Minimalist Letterpress Business Card - Thoughts?

Hello all.

I'm having these printed this week and have finally settled on a design I enjoy, but I'd like another set of discerning eyes on it if possible! I do freelance, but I work in a number of fields, so I didn't want a card that played up one over the other. I also tend to write small notes to the people I exchange with, so having an airy card is important for that. So it basically became a matter of font selection.

My inspiration were vintage cards from the 40's - 60's. Those 3 decades are obviously very different so I ended up narrowing my focus to a more late-50's/60's kind of look with ITC Blair and initially Futura which I swapped for Avenir.

Just curious if there are any glaring typographical problems with this design. Also, if you have any simple ideas for this kind of style I'd love to hear them.

Thanks guys.

Nick Shinn's picture

I'm afraid that looks completely uncreative, a template from the cheap business card shop, for thermography.
Or are you going for the American Psycho effect?

This is a real 1960s "minimalistic" business card:

Scalawag's picture

Eh, but that's pure Helvetica and doesn't strike me as anything special. I at least want to choose a font with some character. I suppose seeing the pure design without it actually pressed physically into some nice linen paper will not give you an accurate representation...

Do you have any suggestions? I really do not want to crowd it with information.

[edit] Yes perhaps there is a bit of American Psycho effect. But I think a card has extra potency when it's stripped down.

Scalawag's picture

Well I'll be damned, I apologize. I appreciate the inspiration, but what should I do now? Can't really delete this thread / should I bother bumping the other?

dezcom's picture

Paul Rand, in the Sixties, was more well known in the design community and its clients than any combination of Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog, Justin Beber, Madonna, and Rihanna are in today's pop music scene. If you ever knew him, you knew that this card was just perfect for him. Remember the Movie where George Burns plays God? He has a simple business card with only the plain letters GOD on a blank white card. When you are "there", you don't need to explain. When you are just another Joe in the phone book, you need more help.

Scalawag's picture

I appreciate the history lesson, that certainly reflects poorly on my education then. Didn't mean to offend. But yes, that simple poignancy is what I'm looking for.

What in the way of "more help" are you referring? I don't need to include an address, my email is on my website if needed. Beyond that I could just "zazz" up the card with dingbats and alternative text justifications but I'm not sure it's what I want to represent me.

You know in Lost how the Darma food was just like... "BEER" "CHEESE"... that's kind of what I'm after.

[edit] Just looked up his work. Oof, man I look like a fool. I have a photographic memory of logos but not so much so for names.

Chris Dean's picture

Reminds me of my grandfather’s business card c. 1930.

I’d adjust the tracking of creative professional to match the width of your name.

Copperplate Gothic would further the 1940’s reference.

While certainly not 1940’s, setting it all in FF Scala would also be just plain funny to type nerds who got the joke.

Scalawag's picture

Haha, I sincerely considered it but it felt too geeky. If someone did get it, I don't think I could confidently defend that decision.

But yes your grandfathers card is exactly what I was going for. I'm trying to think of maybe one more bit of info if not just for visual interest, but I might just be doing that because I feel guilty about how sparse it is...

blank's picture

A minimalist business card for a creative professional needs to sell minimalism. I suspect that you don't have a great grasp on minimalism if you think black+white and lots of white space is all it takes to be minimal. Right now your business card is selling a kid who doesn't know how to use his page layout software.

Your web site suggests that you're a very good photographer. Start over and design a business card to sell that. Even better, trade a graphic designer some photo work for an identity system that unifies your business card, web site, and the post cards that I suspect you send out about your photo work.

Scalawag's picture

Appreciate the input.

I'm not sure if my card will ever be used to 'sell' me, but I completely get what you're saying. What about the design shows a lack of knowledge with page layout software? I've been using the Adobe suite since I was 9 (23 now, Father is a designer). I'm not taking that as an insult, but what decisions look amateurish?

I do plan on redesigning my website (it is a stripped down Blogger template). I will be doing all the work myself even if it requires more than one (this) attempt. I have been freelancing for 3 years so I am more than capable. I really just hate cluttered cards. If someone meets me, they will remember my personality and my work, and I hope the card will just be a means of quick contact reference.

Any suggestions beyond, "Give up, have someone else do it"? I really do appreciate the criticism. As I've outlined my objectives, are there any solutions that come to mind that would perhaps be more effective?

Scalawag's picture

At any rate, this is a version where the name and title are at the same tracking width.

dezcom's picture

"Beyond that I could just "zazz" up the card with dingbats and alternative text justifications but I'm not sure it's what I want to represent me."

"ZAZZ"? is not what you are looking for. You want something meaningful. If you don't know yourself or your work well enough to come up with that, zazz can't help you--perhaps you need to look at yourself as a client.

Scalawag's picture

I was being facetious with that. :P I've just seen a lot of "vintage" inspired cards where there are a lot of accoutrements for the sake of decoration... That's what I want to avoid.

Will do though, I'll take a closer look from a new perspective.

blank's picture

What about the design shows a lack of knowledge with page layout software?

In your original image kerning appears to be disabled.

Chris Dean's picture

Actually, I'd lose the Tel all together. No need as there’s only one number. Can’t be confused with fax. And I'd go for the Euro-snob of +1 555 123 4567. No brackets or dashes, just a thin space to separate groups of numbers.

Chris Dean's picture

Another subtle touch is to decrease the . in .com by a point or two (depending on the font/size).

Scalawag's picture

Now we're talking, thanks. Those are great ideas.

Yes, I definitely need to take a better look at the kerning!

apankrat's picture

Don't take it the wrong way, but the card looks rather dull. It is minimalistic, but it is forgettable. It lacks the A-HA moment. At the very least I'd consider alternative layouts.

Without implying that these are any better, here are some options I sketched for my card some time ago:

Perhaps look at two-sided (black/white) stock, or sandwiched stock. Or do a blind press of something on a back of the card. Or die-cut corners with a very small radius (1 mm or thereabouts). Or add a quirk to the actual card content, e.g. say you are a "professional creative"... Something to stand out. But in a subtle, minimalistic way :)

Also, I would advise against going with the letterpress.

For one there's something called dot gain - an effect of finer details coming out far heavier and coarse than they are in the design. This can be accommodated of course, assuming the printer knows his stuff (Mandate Press, for example, does not).

For two, the delicate appearance, which is frequently what one wants with a minimalist card, is not exactly compatible with the letter press. If you haven't done it already, go out and physically look at the finest possible letterpress you can find. Letterpress photos found online are extremely misleading. The shots are made from that exact angle that makes the piece looks great, but from other angles it may look crude and heavy. You can probably tell that I got burnt by this. So here's my $250 (+tax +s/h +sneaky-ups-charges) advise - do look at physical samples first.

Also, have a look at (intaglio) engraving as an alternative. The printed part has a texture similar to that of thermo print (which is said to be a poor's man engraving), but it allows for much finer detail. I did a run of white on black cards few years back and they came out really impressive (here is a close-up).

Yet another option appears to be silk-screening, however I only saw a sample of a card made with it on Flickr (with a macro close-up) and it looked very precise. I asked around and that appears to be a European specialty. I couldn't find any silk-screener in Canada capable of reproducing that card.

Lastly, for the design inspiration swing by business card related groups on Flickr. There's plenty of junk there, but lots and lots of really good ones too.

dezcom's picture

Dot gain is a function of half-tone dots gaining weight due to inking and blanket pressure during printing. The same phenomenon happens with type, the smaller and lighter, the more noticeable. There are no dots but the name that is more accurate for solid type is "Press Gain" or "ink spread".

Trevor Baum's picture

For retro minimalism using Futura, look no further than Public School. Maybe using a cream color, rather than pure white, would help that look.

penn's picture

I'd advise removing the 'Tel.' prefix

Scalawag's picture

Thank you all for your excellent input, it has really helped me along.

I will have to get an updated version uploaded once I get home, but for what it's worth, I fixed the kerning, the tracking, and the placement is all meticulously measured now. After a few trial inkjet prints I think I have the text size at an optimal point taking into account a little dot gain.

I removed "Tel" as well, as it didn't really make any sense in retrospect, and have gone with the +1 201 123 4567 advice. Looks much better.

Also, Trevor, the font is Avenir... obviously a cousin of Futura but a little sexier IMO. Especially in the C, which is obviously important in this case. But I agree, I'm going with a cream paper tenatively.

I got a quote for $150 for 1000. 100% cotton 110lb./300g. How's that price?

eliason's picture

To my eye the CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL line looks like it's sticking out more on the left than the right relative to the name. Center it optically. (The repeats of C at the beginning of the lines, and the slightness of the horizontal of L at the end mean that alignment has to be done by eye.)
Many kerning problems reamain, too (e.g. /I/ much closer to /S/ than /O/ in PROFESSIONAL, /G/ much closer to /S/ than /A/ in WAGSCALA).

Trevor Baum's picture

Looks much better!

I agree with Eliason, and would also slightly decrease the leading between your name and title.

Joma's picture

Minimalism is about choosing the fewest pieces necessary and using them in the most considered possible way.

You put your name and title in the middle and the two other details in the corners. I agree that it is "templatey". You're spreading yourself out for no reason, and not creating a simple visual flow between the elements.

Try minimizing the "footprint" of your text. Group it, create a vertical axis that aligns them all. Paul Rand's card is classy because it is one font, in one weight, and he leads your eye down a single path. On that path you see things in the order he has chosen for you: name, address, telephone number. When your eye jumps to the left (because he breaks his vertical axis) it sees the company name, not something about him. See what I mean?

Minimalism is my favourite thing. When you reduce your card into its bare components, you have to be extra considerate about the fundamental properties: alignment, size, weight, contrast, etc.

Also, don't you need an email address? I think in today's market you could get away with a card that said:

...and nothing else.

penn's picture

Agree about the 'path through the text' idea. There currently is a definite lack of flow to the card.

Birdseeding's picture

There are other aspects of minimalism too that you're missing out on. Again because it is just the barest elements, you need to get those elements exactly right.

The relative weights of the name and the title, for instance, feel off for me. The colour is too-uneven-or-not-uneven-enough, and the combination of the wide version of Avenir with the spaced-out regular emphasise precisely the differences between the two, when you're trying to achieve a cohesiveness.

But my major problem is the spacing, the rhythm. Pay super-good attention to the composition, the margins, the optical look of the placements in relation to each other. The two lines in the center really jar for me because the rhythm is almost, but not quite, a whole line of small-type while space between the two - it makes it feel cramped and stilted in a way nudging the type up or down wouldn't.

Cristopher Dean's granddad's card works well (besides the kerning issue) because the composition is so straightforward, with a clear top half and a coloured bottom half; because the typefaces gel better; and because the spacing is based on a much more thought-through, rigid grid.

dezcom's picture

If you want to do minimalist, read Zen and the Art of Archery. To many people minimalism is just things that are sparse, simple, or uncluttered. That is just a vague surface. When you limit yourself to very few elements, each one and its relationship to the next is extremely and specifically important. It is much easier to send a huge unabridged dictionary. It is another to extract from it just the exact words to be a poem. I think you must first ask yourself, "Are you REALLY a minimalist" or do you just admire that kind of work? If you are attempting to indicate to a client base that this is who you are, then truth in advertising would mean you had to actually be? If you truly are, then it will just happen when you work. It is not a snap-on aesthetic.

Trevor Baum's picture

Nice find! Is that Twentieth Century and some sort of Scotch Roman?

Scalawag's picture

I do really appreciate this discussion, it's nice to be around passionate individuals.

A few points:

- I will definitely take all this into consideration before print. You guys will get a say in the final final.

- I have a heavily "guided" layout so I will take another look to make sure everything is precise. It will drive me crazy if something is a little bit off and I have to look at it 1,000 times.

- Perhaps my use of minimalist was a bit self-indulgent. My work actually isn't minimal at all, but I wanted my card to be a sort of anti-thesis to the dirtiness and grime that works it's way into some of my stuff. There is also a bit of cheekiness with regard to the "Wile E. Coyote / Patrick Bateman" type card. A theme I often work with is "low brow in a high brow way". So this is kind of my way of packaging myself in that classic, 'high brow' way, while demonstrating with my work that I'm capable of photographing someone vomiting. (For an extreme example...)

- If I change the layout more significantly than properly spacing everything, I'm not sure the card would still have that classic print shop vibe about it, and might look too, "Oh, yes, I'm a designer. Check out how right-justified all this shit is." That being said, I will definitely play around...

- Keeping in mind my early-60's / Public School sort of thing, is there a font any of you might suggest that would "gel" better with Avenir than ITC Blair?

Thanks again. I look forward to hearing any further ideas.

eliason's picture

@wile I would move the /e/ of your first name in a touch, and add some space between /o/ and /t/ in Coyote.


dezcom's picture

Early 60s Minimalist would be Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk

typerror's picture

Ahhhh... the good old days! No phone, no pool, no pets, ain't got no cigarettes :-)

Scalawag's picture

While I love Akzidenz, I'm not sure there's enough contrast between the typefaces...


Well I tried it out... thoughts?

Trevor Baum's picture

Leading (the vertical space between each line) is still too much.

penn's picture

Definitely not enough difference to justify using both. Why not try one typeface anyway?

Joma's picture

It drives me insane that the number/url aren't aligned with each other, or anything else.

Trevor Baum's picture

Yeah, I would just stick to Avenir. There's no reason to use two typefaces with so little content and such a small hierarchy of information.

penn's picture

It drives me insane that the number/url aren't aligned with each other, or anything else.

They're right-aligned to each other — though I think they might look better left-aligned underneath the name / title

dezcom's picture

"It drives me insane that the number/url aren't aligned with each other"

There are simple ways to align them in InD or AI.

Gilo's picture

You've gone too far the other way.
To my eye the CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL line looks like it's sticking out more on the RIGHT now than the right relative to the name. Center it optically. (The repeats of C at the beginning of the lines, and the slightness of the horizontal of L at the end mean that alignment has to be done by eye.) Remember its about it being visually correct not mathematically right.

peterf's picture

We're happy to work with your very fine lines and type at Slow Print Letterpress.
See for example
Of course this was on expensive Copperplate Etching paper, which takes light inking perfectly.

I'm a big fan of minimal inking on the press, and micrometer roller settings.

Unfortunately, many designers expect letterpress to have the depression of a 35 ton weight (we can do that, but we don't like to) AND the density of 6-color litho AND the texture in the stock of a wool blanket.

Assuming the designer/client understands the letterpress process, we will produce exceedingly fine impressions.

Basic equation: more texture in the stock = more ink to get solids

Therefore, if we prefer less ink (which we do) we must accept less solid coverage on textured stock.

For type on white-ish stock, this is generally not a big problem, since even low coverage will be plenty for typical caption sized type. However, on larger sizes, there will be EITHER too much ink, or less than 'perfect' coverage.

For those who understand, we will double-hit the larger solids, cutting away the small type from the form (this is photopolymer, of course) and running the sheets back through the Windmill to lay a second layer of ink in the larger areas. The Heidelberg Windmill is capable of pinpoint perfect registration. This technique was used with silver ink on black stock in this card:
Everything but the "Projekt, Inc." was cut away from the form and then the sheets were run a second time. There's a tiny bit of ink creep on the second impression in order to cover. But the fine type is... fine, no?

For those who don't understand and want them cheap and fast, there are plenty of other letterpress printers out there.



Frode Bo Helland's picture

Humm. Why not contact a professional graphic designer you admire? I know the general consensus of the web is that design is something everyone can do, but that’s a pile of BS. Becoming a good designer takes years of study and practice.

dezcom's picture


Do you double-hit all large solids? Or do you just make a separate pass with a lower ink and packing for the small type? Years ago when letterpress was more the norm, I had difficulty with large solids--mostly with reversed finer lines. Sometimes I would make a fine-line only outline impression that worked like a holding line. I would then come back with the large solids and used the fine line pass as trapping. Things are WAY easier now ;-)

dezcom's picture


Is there is a point where the true "creative professional" in you needs to come forward and resolve this simple project?

peterf's picture

Hi Chris, er, @dezcom...

I don't double-hit all large solids. Lower contrast between the ink color and substrate will of course make this unnecessary. Also, it depends enormously on the stock itself.
The smoother the stock the less it's necessary. Also if I'm running on the Miehle Cylinder, it's possible to get better coverage (although the same equation still applies) due to the moving impression rather than the instant pressure of the platen.

Regarding running two forms, it's far easier, given the perfect registration possible on the Windmill, to just run it through a second time after removing the lighter stuff from the plate (one reason I prefer plastic-backed polymer over the steel stuff!). Don't need to re-register to a second form, etc.

The 'trapping' technique is still a good one, of course, but the main thing is trying to educate people to respect their materials and to understand the 'mechanickal art' in the process. I love the look of slightly under-inked type - because I see letters as individuals (as a type designer). Really, to me it's perfect if it's slightly under-inked. When printed on dampened stock, the coverage simply can not be better! See my Rudolf Koch piece.*

But a graphic designer wants (reasonably) the whole piece to have visual power, which often means the subtle crispness of perfect inking must be slightly compromised to gain density. (on a textured stock, that is. On coated stock, it's all sharp and gorgeous and dense. But who wants a deep impression on coated stock? Yuck.)

* ("Pace" Hrant, I know we disagree on the depth of the impression, which on dampened stock is quite acceptable ;-)

Scalawag's picture


All avenir this time. I noticed though if I change the layout of the original card though it has a whole different feel. Definitely loses a lot of that vintage vibe and just becomes a 'modern' feeling card.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I'm not so sure about the ethical side of this, not that I mind offering advice ... Your spacing is a mess, and especially in that last line where there's no logical grouping of things except a slightly heavier weight on the website (which looks more like a mistake and throws off the balance). You need to consider contrast, spacing, kerning, horizontal rythm, logical grouping, optical alignment, balance etc and those diagonal lines and the type should echo each other somehow. As others have pointed out before: this is not minimalism, it's just few elements. I'd be happy to help you out with this (and so would probably the rest of us), but not for free.

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