stationery-files-formats

Whenever you take delivery of your new business card and letterhead art from your designer, there will be a variety of files and formats. Let’s decipher some of the jargon and answer some common questions.

Whenever you’ve finished working with a designer on your new logo, it’s highly likely you’ll task them with creating stationery – business cards, letterheads and the like – and while we’ve covered clients using logo files before, it’s also important to understand the final stationery files you’ll receive – especially if you plan to manage the printing of your company business cards and letterheads yourself.

The file delivery.

Your designer should (must!) send you the following files once you’ve finalized on final business card & letterhead layout:
.EPS files (outlined type) This is the file you’ll send to printers (or upload to an online print on demand platform.) It is a final print file and the type in the file generally won’t be editable.non-editable-outline-type.EPS files (live type) This is a “source file” in which the type is still “live’ or editable. This is the file you’ll use at a later date to make contact info changes and what not. There are some caveats to you editing this file yourself, which we’ll cover in a minute.editable-inline-type.AI files (live type) This is a proprietary file that requires Adobe Illustrator to open. It contains the same information as the EPS version, considered by some to be redundant, but still the favored choice of some designers, should you ever need to assign somebody to make changes to the original layouts.
.PDF files (outlined and live type) This file is universal, meaning you can open it on any platform without the need for expensive specialized software. It is also a much smaller file size that either the EPS or AI file, so easier to pass back-and-forth via email to your designers and/or your printer. In the case of business card and letterhead art, it also means you can see what the art looks like if you don’t have access to software to open either the EPS or the AI files. For (much) more information on the different file types you’ll receive, see here.

Color considerations.

Stationery files are a little different than logo files in their setup, simply due to the fact that they’re going to be printed in the “real world,” using different types of paper stock and inks. They don’t have to be as adaptable as the files you’ll need for your logo, but still need to be set up correctly. That’s particularly important when it comes to your business card and letterhead color setups. There are two main types:
1) CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black.) This is the four color process of how most full color things get printed on a press.business-card-letterhead-cmyk-printThis is the color profile that most larger print shops use (as do a majority of online print on demand platforms.)
2) Spot Colors (PANTONE color chips.) This is a color profile that instead of using a four color process to make up the colors in your business cards & letterheads, uses a separate ink for each color, those inks being matched to colors from a PANTONE Swatch Book or Color Guide.business-card-letterhead-spot-color-printA PMS (Pantone Matching System) swatch book is basically a catalogue of universal color numbers and color formulas using which any printer can match colors with absolute predictability. It used to be this was a more economical method of print, but that’s changed and can now be more expensive because your printer can’t “gang run” lots of print jobs at once on your sheet, but this is still the preferred method for clients who are sticklers for color. Keep in mind that spot color print runs generally require higher minimums – the press has to be set up exclusively for your job, whereas print on demand with CMKY setups are usually lower. Worth noting too is that many smartphone PDF readers don’t (presently) support spot colors, so when they render the PDF for preview, spot colors may preview as greyscale. It’s probably best to have your stationery in both PANTONE Spot Colors and CMYK setups for any contingency, and you should always ask your printer or print vendor which setup they prefer. Keep in mind that, depending on how your logo was originally set up, it may not be possible to print your business cards or letterheads in spot color. Yours may require four color process. Check with your designer. For a more detailed look at color spaces, see here.
Now, on to the most common questions we get asked at the shop regarding stationery design and print files:

Q: Why the different files?

A: Whenever a designer designs a business card, they invariably use a professional design application like Adobe Illustrator or InDesign. Those programs save files in several different formats – EPS (Encapsulated Postscript) and AI (Adobe Illustrator). An AI file is native to Illustrator. An EPS file is a file that contains the same data as an AI file, but can be imported into various applications – page imposition software at your printer for example. It is considered a “universal” file where AI files are considered “proprietary.” There may also be business card or letterhead files in which the type on the artwork – your name, contact info and phone number for example – are “outlined,” that is converted to vector graphics. Designers do this so that the file can be opened by anybody, using the correct software, and they don’t need to have the font set the original type was set in to be installed. The other version may be an editable file – where the fonts are still intact and available to be changed.

Q: Can I edit my own business card or letterhead files myself?

A: This isn’t a terribly easy question to answer. In the broadest terms yes, you can edit your business card or letterhead files as long as the following are true:
1) You have a vector based version of your business card (and not a pixel-based bitmap versionJPG, BMP or PNG are common bitmap file types),
2) the letterhead or business card art contains type that hasn’t been outlined into vector (which treats the words like graphics, as opposed to live type, and you can no longer type into the words by highlighting what you want to change),
3) you have access to a suitable editing application (InDesign or Adobe Illustrator for example) and have at least a basic understanding of how it works and
4) you have the font that matches the font used in the original business card or letterhead installed in your system. Even then, if you’re working with a different version or platform – Apple vs. Windows for example – the text may “flow” differently, change spacing or line breaks, when you first open the file. It is always important to compare with the original PDF file to see how the card is supposed to look.
If your letterhead or business card design is built in a office software package like Microsoft Word, uses images of your logo and/or background then yes you can easily edit things. If that’s the case, you probably didn’t hire a professional designer to create your stationery art in the first place and most of the information here doesn’t apply.

Q: Can’t you just send me the fonts used in my business card and letterhead?

A: No. Fonts are actually tiny software applications that are protected by copyright (the font typeface, when outlined, isn’t.) There are certain fonts that can be found on free font websites, but quality can be an issue, particularly when it comes to details in glyphs (letters.) Also, some free websites also allow you to download licensed fonts illegally which is never a good idea. See here for more on typography and logos.

Q: What files do I send to my printer?

A: There is no easy answer to this as many printers vary in the way they set things up. Most online printers (Vistaprint for example) can use PDF or EPS files. Some office shops (Staples for instance) don’t use vector-based artwork at all, but instead will ask for a JPG version of your card. You’ll also need to supply them an image file of your business card or letterhead at the correct resolution. This isn’t the best solution for quality results, but it is why these services cost less than an offset printer. Some office stores will need you (or your designer) to “turn off” crop marks as these are factored into the overall image when imported into their page imposition software for final assembly.
Multiple card setup: If you’re having multiple cards printed, here’s another thing to keep in mind: does your printer require an imposition set up for them (where all your various cards are lined up on one sheet with crop marks intact) or do they require separate files for each individual card? Many printers are now employing their own imposition software that imports cards individually using the printer’s specs before arranging them on a sheet in a way that’s maximized for their resources. Bottom line – it’s always wise to determine how/where you’re getting your business cards and/or letterheads printed before going to final art with your designer. Your cards and letterheads may look pretty, but if they’re not set up correctly, it’s a headache, and setting up files for different vendors after the fact takes time. That equates into production charges.

Q: Can I print my letterhead or business card files on my personal printer?

A: Yes, you probably should be able to, using the PDF version supplied by your designer (EPS and AI require additional software to open.) There are several things to keep in mind here. Many designers design letterheads with bleeds – color fields and graphic elements hang off the edges of the paper – and this can cause some issues. A majority of desktop printers require a gutter around the edges of the entire page. Anywhere from 1/4″ to 1/2″ is typical. Your printer cannot print in this area, so it will do one of two things – either truncate the design, simply cropping off the art that sits in this gutter or reduce the overall art to fit everything inside the gutter print-free zone. A better alternative is for your designer to set up a desktop printer version of your letterhead – art where everything has been scaled back inside a typical gutter area. The fancy bleed artwork can be sent to your printer when you’re ready.

Q: When I print my business card or letterhead on a desktop printer, it has little lines at the corners?

A: This is fine. Those little lines are referred to as “crop marks” and indicate to a commercial printer where they need to cut the cards (or where to center the artwork.)business-card-crop-marksThey are outside the “trim” area of your card – the actual business card size when cut back (this can also apply to letterhead design) – but your desktop printer doesn’t make that distinction. Some printers may reduce the image size of your letterhead or business card to fit it inside a “live art” area, so you’ll probably need a version with these crop marks turned off anyway.

Q: Can I use my letterhead art in Microsoft Word?

A: Technically, yes you can – as long as your version of the software can insert PDFs or EPS files. This can be a hit and miss proposition as Word can change these files into bitmap image files and in doing so, colors can shift dramatically. A better way to do this is to get your designer to create a BMP version of your letterhead art (this is a Windows file format that works especially well in the Word environment,) place that as a background to your entire document and type on top of that. Remember, when importing bitmap images into Microsoft Word, ALWAYS ensure that the image is no larger than “same size” or 100% of the original size. If going this route, you may want your designer to “strip out” any type too – the names and contact info – leaving only the art, logo and graphic accents. That way, you can retype your contact information, using Word and whatever fonts it has available, and you won’t have to worry about font resolution. Keep in mind this is generally for printing on desktop printers and not a way to set up files for commercial print.