the back of a greeting cardThis is about the art and process of designing greeting cards – every designer has his or her preferred methods – this is ours and we do it for a living.

Sometimes I work on designs on my own and sometimes with Tamara. Sometimes she comes up with the idea. Whichever way it is, we look together before we agree the final greeting card. That’s because there is always something that one of us notices that the other didn’t see.

It could be a colour or the position of some text, or maybe the wording itself. Or it might be the size or position of the main image. Whatever it is, there is always something that the eye takes a while to see.

Some people use Adobe Illustrator to lay out their card designs digitally. I use Photoshop. I keep elements on different layers and save the card like that. When I want to get a card printed, I change to CMYK and 8-Bit and save as a flattened PDF.

One of the overlooked parts of a card is the back. When designing greeting cards we put a small version of the image on the back of the card. In order to be consistent we have a transparent layer that we use in a standard layout. When the design is ready, we copy a square section of the image and reduce it to about 45% of full size. Then we move it behind the square in the transparent layer back to form an image in a window.

We design the cards with an extra three millimetres all around to allow for bleed, and you can read more here about the use of bleed in design.

When we finish the design, we mask off the rest of the screen with a big sheet of black card so that we can see the card without any distractions.

We have also developed a way prevent our eyes being fooled into thinking that there is more card than there will be in the finished product after the bleed area has been guillotined off when the printer cuts the cards to size.

We have a digital mask that we put over the top layer of the card on the screen. It’s a transparent layer three millimetres wide around the edges and coloured black. There are a few dots in white on the edge so we don’t forget the mask is there.

Actually, that is a danger, and once we sent a card off for printing that had the digital mask in place. Luckily, the guillotine cut didn’t include any of the mask, but leaving the mask in place is not something I would recommend.

The mask helps us see the card accurately. Text can look perfectly placed until the mask is in place. Then we see the true balance of the white space. It’s a big help when designing greeting cards.

Sometimes we stand on the far side of the room to look at the card from a distance. That helps us see when an element in the design is too big or too near the edge or too close to or far from another element.

We put new designs in a temporary folder (aptly named ‘Possibles’) and we look at them after a few days or weeks to see whether we still like them.

I really recommend this interval between making a card and moving it from the ‘maybe’ pile to the ‘definite’ pile.

I could rabbit on about the photographer Garry Winogrand, who used to wait years sometimes between when he took the shot and when he developed the negative and printed it. He explained that he wanted to see the photograph as a stranger would see it. And the only way to do that is to put some space and time between you and the experience of creating the total image.

Then, whether we worked on the original designs together or not, Tamara and I look at them together at this stage, making design changes, font changes, colour changes.

She has an expert eye for what colour can do to the overall look of a card. I tend to go for things that are stark, and more geometric. She introduces changes that pull designs together in a softer way.

When we have made the changes, we click back and forth between the original design and the changed version. Sometimes there are elements in the original that work better, and then we scratch our heads and park the ideas for while.

There is usually something that is the key to making the design work. Perhaps a piece of text is too big, or it doesn’t relate to an image. We argue and discuss and make changes until it works.

The tension of not agreeing about everything when designing greeting cards is a valuable part of the process.