As with any task, to get a job done well, we need the right tools and a certain level of skill to go with them. Printing cost is the same whether you supply a good quality file or a poorly made one, but the end product can be quite different.
Word processors are not design tools.
Microsoft Word or other word processors are not designed to produce brochures or business cards. These, and Microsoft Publisher, often do not reproduce graphics and colours correctly when output to the high-end equipment we (or most other commercial printers) use.
Photo editing programs such as Photoshop and Photopaint are tools for manipulating photos (bitmap images). Their ability to handle text have unfortunately given a lot of people the impression that they can create business cards with these programs. Have you heard of Gimp? You must give it a try. An amazingly good software and it's free.
Text, when converted to bitmap, lose sharpness. This is especially crucial in business cards as we need a high degree of sharpness for the small text generally used. You need a design program that retains text as text or as outline (vectors).
Suitable programs include CorelDraw, Serif PagePlus, Xara Photo & Graphic Designer, InDesign and Illustrator. The first three are great programs that we highly recommend – especially PagePlus – not merely because they are very reasonably priced but because they are extremely good and very user friendly. You can download PagePlus for AUD$99.99, Xara for US$89 or purchase complete boxed Coreldraw on eBay for around US$300.
We have all of these programs but use Coreldraw almost exclusively, Xara for special effects and PagePlus for book and magazine layout. WIth Coreldraw, you get extreme accuracy with placement, alignments and sizing of objects. Bleeds and crop marks are produced with no-guesswork, completely hassle-free and error-free – all very important issues with printing. You can easily convert all text to curves and send us your original files for fixing if necessary. Furthermore, it produces pdf files at lightning speed without the need of a pdf creating program. The same goes for PagePlus. You get high productivity with these products.
Francis' personal favourites?
PagePlus, Xara Designer Pro (the full version from Xara), and Gimp.
Read more in his blog.
Bleed is the margin that extends outside of the edge of the page. This allows the printer to trim the job to the correct size without showing the white of the paper. We require 2mm bleed on every edge.
Convert text to outline
Before sending your file to the printer, unless it is in pdf format, you should convert all your text to outline (or curves) as the bureau may not have the fonts you use. Word processors cannot make this conversion.