Printing Greetings Cards
This tutorial describes how to print your own high quality greetings cards using an inkjet printer. If you would like to know more about printing in general, there are more tutorials on Lenscraft or you might like to consider my book "Perfect Prints Every Time".
Here’s the good news, printing greetings cards is no different from reproducing any other high quality print from your printer. This means you need to start with a high resolution image of the correct dimensions. You need to use a photo quality inkjet printer and select high quality card to print on using printer profiles. Let’s take a look at a few of these points.
Calibration can be confusing and complex but it’s essential. When printing cards, it’s essential that both your computer monitor and your printer are correctly calibrated. If your monitor isn’t correctly calibrated, you can’t be certain that the colours you see on your screen are accurate. You might find that you spend hours correcting an image to get it looking just as you want to it, only to find that the colours and tones are completely different. Unfortunately, you would probably only notice this when you print your image, at which point you will probably blame the printer. Do yourself a favour and invest in a monitor calibration device. It will save you hours of frustration and probably lots of money.
In terms of printer calibration, all you need to know is that you should be printing using a colour profile. We will be discussing these in a moment.
Selecting your Card Blanks
If you want to produce high quality prints, then you need to start with high quality card blanks. These will have a treated surface that is designed to accept printer ink without smudging, running or changing colour. The manufacturer will also most likely supply something called an ICC profile. This is an instruction file used by your computer to ensure the colours in the printed image are reproduced accurately.
Many of the high quality printer paper manufacturers now provide card blanks made with their papers. For a good idea of what is currently available (in the UK) you can visit www.on-linepaper.co.uk. I have dealt with this company for many years. The service is good, their prices very reasonable and the selection of papers is excellent.
The main consideration at this point (other than perhaps price) is the size and surface of the card blanks. Do you want to print to a matte, silk or gloss paper? Gloss paper will produce the strongest colours and deepest blacks whilst a matte paper will produce images with less contrast and saturation. Matte prints can even look a little flat if not processes correctly during soft proofing. Silk prints provide a compromise between the two but not many card manufacturers produce this surface. You should also consider if you want a dual surface which would allow you to print on the inside as well as the outside of the card.
Having selected your card blanks, you will know the dimension of the image you need to produce. This in turn will allow you to size your image to fit. Start by creating a blank image in Photoshop with the same dimension as the open card (not folded). You can now divide the image into two and place the text for the reverse of the card on one half and the image for the front of the card on the other half. If you have selected a double sided card, you will also need to create a second design (probably mainly text) for the inside of the card.
In the following screenshot you can see a layout I created in Photoshop for a panoramic format card. The left side of the image will become the back of the card once printed and folded. You can also see the blue guide lines I added to help me align the various elements of the card.
When creating your image, ensure the resolution is set to either 300dpi or 360dpi. Use 360dpi for Epson printers and 300dpi for HP or Canon. If you are using another manufacturers printer also size the image at 300dpi resolution. This resolution is the native resolution of the printer and will help produce the highest quality print.
When your design is finished, print it to a plain piece of paper then fold the paper along the centre as you would the card. This allows you to check that you have the design correctly aligned on the front and the back. You would be surprised how easy it is to get one side the wrong way round.
As mentioned earlier, when purchasing high quality card blanks, look for manufacturers who supply ICC printer profiles for their cards. These can usually be downloaded from website based on the type of paper and printer you are using. If you’re not using a popular photo printer, then you might find your printer isn’t supported. It’s worth checking this before you purchase the card blanks. If you try to print a colour image without a profile you’re unlikely to achieve an accurate colour.
In addition to helping you produce accurate colours, printer profiles will also allow you to perform soft proofing. This is an essential step in the printing process where you adjust your image to ensure it will print as you intend it to.
It’s important that your printer driver (the software that is installed to run your printer) allows you to create custom paper sizes. Some printers will only support standard paper sizes such as A4 and A5. This would limit you to selecting card blank of that size (unfolded size).
Consider a simple example using an A5 card blank where A5 is the size of the blank when not folded. This is important as you will be putting the blank through the printer with the card open. You only fold the card once it’s been printed. If you are using a non-standard card size, you will need to create a custom document size in your printer to support this.
The following screenshot shows a dialog within a printer driver where the user can define their own paper size. Not all printer drivers will allow you to do this so check in advance otherwise you will be restricted to purchasing cards with standard paper sizes such as A4 or A5.
Once you have set up and configured your printer, it’s a good idea to save the settings as a profile. This includes the size of the card, the quality settings and paper surface being used. This avoids needing to remember everything each time you print a card and cuts down the changes that you will miss something.
Soft Proofing and Printing
If you have installed an ICC printer profile you should soft proof your image using this before printing your card. Not all image editing software will support soft proofing of images but both Lightroom and Photoshop do. Of the two, Lightroom is probably the easiest to use as it will allow you to compare the original with the soft proof so that you can apply changes to the soft proof in order to make it match the original. If you’re unsure how to soft proof an image, I have provided a couple of tutorials and videos on Lenscraft. If you would like more detailed instruction, please see my book “Perfect Prints Every Time”.
In the following screenshot you can see an original image being compared with a soft proof using matte paper. Notice how different the proof copy on the right looks to the original. If this is not corrected before printing, the print won’t match the original.
Once you have soft proofed your image, you’re ready to load the card blank to the printer and make your print.
Printing your own greetings cards is well within the capability of anyone who makes their own prints. It does take a little effort and time to set up the initial card but one ready, the process is the same as producing a high quality print. If you take your time and follow the steps outlined in this tutorial, you should achieve great results.
If you would like to know more about colour management and calibration, please refer to my book “Essential Colour Management”. For additional information about printing your own work, please consult my book “Perfect Prints Every Time”.