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Creating a stylish business card can be an easy task, especially with Adobe InDesign. In a few simple steps learn how to set up your artboard, build your grid, import brand assets, customise your design, and finally export a print-ready PDF.
Out of all the Adobe products I find InDesign to be the most intuitive tool to work with. You’ll hear many designers say they use either Photoshop or Illustrator to design business cards. They’re not wrong in their choices but if you follow my process you’ll see why InDesign is the better/quicker option.
The card we’ll be designing is for a fictional brand. The Volax business card is a template available in my Etsy store.
To follow along with this tutorial you may want to download my Volax logo.
Setting up the artboard
Open InDesign and create a new document. When the new document window appears select Print at the top, this will give us a CMYK workflow when we create the file. In the Preset Details options pane on the right enter the settings below.
For this exercise, we will be designing a standard UK sized business card. I always like to change the unit of measurement to points so change the Unit drop-down to points. In the Width and Height boxes enter 85mm x 55mm (including the mm) respectively. Even if we’ve selected a unit of measurement that isn’t millimeters in the Unit drop-down, by adding mm in the dimension box it sizes accordingly.
Next, enter 2 pages as we want a front and reverse side for maximum branding exposure. Don’t worry about the margins for now, we’ll create those on the master page when the document is created. We do however need a 3mm bleed on all sides of the artwork so add 3mm (incl. mm) to the Bleed setting boxes.
We use bleeds when ink prints beyond the trim of the page. For example, if we didn’t extend a background colour past the trim line when the card is cut we may get a thin white line around the edges. This would be the paper stock exposed without ink.
We don’t need a Slug so ignore. Hit Create.
Now that our artboard has appeared the first thing we should do is save the artwork file. Hit Save and name and store the file accordingly. I use naming conventions such as Volax_Business_Card_Euro_ME_rev1. The first 3 words are self-explanatory, the 4th word is the card size, next is the designer’s initials and lastly, we have revision numbers. It’s good practice to follow a naming convention to avoid confusion when working with various iterations.
Adding margins for safety
Margins are now needed so we can keep all content inside a safety area. This ensures that all important information is at least 5mm away from the trim line so we don’t run the risk of it being sliced off with the bleed. Click on the middle of your artboard, press W to switch to Preview Mode.
In Preview Mode, we see a feint red line around the artboard. This is our 3mm bleed.
In the Workspace bar on the far right of your screen, click Pages and then double click the A-Master page.
Your Workspace will look different to mine but if you click Window > Workspace > [Typography] in the top toolbar you’ll have all of the tools you need for this tutorial.
Now we’re on our master page in the top toolbar click Layout > Margins and Columns. In the Top and Bottom margins enter 15.452 pt and in the Left and Right margins enter 14.173 pt.
Before we set up our baseline grid and guides we need to think about layer hierarchy. Below you will see the layer order that works well for this template. Starting from the bottom up click Create new layer in the Layers panel and copy the layer structure in the image.
For a full explanation of how I use layers check out my top 8 tips for setting up InDesign files post.
Working with a baseline grid
Now that we have our margins and layers set up let’s add a baseline grid. Baselines facilitate harmony throughout compositions by helping snap text to grid lines. Suited more for publications, baselines keep multiple column text aligned to the same grid line. Visually from one column to the next, line by line text is snapped to a single line.
Even though we can get away without a baseline grid for a business card template I still like to use them to compliment document guides. By doing so we can instantly make layouts look more professional because they provide a visual reference for precise spacing.
In Preview Mode (press W), head to the top toolbar and click View > Grids & Guides > Show Baseline Grid. Once clicked we see many horizontal lines appear. This is our baseline grid but it needs slightly more work before we can use it.
Staying in Preview Mode click Preferences > Grids. In the Grids dialog box, we’ll need to start the baseline at 0 pt and change the Relative To field to Top Margin. In this template, we will set the Increment Every to 2.5 pt. Be sure to deselect Grids in Back because you will want them to be visible and not hidden by overlaid graphical elements.
This is now our baseline and if you don’t see it after you’ve click OK you’ll need to head back to Preferences > Grids and type 5% into View Threshold.
Using guides for better layouts
Non-printing guides help keep layouts neatly aligned and positioned on a page. Guides are visual spacing reference to help you better place objects, text and images on a page. Personally, I never start a project without setting up guides. It’s fair to say I’m a neat freak.
Whilst still on the A-Master page in Preview Mode select your Grid layer. Once selected click Layout > Create Guides in the top toolbar. Inside the dialog box insert the inputs as per image below. Be sure to select Fit Guides to > Margins. Because the gutters are a multiple of the 2.5 pt baseline grid it means we can align the guides to the baseline. Alignment is dependent upon margin settings. In this example, it works perfectly.
Now our guides are in place we need to lock the Grid layer.
Designing the business card
The moment you’ve been waiting for! Sorry it’s taken so long to get to this step in the process but believe me, you’ll be better prepared for a painless workflow after following the previous steps.
Before we start designing the card I would suggest reading my top 8 tips for setting up InDesign files post. These tips will help you get the most from InDesign and put you on the right path for starting this project.
First things first, let’s add the colour swatches we’ll be working with. I’ve kept it simple so we’ll only be using 3 colours – black, yellow and white.
In our Workspace panel on the far right click Swatches. Make sure Fill is selected. To do this look for the overlapping squares in the top left of the Swatches panel.
Now that Fill is selected right click over the swatches and select New Colour Swatch. In the pop-up add 73 Cyan, 68 Magenta, 44 Yellow and 43 Black. Click Add. Next, add 0 Cyan, 30 Magenta, 57 Yellow and 0 Black.
Click OK to add the swatch and exit.
We are now ready to add a splash of colour to our template when required.
This is a simple step, we simply need to add a background colour shape to the template so the card prints black instead of white. Select Pages in the Workspace pane on the right and double click A-Master.
Now that we’re on the master page select the Master Items layer and press M for the Rectangle Tool. Draw a rectangle from the top left of the artboard, extending to the red bleed line to the bottom right bleed line.
When in place make sure the he rectangle selected and click the black swatch to fill with colour. Now that the rectangle is black lock the Master Items layer as we won’t be placing anything else on it.
Because we’ve placed the background colour on the master page if we go back to page 1 and 2 in the Pages panel we see the black background on both sides of the card. This happens due to the fact the front and reserve sides are based on the A-Master page.
Adding graphic elements
On page 1 select the Pictures layer and draw a rectangle using the Rectangle Frame Tool (press F) in the same place and size as the image below. Pay close attention to where the frame fits within the guides and where it sits on the baseline.
With the rectangle in place press CMD + D, find the logo on your drive and select to place in frame. When the logo is in place right click and select Fitting > Fit Content to Frame.
Before we move on to page 2 copy the logo on page 1. When on page 2 paste the logo on the same Pictures layer. With the logo selected head to the top left where you see the positional and size data and tap in the values in the image below. Make sure you reference point is the centre square in the toolbar.
When changing the size of the logo make sure the chain icon is highlighted so we can constrain the frame’s proportions. Now right click the logo frame and select Fitting > Fit Content to Frame.
Staying on the Pictures layer let’s add some social icons below the logo. To create these vector graphics, we need to download and install a font called Font Awesome. The free version has lots of glyph icons to choose from, including all the major social platforms.
To create these icons, we need to use the Type Tool so press T to activate. Draw a text frame anywhere on the layout and jump to the top toolbar and click Type > Glyphs and select FontAwesome in the font field at the bottom. Look for the Twitter icon first and when you find it double click to insert it into the text frame.
Now the icon is in the text frame keep it selected and click Type > Create Outlines. This converts the font into a scalable vector, ideal for using as icons. Do the same for the next 3 icons.
Make each icon the height of 3 baselines (7.5 pt) and position 2 baselines below the logo. Place the Twitter icon against the left gutter and the LinkedIn icon against the right gutter, be sure to keep the other 2 icons in the middle of each.
Now select all 4 together and click Window > Object & Layout > Align. The Alignment panel will appear. In the panel click Align To > Align to Selection and then under the Distribute Spacing option click Distribute horizontal space. Doing this add equal space between icons within an allocated space.
Page 2 is now complete so feel free to lock the Pictures layer.
Creating text paragraph styles
Head back to page 1 to add our contact details to the card. On page 1 select the Text layer and open the Paragraph Styles panel in the Workspace on the far right.
If you followed my top 8 tips for setting up Indesign files you’ll be aware of paragraph and character styles. Also, you’ll have your basic text settings in place.
I’ve kept the card simple so we only need to display your name, position and contact details. This means we only need 3 paragraph styles so it’s not overly complicated. Let’s start with your name.
Before we add the contact details text we’ll create the text styles.
Name paragraph style
Once installed in the Paragraph Styles panel click the top right 4 lines icon and select New Paragraph Style. Call the style Name and base it on [Basic Paragraph].
Follow the steps in the next 4 images to complete the paragraph style.
Position paragraph style
Create New Paragraph Style and call it Position and base it on [Basic Paragraph]. Follow the steps in the next 4 images to complete the paragraph style.
Contact details paragraph style
Create New Paragraph Style and call it Contact Details and base it on [Basic Paragraph]. Follow the steps in the next 5 images to complete the paragraph style.
The image below contains a cool grep trick to automatically assign a colour to a domain name in our text. First we need to create a Character Style and set its colour to yellow.
To do this we need to follow 2 steps:
- Set up a New Grep Style and type (?i)(http|ftp|www)\S+[\l\u|\d] into the To Text field.
- In the Apply Style field select New Character Style to enter the Character Style edit options. When there select Character Colour and choose the yellow swatch. Call it Domain Colour and click OK.
Now you have 3 paragraph styles set up and ready to go. If you open the Name and Position paragraph settings we can add a Next Style to each. It’ll become clear why we have done this when we add our contact details text.
In the Next Style field choose the Position style and click OK.
In the Next Style field choose the Contact Details style and click OK.
Add contact details text
The last step of the design process is to add our name, contact details and yellow rule motif.
Select the Text layer and press T to add a text frame to the bottom half of the layout. Go ahead and enter your contact details similar to the example, i.e. name, position and contact details over 4 lines.
When you have entered your contact details open up your Paragraph Styles panel highlight all text and right click the Name style and select Apply “Name” then Next Style.
Because text lines have paragraph breaks each new line is automatically assigned its correct paragraph style due to the Next Style setting in the previous step. You’ll also notice when typing your domain name it will turn yellow as you write.
On the Text layer add a yellow rule from left margin to right margin. You can create a line by selecting it on the left vertical toolbar. Place a thin yellow rectangle on the left side of the yellow rule similar to the next image. Pay attention to its positioning and where it sits on the baseline and guides.
The finished article
Now the rule is in place that completes the business card’s design. The final result is a sleek and impactful design that can help improve the direct marketing efforts of any professional.
How to export a print-ready PDF
If missed my How to export print-ready PDF files from InDesign post check it out to learn more about creating PDF print profiles. It’s a comprehensive guide with a step by step print PDF profile builder tutorial.
For a quicker and easier way to export to a print-ready PDF follow these steps:
- In the top toolbar select File > Adobe PDF Presets > [High Quality Print]. Save your PDF file.
- When the profile dialog box appears click Marks and Bleeds and tick the Crop Marks box. This add markers for your trim line.
- Click Export.
That’s it, you now have a print-ready PDF file to send to your local or online printer.