I have just received some business cards that I ordered to a local copy shop (not a printing house). The result is acceptable, but it doesn't look very professional. It is 87x54.5 mm, while the standard size is 85x55 mm.

As I am not a graphic design professional, I ask you guys to help me identify the printing practises that drove to these mediocre results:

1. Front view: Front view

Notice the spiky color borders.

2. Rear view: Rear view

Notice the cutting irregularity and misalignment.

3. Printing detail 1: Printing detail

Notice the blue and red inks on the borders.

4. Printing detail 2: Printing detail

Notice the blue and red inks on the borders.

5. Printing detail 3: Printing detail

Notice the yellow ink inside the letters.

6. Printing detail 5: Printing detail

Notice that, when zoomed out, there's a visible yellow diagonal line between red and green.

7. Cutting detail 1: Cutting detail

Notice the ripped edges.

Do you think this is inkjet or laser printed? What do you recommend me to take care of next time?

I used two files (front and back of the business card): 85x55 mm, TIFF, CMYK and 300 dpi. You can optionally download them:

  • 3
    One thing you could do is ask for an example of their print quality for the options you choose. An example not a sample.
    – Dom
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 13:08
  • 3
    Looks like simply poor color registration and misaligned trimming. For a business card it's often a bad idea to design expecting precise trimming.
    – Scott
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 13:27
  • 1
    1)To your printer question I think you should ask the printer on what they used. 2)Why did you accept this without a proof? 3)You realize you are providing a RASTER based design instead of a VECTOR design? 4)Did you setup a bleed in your design? 5)You mention a copy shop which typically does low quality printing have you thought about going to a printer that specializes in business card printing?
    – user9447
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 14:31
  • Like you said, it's a copy shop. Which means they are likely using color copiers. While they make really high end copiers, don't expect the quality and sharpness to match offset printing.
    – DA01
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 16:14
  • I made it as a vector image, but delivered a raster. I hadn't time enough to ask for a sample and approve it, but I'll do next time. Thank you all for replying! Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 19:36

3 Answers 3


I cannot guarantee that any of my suggestions would result in a better print, but here are some things that stick out to me:

Design in vector whenever possible

There is nothing in the design that you've posted that cannot be saved as a vector. It looks like the jagged lines in "printing detail 5" are a result of providing raster art instead of vector. Assuming the sample tile you've provided is the roughly correct size, here is how it matches up with the artwork:

sample analysis

Vector graphics are resolution independent. If vector, the "jagged diagonal" in your artwork would be non-existent, allowing for the smoothest print result possible.

Ask your printer how black should be specified

Black is black right? Wrong! You've got two blacks on the reverse of your card: CMYK black (0/0/0/100) and RGB black (#000000). The QR code is CMYK black, the rest appears to be RGB black. RGB black is a red flag straight away. It's entirely possible that you wanted to have two blacks on the reverse, but I wouldn't bet on it.

If I take off the visibility for the black channel, your card should ideally still have a uniform appearance. But that is not the case:

not uniform appearance

How black should be specified will vary from printer to printer. The best thing to do is ask.

Ask for a sample

Dominic already pointed it out in a comment, but it's worth repeating. Ask for a sample before handing over any money. This does not mean that you should ask for a sample of your business card printed, that's usually an unreasonable expectation unless you are ordering in very large quantities. For a smaller run, just a sample of previous work that the print shop has done will do. Without a sample, you have no baseline to set your expectations by.

  • 2
    +1. I think your side-by-side example is somewhat misleading for a beginner however. The aliasing on the diagonals surely are worse for being submitted as raster art but most of the perceived quality problems in that scrren cap come from what I see as a low-lpi screen. The advantage of vector is that the aliasing happens (is calculated) at the time of RIP, which is the best possible resolution of the device making the plate/film whereas a raster image commits aliasing to a lower resolution which is then resampled/transformed for the rotation of the screens.
    – horatio
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 16:49
  • Thank you very much for these suggestions. I designed it as vector (with Adobe Illustrator), but then I exported it to raster. I didn't realise about the loss of printing data when rasterizing. I hadn't asked for a sample because I needed the cards urgently. I'll do next time, with a better design and attending a printing house. Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 19:33
  • +1 I think this is a fairly typical problem for beginners. The one thing you should always do is make a sample on paper you can not see the results from screen. Even a crappy printer can give you hints on what could go wrong. It seems to me that the average person knows of ONLY pixel formats. You see a lot of users spending time to convert their vector artwork to a pixel based format. Yes that means non designers spend extra time downgrading their artwork. Mainly because they themselves work in an environment where vectors are rare.
    – joojaa
    Commented Mar 23, 2014 at 12:24

Looks like a bad laser print from the 90's and blunt cutting machine.

Generally next time you set up the file, it's a good idea to include what you call "bleed". This is where you extend the image or background color to be a tiny bit larger than the inteded finished size. For cards it is usually 2-3mm extra. Check with the specific printer if they have a 'preferred bleed'.

Using 2mm bleed with your intended 85x55mm, you would set up the artwork canvas to be 89x59mm (of course keeping text well within the edges). When they cut the card down to size (85x55mm), this prevents misaligned cutting showing white/blank edges etc.

Suggestions for next time:

  • Be sure you tell them the specific final size/dimensions you want.
  • Use bleed (good idea for any artwork that will be trimmed or printed usually)
  • Ask for a proof (non-digital) before doing the whole run. This could be free or a few dollars extra depending on where you get it done, but shows you how final result will turn out beforehand. Better to fix it here before printing thousands.
  • Choose a printer over a copy shop if you want better quality - copy shops are usually not that great in general. Even reputable online ones.
  • +1 for bleed. Size of item is "trim size". The safe area you can be sure they won't cut into is called "safe zone/area". Extra art beyond the desired trim size so that you don't get plain paper if they mis-align the cuts is called "bleed."
    – horatio
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 16:40
  • I'll do it next time. Thank you very much for answering! Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 19:34

Speaking from the point of view being a copy shop operator for almost 20yrs, you can't expect a registration better than +/- 1mm in everyday's business. Yes, adding bleed helps but in order to get peferctly even borders on both sides, the printer needs to have a perfect registration which is quite unusual for these kind of rush jobs.

My suggestions:

  • Deliver PDF files in CMYK or RGB (use the output preview of Acrobat to check the expected output in this case)

  • Add 2mm bleed around your final size

  • Try to use vectors wherever possible (maybe avoid using Photoshop for the entire layout -> use Illustrator instead)

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