

Does this sound like a lot of work? Well, keep in mind that you only have to set it up once (okay, maybe a couple of times if you do vertical or bled cards). Once you've set it up perfectly, save it as a separate file and "write-protect" the original file so you can always have it handy as a template. When you need to create a set of cards, open your template file, "save as" a new file, and you're off to the races.

For doing 10-up business cards, simply follow the rules as shown above, but plan on a 7red" x 10" page size in your software, with 2 cards across and 5 cards down. Also, as with "stepping" cards, if you set your crops perfectly, you can "step" your horizontal crop marks by duplicating them exactly 2" below the first and subsequent sets.

It can be challenging to get an effective business card template set up, but don't despair - it's worth the effort!

Check back with us next month as we investigate the steps to setting up templates for cards that have "bleeds," spot color cards and full color cards.