Art & Data Design Guide

Printing and creating plastic cards properly can be a challenge. But with some preparation, especially early on in the project, we can make it easy for you.

Artwork Specifications

Incorrectly prepared artwork can create some of the biggest delays to production. Wrong sizes, incorrect tolerances, lack of allowance for data driven elements; all these impact production time lines as they need to be corrected before production can continue.

The further back that these errors are created, the harder they are to rectify. Getting the artwork correct from the beginning is one of the keys to a successful production run.

Basic Requirements

The basic requirements for artwork are pretty much the same regardless of our product. We require a minimum bleed of 3mm for any part of the artwork that extends to and beyond the edge of the item, including the edges of holes or slots. Any image or text that does not extend beyond the edge of the item must be no closer to the edge than 3mm to allow for movement during cutting. Any raster images must be a minimum of 300dpi and ideally, artwork should be CMYK as that is how we print. Any spot or RGB colours will – unless previously arranged – be converted to CMYK with a resulting loss of expected colour fidelity.

For more information regarding the above requirements, see the “Old Traps for New Players” chapter.

File Formats

We accept artwork in the following formats:

All fonts must be supplied with the artwork or all fonts must be converted to curves. If the card has variable data as a component, then the font for the variable data must be supplied.

Press ready PDF’s may be accepted, but they are rarely press ready and will often require adjustment, especially if data is involved. As this can be a lengthy process and may result in the resulting print being incorrect, we strongly suggest that the original artwork files are supplied.

We do not accept artwork produced in word processing packages, spreadsheets, presentation software (such as PowerPoint), or Microsoft Publisher as finished artwork.

Quick Note About Quark

For those of you that have been at this for a while, you’ll have memories of Quark. You’ll probably also notice that it’s not in our list of accepted file formats. To be honest, we haven’t seen a Quark file out in the wild for about a decade. We get more Publisher files than Quark files and we’re lucky if we see one of them a year.

As a result, we don’t support Quark files at all. We don’t even know any other printers that still have a usable copy of Quark to open the files for us. If you’re using Quark, please export out as one of the supported formats above.

Supplying Artwork

We accept artwork by email, DropBox, WeTransfer, CD, memory stick, and portable hard drive. If you’re sending by email, compress everything into a single archive before you send it through, and if it’s more than about 5MB, DropBox or WeTransfer are excellent choices.

Artwork Resolution

All images and photos must be supplied at a minimum of 300dpi at the size they are to be printed to ensure a good, sharp, printed image. Images supplied at a resolution lower than this will appear to be blurry or pixelated. Images taken from web pages are usually at 72dpi and will produce a very pixelated image.

Also note that taking a 72dpi image and resizing it to 300dpi will blur the image and not improve the situation. The better the resolution you start with, the better the print.

Font Size

Text at point sizes below 5pt (which is this big (or this tiny, for that matter), by the way) becomes readable only with a magnifying glass once printed. We can print at font sizes below this for fine print text, but recommend against it on a usability basis.

Very small text (2pt and below (this is 2pt (this is 1pt))) requires special consideration during the creation of artwork. If microprinting is required, please contact us as early in the project stage as possible.

Allowance for VDP

If you’re adding variable data to the job as well, make sure you go through the technical documentation for data. By factoring data into the artwork from the beginning, many problems and issues can be avoided right from the start. 

We have a lot of experience with data, and as such, have ways of using data to streamline the artwork process.

Room must be allowed for data in the artwork. This varies based on the data required and what the data is required to represent. Areas for variable text must take into account the longest piece of variable text. It’s no good designing an area for the name “John Smith” when you’ve got an “Anastasia Papadopolus-Smythe” in there. Not only that, different characters require different amounts of space. A “W” takes up a lot more room than an “I” and as a result, just basing the amount of space required on a simple character count isn’t enough.

You also need to leave allowances for blank white space around barcodes, as well as allowing room for the barcode itself. Most barcodes need at least 5mm “quiet zone” either side of the barcode for the scanner to be able to read it correctly. Many systems set out requirements for barcode placement and sizing. If possible, consult this when designing and forward us a copy so that we can create your barcode to specification.

Please contact us as early as possible in the project to discuss allowances for data and see general recommendations in the data requirements for specific items, such as barcodes or mag stripes.

Holes and Slots

We can add holes and slots to any card type for an extra cost. The same rules regarding bleed and artwork near the edge apply as for the product they’re going on. Slots are 14mm x 3mm and the edge of the slot is 5mm from the edge of the card. Holes are 6mm in diameter and the edge of the hole is 4mm from the edge of the card.

Also take a look in the “Old Traps for New Players” chapter for a few things to watch for with holes and slots.

White Ink

Along with the standard CMYK process colours, we also have white ink loaded into our press. This enables us to put down white ink to cover either metallic base stock or to increase the opacity of artwork on clear stocks.

Preparing artwork for using the white ink is very similar to producing art to take advantage of spot varnishes. We recommend that this step be done in Illustrator in a separate layer to the rest of the artwork.

First, create a new spot colour called White. This is case-sensitive, so make sure that you’ve got all the upper and lower case letters correct. This colour can be anything you want as long as it is a spot colour and not a process colour. We tend to make it a 10% magenta so that’s still very light like white, but still visible.

Next, create a new layer above all the other artwork. Call it anything you like, but something like White Layer is good. In this layer you need to do your artwork for the white ink that will end up behind the artwork. Most of the time it just involves copying the existing artwork into this layer and setting the colour to White. It’s often easier to just copy the existing artwork layer, get rid of any elements in the new layer that you don’t want white behind, and set the rest to White. Don’t forget to also set strokes in this layer to White as well.

Now set all the elements in the White Layer to overprint both fill and stroke. You should now see lots of the White layer and not much of anything else, depending on what your artwork dictates. Save the file as is.

While it might seem a bit strange to leave that white layer on top, blocking everything else, when it gets to the press, we rearrange the order the ink goes down to make sure the white goes behind the artwork, blocking out the stock underneath or giving some white behind the ink on clear stock to reduce the transparency of the print.

We can also use the white ink for VDP data. Contact us to have a chat about setting this up for you.