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.
Old Traps for New Players
We often see the same mistakes and problems played out time and time again. It’s not surprising as printing on plastic is a rare thing and although you might know printing on paper backwards, paper’s not plastic. It prints different, cuts different, finishes different; it’s just plain different.
Even if you know printing on plastic with screen print or traditional offset presses, our utilisation of cutting edge digital print production methods make our workflow somewhat different to everyone else.
Because of this, we’ve collected a few things that keep cropping up, along with how they can be avoided in the first place.
Let’s be up front: what you see on screen is not what you’re going to get. As much as colour profiling our workflows has made that idea seem tangible, it’s not going to happen. What you see on screen will be close to what you’re going to get; for a given value of screen and what we print.
We print on a number of different substrates, each with it’s own idea of what’s white. And as for colour matching on a sparkle gold stock; well, black will be black and that’s about as good as we’re going to get.
Here we work under the following maxim: the correct colour is the one that comes out of the press that the job is going to run on. That’s why we offer press proofs, not chromalin proofs. We can’t hope to match a print of a thermal dye-sublimation printer, nor do we expect them to be able to match us. Same goes for screen printing and any other printing technique that differs from ours, the way the ink goes onto the stock is different and each press has it’s own characteristics.
That’s not to say that if you give us a sample that we won’t try to match it. We’ll give it a go. But we’ll also be honest and up-front about the chances of matching it.
Good ol’ CMYK – Cyan, Magenta, Yellow & Black. Essentially what the vast majority of offset printing is produced in. This is the way we print and it works by printing very small dots of the four colours of ink (CMYK) of varying sizes on the stock. Most printers print the dots too small to be easily seen, newsprint tends to use larger dots and is usually the easiest to see if you want to have a look. The four colours mix together in your brain to provide the colour you end up seeing on the page.
RGB is what you see on your computer monitor or television screen – Red, Green & Blue. Whereas CMYK is light being reflected and having parts subtracted to get the colour, RGB is the light being directly beamed to your eye from the screen from pixels of each colour, adding together to get the colour you see. Because of this, RGB can give much brighter colours than CMYK can with a much wider colour gamut (or range). This would be good if we could print in RGB, but we can’t. Because of this, designs done in RGB will colour shift and dull down when printed in CMYK. It’s best to design in CMYK from the start to avoid disappointment.
Spot Colour is neither RGB or CMYK, instead a specific ink is mixed for each colour. There’s a number of established spot colour specifications, the most popular being the Pantone® colours. The advantage is that where “blue” might mean different things to different people (dark blue, light blue, sky blue, blue the colour of Dave’s gumboot where it’s a bit darker near the sole but not as dark as the inside but only when it’s a bit dirty); Pantone® 293C means the same thing to every printer. It’s Pantone® 293C, end of story. Using a spot colour can be really good, especially if you’re doing a lot of letterheads or business cards with a corporate logo on it, but the ink needs to be mixed for each colour used. For us to do, it’s expensive, so we use the press to match the spot colour as best it can. It’s pretty good, too, but it won’t be quite the same as using a true spot colour ink because we’re attempting to match it using CMYK. A lot of the time the difference won’t be noticed, but some colours shift quite a bit. We can do custom spot colours if you really require but the cost can be significant.
One technique we have to bridge the CMYK/RGB/Spot Colour worlds is through IndiChrome.
IndiChrome is a method of printing using CMYK plus two extra colours – orange and violet – to increase the gamut range. It enables us to print RGB images with a bit more vibrancy and allows us to more accurately print a wider range of spot colours. This option is suitable especially when you have a spot colour that needs to be matched, but don’t have a print run big enough to justify mixing a dedicated spot colour.
Black & Dark Coloured Cards
Black cards and black cars share two important features. They look great when they’re brand spanking new; and they show up every single scratch and defect as soon as they’re delivered.
That’s not to say that we don’t produce black cards, we can and do. We just ask you to take into account that the “showroom shine” wears off really quickly with black cards, more so than any other colour. They will show any defects in structure and finish of the card, something that other colours mask.
If, after taking that into account, you still want black cards, we have a number of ways of dealing with the production of them. We deal with this on a case by case basis to ensure that we use the best production technique for your artwork. Again, this is a case of contacting us early so we can advise from the start to get the best results.
During production, the stocks gets fed, moved, laminated, rolled, cut and handled. Not surprisingly, this results in some marking during production. For the most part, these marks are very fine scratches and are pretty much invisible unless you hold the card just right and you put your head down low and, you get the picture, you’ve got to try to see them before you notice them.
As always, there’s an exception, and once again black and dark cards are that exception. The fine scratches catch the light and on a lighter coloured card, it’s not visible. On a dark card however, it shows up quite a bit. It’s something that you need to accept will happen and will be visible if you decide to go ahead with a dark card.
We do our best to minimise it, but we can’t eliminate it, it’s just not possible. The worst is when the cards need to have a mag stripe encoded as that is a contact process involving swiping the card across the encoding head. The vast majority of the time however, the marking from production won’t be visible on lighter coloured cards. Dark and black cards will show up production marks a lot more.
Plastic is slippery, hard, dense and difficult to work with. It shrinks and expands during printing and finishing as it gets heated and cooled during the different production processes. One of the hardest areas to work with it is in the cutting process. As much as we try to eliminate it, we still get – and will always get – movement when cutting.
This is one of the main reasons we ask that you move any important artwork 3mm away from the edges of the card – including holes or slots. If you don’t want to, well, that’s up to you, but be prepared for it to be either cut off or further away from the edge than planned.
If you do require spot on precision cutting, begin by allowing for it in your design. It requires us to over produce and then cull out any cards that do not meet specification. This increases the cost to cover the overrun. Even then, we will not guarantee a perfect cut. It’s a much better idea to design to within the limitations of the process and avoid this problem further down the track.
Holes & Slots
As well as the usual issues surrounding the movement during cutting with regards to holes and slots, there is one issue that comes up again and again: holes through heads.
The number of times we’re sent designs back to the client because the hole will go through the middle of someone’s head or there’s a slot going to go through an animal’s head is, well, a lot. And quite often the design has already been signed off by the end-client, resulting in a costly redesign and approval process. If you’re doing a card that has a hole and a picture of someone’s head, make sure that one doesn’t go through the other. Most other images can take a chunk being taken out of it, but a hole through someone’s head just doesn’t quite look right.
You’ll also want to make sure it doesn’t go through logos or important text and don’t forget to check the rear of the card as well.
88 Different Designs Quite Often Isn’t
We’ll quite often get a request for a quote for 7,000 cards split across 88 different designs – and the designers done all of them. This is especially true for event passes to be used for individual matches across a season.
This is what it usually is: 4 different membership levels (usually 4 different designs) x 22 matches in the season (different match dates/times per round) = 88 designs. Except it doesn’t. It’s 4 different designs (one per membership level) plus 1 database supplying the variable data to alter the text on the card.
Check with your designer and the person paying for it which they’d prefer – 88 individual designs (which still usually needs data in the form of a barcode and membership number attached) or 4 designs and a datafile.
Again, this is one of those times that the earlier we’re brought in to provide advice, the less money you’ll pay and more stress you’ll avoid.