Help me help my printer print my cards.
April 23, 2010 8:18 PM   Subscribe

What should I know about preparing personal business cards for print, using only open source software?

I've designed a simple business card. The design has a dark grey background with white and turquoise text, and a solid turquoise shape/logo. I'll probably use a no-frills online printing service like Vistaprint, but would consider a local printer. My budget isn't very big.

I know from my days as a photographic printer that laypeople often get crappy prints because they bork their own image files before the printer even touches them. Unfortunately, while I know plenty about photographic imaging, I know zilch about how not to bork files in the world of CMYK.

I have Gimp and Paint.NET, and I don't mind downloading other free or open source imaging software for Windows. I don't have access to Photoshop or Illustrator.

Please explain this to me as though I am a small child: How do I set up my image file to ensure my printed cards are a) free of artefacts and other nasties, and b) reasonably similar to what I see on my screen?
posted by embrangled to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you are sending these to Vistaprint, odds are they're running it on one of an enormous 4C digital presses. If that's the case, then to make sure there are no artifacts and that it prints nicely, make sure any raster images you have are high-resolution. Text should be vector, not done in Photoshop. To make sure it's similar to what you see on your screen, your screen should be properly calibrated. However, even that is not enough - professionals use spot colors, swatch books, and press checks to ensure proper color matching. With a service like Vistaprint, you get what you pay for. It sounds like the entire card can/should be done in a vector format.

Based on what you're describing, I would recommend instead going to a local quick printer or commercial printer, and having your cards run on a genuine offset press or (best way) letterpress on a nice matte stock instead of the grody ULTRAGLOSS UV COAT stock that a lot of the online printers use. Megasupergloss is for shitty fly-by-night companies that promote dance parties. The best part about going to a local printer is that it doesn't cost much more and they really know their stuff.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:28 PM on April 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I should probably tack on an extra question: is there such a thing as free or open source vector imaging software suitable for preparing CMYK images for print?
posted by embrangled at 8:38 PM on April 23, 2010

I am not aware of an open-source vector imaging program. The thing is, though, if you've already got the logo in vector format (or high-res raster format), it's probably going to be worth your while to just have a local printshop typeset the card for you. If you go in with a mockup (even done in Word), a good local printshop can set it for you and run a proof, all while working with you to make sure the colors are right. (Are you trying to match a particular turquoise? Because that could be an issue, if you need a specific Pantone color.)

Agree with Optimus Chyme that you really should not use Vistaprint. Since you want a dark background with light text, you're going to get the best results from a real offset printer. Call around and get some quotes; a good printer will be willing to work with you to meet your budget.
posted by devinemissk at 8:46 PM on April 23, 2010

Inkscape doesn't do CMYK but will output clean vectors. The best you could do is outline all fonts, send an EPS, and callout PMS color equivalents. If you can find PMS matches, call out the RGB match and ask them to match spot or cmyk equivalent and send you a proof.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:49 PM on April 23, 2010

For inexpensive printing, color matching is very difficult. I'd recommend sticking with black and white, with maybe a color as long as the shade isn't important for readability (i.e., you don't have this color for text, or black text on top of this color). Bonus: black and white can look very classy if it's done well. Look for exquisite royalty-free spot art or fleurons.
posted by amtho at 9:10 PM on April 23, 2010

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