Business Card Collection 6.0: More than details — engraving, foil & labels

[Nancy Wu] Your client says plain 2D printing won’t cut it. He wants something special — something tactile, out of the ordinary — and money is no object. Then you wake up from your dream and come back to reality. Thankfully, there are print techniques for that special quality and irresistible (to the touch) detail that digital may never emulate. There is the affordable option of foil stamping, and the more expensive — yet distinctive — option of engraving. Or if money is an object, and you like to work with your hands, how about adding a stamp or a label to a business card to give a sense of handicraft or a functional purpose?

Siren was my first exposure to what a small design studio looked like 20 years ago. Two talented guys, David Cheng and Jim Yue, were graduates of the same college where I studied graphic design and illustration; I met David at the design firm where I worked the summer before my final year. They were known to be reliably fast at getting things done, with David a talented, speedy comp illustrator and Jim a thoughtful art director. At one point, however, they fell behind in their assignments and got grilled by their instructor, who demanded to know what was so important to hold them up. Their response: “a campaign for McDonald’s.” (A simple reminder that the quick bird gets the worm!) This business card design features a logomark displaying the brisk visual style they were known for, with metallic silver-blue ink and metallic black foil stamping for a bit of “punch” (pardon the pun).

Pinter Creative Studio provides high quality postproduction retouching services to photographers, ad agencies, design firms and corporate clients. It’s run by a master technician of light and shadow, Steve Pinter, my friend and a former colleague. When he asked me to design his identity, I was more than happy to oblige, first developing a logomark that was a distilled version of how I see him: quietly observant, curious and with a firm eye for detail … plus, he’s almost always armed with his moustache and a black skullcap. When we discussed possible print techniques for his card design, he definitely wanted something professional and of premium quality/weight that would cause people to stop and take notice, but without breaking his budget. The solution was matte foil stamping the black area of his logomark, giving a slightly debossed effect with the jet black stamping. Although it may not print as fine as engraving, this technique does not affect the paper surface, allowing printing on the back side to remain smooth and clean.

Henderson Tyner Art was a prolific design studio for seven years in North Carolina. This card was originally collected from a paper mill promotional piece. I kept it as a prime example of a design where the process of engraving allowed white type to be used to best effect. When you want to achieve this look with conventional printing, you run a flood of metallic silver — at the risk of fine type falling apart from ink bleeding in on all sides of the letterforms. Engraving allows artwork to sit as raised ink on top of the paper, providing crisp details to typographic elements, large or small.

Promised Land Holdings is a niche real estate holding company whose sole property is located in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The logo and identity are inspired by both historic letterhead designs — with a strong emphasis on craft, quality materials and simplicity — and the neighborhood’s reputation, referenced in the barbed-wire motif. Metallic silver was engraved on Crane’s Lettra fluorescent white 100% cotton 110# cover. Every detail was lovingly art directed to perfection by St. Bernadine Mission Communications, including the beautiful typography. As I noted earlier, one possible consequence of engraved printing is what happens to the back side of cards. This process often affects the back of thick cover weight papers, so take that into consideration when developing designs that incorporate engraving.

Left Bank is an authentic Parisian Left Bank-style restaurant with a trio of locations in California. Designed in 1994 by Ion Design in Vancouver, this card reflects the quality of their seasonal brasserie menu. Art directed by Dawn Newton, this card uses dark red engraving and opaque white ink on a stippled brown linen stock, with Copperplate Gothic as the core typeface. As a budding Foodist, I was always impressed with the art direction of all the materials for this restaurant, as well the tasteful use of the often-mocked linen-textured paper. Laugh all you want, but I think a plain surface would be too bland, and a laid finish would be over the top. The linen surface in the softly textured sheet adds a sense of richness and warmth to this identity.

As mentioned in a previous Felt & Wire article, I solicited cards from designers after attending an ADAC design conference in Sacramento, Calif. Nikylla Celine’s card stood out in the crush of colorful cards with its untrendy design, unique logomark and fine details. At that time, engraving was something so new to me that I struggled to figure out how it was produced. I was pleased to receive this beautiful card with matching stationery, all so exquisite and simple that it still stands the test of time.

I first heard of Dickson’s through some of their super cool print projects (the highly coveted Ephemera Philatelica for stamp collectors), a 1987 logomark design by Joe Duffy and Sharon Werner at Duffy Design, and through a visit from former rep and current Felt & Wire contributor Alyson Kuhn. This business card is one of two versions I own, but the engraving on this one is better executed. The type in the logomark is amazingly fine, yet still very readable. Looking at the heavily textured paper stock reminds me quickly how design trends have come and gone. Everything is now about recycled, blue-white sheets or clean design.

I picked up this card on a visit to one of my favorite neighborhoods in Seattle: the University District. The main shopping strip where this shoe store was located is a block parallel to the campus and has a kind of grungy, hippie quality about it that I like, making me wish I was back in university. Writing this article, I realized that this card really belonged in a previous Felt & Wire post about integrating rubber stamps into a card design, but this one is executed in a less haphazard way, and the stamping is more about adding a handmade quality. The dotted line of the box and the corresponding type below are the only lithographed elements, allowing the store to switch out shoe graphics at will. The use of a two-tone inkpad with a ’70s-style shoe lends a playfulness that works well with the equally dated typeface.

Not to be confused with the super-awesome design magazine from Calgary, Uppercase Books was a Chicago bookstore I stumbled upon in my design snoopings. I was happy to acquire this card (presumably created by Pivot Design) for many reasons. I loved the blind emboss/printed white label on the crème stock. I loved that by carefully cutting the label with an X-acto blade, it allowed me to open up the folded card and reveal the beautifully typeset contact information inside. Adding a custom label to a card design is sometimes done for economy or for function, but more often for tactile, visual effect. When the technique combines all three purposes, the magic really happens.

This card was designed around 2000 by Matthew Clark (now a partner at Subplot Design) for Vancouver portrait photographer Waldy Martens. Because Martens was once a shooter for Playboy, the design concept playfully touched on the X-rated nature of some of his subjects, as well as the W-M initials in his name. The logomark sticker on the front of the card was employed in such a way that accurate positioning was not crucial. The sense of immediacy is evident.

Adam Blasberg is a Vancouver-based photographer, also a specialist in great portrait shots, who I had the pleasure of shooting with recently. His card design (by Free Agency Creative) has a tactile quality and richness that isn’t merely a reflection of his high standards and professionalism. The details look and feel so delicate that you want to keep this card in a protective sleeve (and I do!). The thick, deep-brown matte paper (not printed color; it’s brown through the core) carries a gloss clear foil on one side for his signature; the other side has his contact information in the sharpest opaque white foil printing (by Hawton Ink) I have ever seen. The bright, glossy-red labels not only pop out visually from the dark brown, they also work in tandem with a larger card and folder system used for promotional materials. Again, form and function come together to beautifully designed effect.

Here is another card that could have been in my letterpress business card article from a while back — but it also incorporates a wraparound label that makes it worthy to display as the final card in this series. Old Faithful Shop is one of the coolest little shops on the edge of Vancouver’s Gastown district, carrying an eclectic array of quality goods for simple, everyday living. Unique publications, home furnishings, giftware … all are products that have the distinction of being “well made, classic in design and whenever possible, handcrafted by a human being.” This gorgeous card, designed by Ptarmak of Austin, Tex., has all of those qualities rolled into a 2 x 3.5-in. piece of letterpress-printed art. When I met with shopkeeper Savannah Olsen, she expressed how she and her partner searched long and hard for the right design firm to create the identity and handle the printing. Thankfully, they made the right decisions, as I know you’ll agree.

Once again, this review of business card designs — my sixth — demonstrates there is more than one solution to a creative problem. Some are, of course, better than others. But when cost, time or ability are vital factors, you learn to make do … and stay creative in your design solutions. If you would like to send me your creative cards for possible inclusion (sorry, they won’t be returned, and yes, they must be real printed samples), please contact me.

Nancy Wu is an award-winning designer, art director and illustrator with experience in the development of logomark and brand identity systems, packaging design, custom typography and print communications. She has over 19 years of design experience with established firms, and her talents have been recognized by Communication Arts, Applied Arts, Lotus Awards, How and Identity.

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