[Nancy Wu] I design logomarks for a variety of clients, both big and small. Usually I start with hand-drawn sketches, and I often think of how a logo will look in black only. Even if modern technologies of the interweb (ha!), mobile and tablet apps, and digital printing provide an unlimited color range, there is something wonderful about black. It’s serious. Modern. Mysterious. Classic. Sophisticated. Bold. And beautiful.
Black is also a color that doesn’t cause grief when you try to match Pantone, process or RGB mixes. It goes great with any other color combination and stands out on the plain corporate white business card we see everywhere. Certainly, the lack of sunshine and grey wet winters of the North (I live in Vancouver, B.C.) can put a momentary damper on this designer’s point of view, but nothing makes a better statement throughout the year than designing in black. Here are a few favorites from my card collection.Ping’s Café was a small cozy Vancouver restaurant serving authentic Japanese Yoshoku-style (western-influenced) food; it eventually closed shop in 2010. The décor of the 30-seat eatery was mostly pretty handmade pieces, ultramodern and minimal. Their business cards were equally no-frills and “handmade,” right down to the slightly off-center name on the front of the card and the handwritten map and contact information on back. I found the style of map quite charming and attractive, making me grab one before my last meal there.
Ready Pour Salt is a card I saved from a old paper mill promotional piece. The card uses simple black type and diecut holes. I loved the playful arrangement of type and simple concept for what I presume to be a “fake” client and street name.
Toolbox Design is a Vancouver boutique design firm oozing with personality and charm, as the copywriting on the back of the card demonstrates. You can find more of the same on their website, which also confidently uses large amounts of clear black space to great, modern effect.
Another notable creative firm from my hometown is Metaform, led by principal designer Susan Mavor. Although the studio’s identity has gone through various graphic incarnations, above is an old card from when I first met them. Black plays a dominant role on the front of this card with two-color accents used to great effect on the front and back.
Artist Marian Bantjes needs no introduction. However, for those who have no idea who she is or what she does, she is a passionate, talented illustrator, artist, typographer and friend. She is patient with the kind of details we find painstaking or tedious. To her, it is exploration, art … and the result of inspirational thought. These cards that I received when I first connected with Marian astounded me then and still do today. I find I get lost in the intricate line work, and yet these are pieces that will hardly date stylistically. How lovely it is to design a card that looks beautiful in both positive and reverse formats!
Another oldie-but-goodie business card is for Ken Mayer Photography, designed by Vancouver firm Hangar 18 Creative. I quite like the narrow trim size balanced with the placement of focus icons and F-stop settings, which speaks the iconic language of traditional photography.
Academy is the spin-off agency of Vancouver’s Blast Radius. Both creative firms share a longtime client (Nike), as well as other big name brands (Starbucks). Academy designers and art director (and one-time Vancouver resident) Xavier Encinas joined forces to design the full identity for this busy shop. Although I only have a single business card, there are four different back colors in the series (pale shades of green, orange, yellow, blue; similar to the shades found in cheap bond photocopy paper). Like the other cards in this article, the card uses minimal effects powerfully. Black foil on top of black uncoated always looks amazing.Now we go from black ink on white paper to using black paper entirely, relying on different printing techniques to compensate for the blackness of uncoated paper. John Larigakis graduated a couple years ago from Capilano University (my alma mater) and has proven to be a young designer to watch for. After interning at some great design agencies, he is now an award-winning art director at DDB Vancouver. Here is his unique folded card that I picked up at his grad show — simple, direct, conceptual and clever. It’s printed with only silver foil on both sides on a black uncoated linen stock. I recall he also had conventional 3.5 x 2-in. cards printed. Guess which card design was more popular?
Another card from a paper mill: I like how well this card from Black Horse Studio employs the combination of white engraved type, black foil and diecut corners on a textured black stock. No expense was spared here, and the results are impressive and rich. The studio’s website carries the theme forward with more tonal use of rich blacks throughout, helping their photographic work really sing.
Free Agency Creative is a Vancouver design firm run by two hardworking, passionate guys, Don Williams and Tak Yukawa. Graduates of Emily Carr University of Art + Design, they also teach typography and branding at local design schools. They continue to demonstrate what it means to persevere as a designer, to connect with clients on a strategic level and to never neglect the craft of print design. Their business cards are designed with simplicity, yet the print execution is so impressive, I can’t help but pause to touch all the delicate details. As with Adam Blasberg’s card in my previous Felt & Wire article, the sharp opaque foil type (printed by Hawton Ink) was incredibly clean and immaculate. Fine details in fine printing can make all the difference in the final impression!
If glossy foils aren’t your bag, metallic inks are another option for a rich, tasty look with black stock. CSA Archives, a pop culture stock image company from CSA Design (led by one of my design idols, Charles Spencer Anderson) has beautiful cards, printed with solid gold ink on textured, uncoated black paper. This demonstrates that going with a non-smooth surface creates some printing challenges, and that appropriate typographic choices can compensate for these limitations. My rudimentary photography skills betray the fact that the actual cards are much more readable … but perhaps still a challenge for the visually impaired.
David Clifford is the man I currently go to for letterpress printing in Vancouver. His print shop, Black Stone Press, has lovely square business cards. Letterpressed with silver ink on black paper, you can see the unique effect of metallic silver printed on uncoated black stock. The large amount of silver ink in the solid square gives a mottled, shimmery effect on the felt/wire (or rougher) side of the sheet — definitely something to consider when designing with this kind of color-paper combination.VSA Partners in Chicago creates some amazing brand/print/web design and is known for beautiful annual reports for Harley-Davidson. This card confirms the fact that metallic silver on a thick, uncoated black sheet is probably the most readable combination, as white or yellow litho inks alone may not be opaque enough when lots of fine type is involved. When white is a necessity, screen printing or engraving can remedy that problem. In this instance, there is enough opacity in the letterpressed silver ink to be quite legible, as well as visually gorgeous. The detail in the serif type is quite fine and doesn’t suffer any mottled effects with a thick stock that has a slightly hard, uncoated surface.
Silver is always great to use in combination, even when printing with traditional lithography. The creative team at House Industries (one of the coolest type foundries in the U.S., successfully branching out with beautifully designed clothing and objects for the home) are not timid when it comes to layering colors, and here they wield their design bravado to great results. Using both black and silver inks on a smooth, uncoated black stock, they’ve allowed the transparent qualities of the inks to interact with one another, adding visual texture to the design without hurting readability throughout.
Prestige clients require prestige design … or a designer who is also the client. Hatch Design in San Francisco is the creative muscle behind JAQK Cellars, creating amazing wine bottle packaging design using the visual language of playing cards. When I purchased a set of their playing cards, I also requested a business card and was not disappointed. The thick uncoated black stock is printed using opaque silver, embossing and engraving. The print design is so delicious, I thought I was going to pass out when I saw this. I’m sure you’ll agree.
Finally, here’s a card designed by Brooklyn-based designer (and Canadian-born) Ed Nacional for Brooklyn-based musician, producer and filmmaker Terence Bernardo. I happened to stumble upon this in Instagram, as I’m fan of Ed’s work and requested a print sample. It’s lightly letterpressed on black paper using white ink. Interesting effect, as the white isn’t opaque, and yet the single hit with letterpress gives it a soft silvery quality with little black showthrough. The type and graphic elements on both sides are quite readable, as the sans serif type is large enough to hold detail, all things considered.
I understand that black might not be for everyone, but these samples demonstrate that it’s a great choice should you be willing to take up the challenge. 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 20 years of design experience with established firms, and her talents have been recognized by Communication Arts, Applied Arts, Lotus Awards, HOW and Identity.