Thursday, July 9, 2009

Taking Care of Business

About two years ago, I endeavored to screen print some business cards. I made a halfway decent one for a then boyfriend, but when it came to my own business cards, they fell short. As a printmaker, I really wanted to express my style AND give the pertinent information all in 7 sqaure inches. But that is a tall order. A debilitatingly tall order, perhaps. The result? My cards were an unintelligible mess.

Over Christmas I did a fabulous art sale called Craftland. There I ran into an Argentine expat who makes gorgeous pure wood tablets for serving cheese and meats, or, as porteƱos call it, picada. For those of you who don't know, I lived in Buenos Aires for two years and relish the opportunity to speak their specific brand of Spanish. Thus, we became fast friends and, after our shift ended, he gave me his business card. I had nothing to give him and expressed my frustration with printing cards. He showed me the back of his card and it said He got them for FREE.

As you can tell, I have lost that business card and cannot remember his name, but I never forget the anthing "free." Online I order some free business cards (ultimately not from VistaPrint). And they were OK. But I felt embarrassed to give them to people--they were, gasp, laser printed! How could a printmaker with a functioning studio do such a thing? We print folk all feel unappreciated and antiquated enough--was this a betrayal of our plight?

Yes, yes, it was sacrilegious! It was like a Peta spokesperson wearing suede to a benefit. Throw red paint on me! I have gone astray! I don't deserve to reclaim a screen!

Once I cleared me head, my thoughts then turned to letterpress. Letterpress is a type of relief printing and is done on a press with "plates" of whole images or a individual letters. On really thick paper, letterpress embosses as it prints, creating delicate textures along with delivering a very fine result. Because of its clarity and the durability of the plates, you can print endless sheets of text withought noticeable wear to the letters. For this reason, letterpress is most commonly associated with old fashioned books. Very few books are letterpressed by hand today, but many invitations, stationary, and note cards are. Some of the finest business cards available are printed this way. And since I am crazy for all things letterpressed, note cards especially, I thought I would screen print one side of the card and letterpress the text side.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every printmaking technique. Silk-screen is inexpensive, colorful, and bold, but you can only get detail as fine as the thread count of your screen. Generally speaking, thin, delicately serifed fonts just don't hold up with the medium, especially on a tiny card with teeny font size. Those fine lines don't burn into the screen and you end up with broken letters. Letterpress is able to deliver those letters perfectly. But making or purchasing the letters is an investment. And the larger the image, the larger the financial investment. The other investment is time. Simply setting up a letterpress can take hours or days depending on the combination of plates and letters. Additionally, most letterpress beds are not very large, so they cannot print very large things. Letterpress would not be the printmaking medium of choice when recreating a Warhol Portrait series. That, as you can predict, is suited for silk-screen. Or lithography. But I digress.

I felt good about using letterpress, but still would have to have someone else print it for me, which again, made me feel like a fraud handing out the work of someone else. My solution? I thought I would silk-screen a decorative side to my business card and letterpress the text side. I asked my friends at Highchair Design if they could letterpress my text (they have an old press and a great collection of letters). Unfortunately, while they quoted me a fair price, once I budgeted for the kind of paper I would need to get that embossed effect and for the printing, I was going to be down some major bones. So, I thought I would attempt to 100% silk-screen business cards one more time. If it didn't work, I would take the financial plunge.

Here are the results of my attempt:

I deliberately designed my text side to be chunky and off-center so it would be easier to print since I was making my decorative side more precise. I went overboard, making my font extra-large and blocky by using the old standby: Arial Black. You can go too far and pick a font that is too condensed and blocky, like Impact, which has somewhat delicate negative space. Because the letters are so close together, Impact font, I have found, is difficult to read and runs the risk of blowing out the spaces inbetween the letters. Again, it is possible to print finer font than what I chose. But a really thin, spindly font would be a herculean task, and you want to keep in perspective that these are freebie little scraps of paper to most people.

To compliment my design, I found this great opalescent cardstock at PaperWorks in Pawtucket. Most of the inks I use are quite matte and, since my goal was to make my business cards standout from the pack, an unusual paper choice definitely delivered.

In hindsight, I wish I had gone one step further with my registration technique by getting my design sqaure on the page. My challenge was having a double sided, multi-up print design. Putting 8 business cards on a sheet is the only way to do it--to print each one individually would be a nightmare and make each business card too precious to pass away carelessly, which, mind you, is the point. That said, having all 8 match up front and back is a bit tricky since you can't see through--you need to use cardstock with business cards, and they are far from transparent. So, registration was not just about having the colors of the image match up, but having them match up with the reverse side of the card and all that side's colors. I used crop marks, but in hindsight, I should have printed them onto a dummy page before printing them on the cardstock. Se la vie.

Despite my eagerness to make one more batch of these bad boys, making my own cards gave me the opportunity to express my tastes to prospective hires and buyers. The background of the decorative side is bright process yellow which, on the opalescent paper, glows nearly neon. I overprinted an old map of Providence for a slightly monocromatic wallpaper feel in gold. Lately, more color goal is to make uncommon combinations and show how well the work together. The result? I think the card says, "I love color, texture, shine, and Providence." And owls, of course.

The logo I have used for the last few years is a little plump owl. I put some boots on the owl and gave her a squeegee and a pallet knife and, voila, LesliePVD came to life.

So, as you can see, I am pretty happy with myself. I feel these cards satisfy my criteria. They embody my style and still give out the important information. And if a cute boy were around, I would feel pretty good about giving him my digits in hot pink and yellow ink. Wink. Wink.


  1. Really! I am so glad. I do think of you when I print hot pink. And I printed two (though I got three with overlapping colors!). You'll have to pocket one or two of these in the event you need to pass someone my email address!