Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Designer Tip Tuesday: Borders & Commercial Printing- Don't Do It!

I've been working in commercial design and print for a few years, so I thought it'd be fun to do something like a #tiptuesday where I can share a bit of graphic design advice and kind of vent about the frustrations of my day job.

A lot of colleges and art programs will reward you for pushing print capabilities to their limits, which is awesome, but when you send that file off to print, it might not come back looking like you had expected.

For my first ever topic, something simple, borders!

What are borders?
I know I know, this seems like super basic information, but bear with me. "Borders" are a fancy name for a frame, outline, or really anything that goes around an image or design. Imagine a photo in a picture frame on a wall. The frame would be your border.
These frames help those photos POP and look professional when they're hanging on your wall, but when you're working with print, using borders can cause some problems.
Problems With Borders.
If frames/borders make the art on your walls POP, why shouldn't you use them ALL THE TIME in your designs? Well there are a few reasons.   
They close things off. 
Here we have an ad that the client wanted to add a border to.
It looks old fashioned, cramped, and less dynamic

When you add a border to the edge of your flyer, handout, or design it closes things off and makes the overall design feel cramped and less dynamic. The paper, postcard, or whatever media you're using will have edges anyway, so by adding another border you're wasting space that could have been used for more of the design itself. I liken it to those Uncrustables sandwiches. (Which I hate.) Bread comes with a natural crust, but by pinching the ends and creating a new one that you never needed in the first place you wasted part of the sandwich solving a problem that never existed. (Plus when I taught daycare kids still didn't eat the pinched ends 'cause they were still "crust." Huge waste of money if you ask me.)  
Borders can do the same thing. They can waste part of your design space and they also date your artwork making it look older and less interesting than more open, modern designs.

Here's that same ad without a border allowing the design to breathe.
It looks a lot less cramped and it stands out from other bordered ads in the book.
Borders can be RISKY. 
Designers, myself included, like to be special artsy snowflakes. We push the envelope and the limits with our designs and media to create unique items for our clients that will stand out and, in a way, we also do this to compete with one another. It's great for artistic growth and creativity! Problem is, commercial printers do NOT care.
For example, when you send a business card design to a commercial printer they are looking to do it as cheaply as possible, which means taking your design, copying it as many times over as they can onto one giant sheet of paper, stacking all those papers on top of another, and cutting them down to size with a MASSIVELY HUGE cutting machine using as few cuts as possible. This is a process we call "n-up" or "Multi-up." Sounds awesome and industrious, right? It is! ...but it leads to problems.
If anything in that paper stack prior to cutting is even a millimeter off, your borders and your perfectly centered design are toast. 
Commercial printers don't care about lining up your cut marks perfectly or making sure everything is correct right down to the millimeter. They want it done fast and cheap. All it takes in one bad cut to completely off-center your design, and trust me, bad cuts happen ALL THE TIME. I create, print, and order over 3-dozen business cards a week through commercial print sources, and whenever a client asks for a border I try and talk them out of it for this very reason. It's just too risky. Commercial printers don't care if it's off center or cut a millimeter off, it's not their problem, it's YOUR design's problem. Unless something goes terribly terribly wrong, they don't offer reprints to fix things, so if you're out there designing to make a buck, do yourself a favor. AVOID THE BORDERS.
Here we see an orange card with a full bleed and a white border around the edge. 
Here is a design from my day job. (Blurred out info, obviously) It has a border which the client requested, that is mathematically centered using the program itself. It's perfectly placed, we have guides making sure there's space around the edges for safety, plus there are clear cut marks to show the printer where to cut the paper to achieve a full bleed and keep a 100% perfect border. It should come back from the printer perfect, right?

WRONG. Oh dear. What happened here? None of those edges are the same at all! I'll tell you what happened, that design was too risky. That border was too close to the edges, and now it's off center even though everything was mathematically correct before sending it to print. Not only are the edges off center, but corners are wrong too! The client wanted rounded corners on the card with a straight printed border, against my design recommendations, and the results look...messy. All of this could have been avoided if this card did NOT have that white border on the edge.
 Borders Aren't Bad, 
But They ARE Tricky

I could go on and on about this subject, but this is just meant to be a short tips post. 

The take away is this: Unless you can fully control the cutting and processing of your commercial print work, I personally feel it's best to avoid borders on most printed materials. We're talking flyers, ads, postcards, business cards, etc. 

Commercial printers and producers aren't interested in making your business card perfectly centered, and trying to get them to do so will likely cause you stress, anger, and lead to a financial loss. One bad cut, and all your hard work, no matter how perfectly placed and aligned, is ruined and the printers will blame the design, not their cutters.

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