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Design to Reality: How Paper and Printing can Enhance Your Next Project

When ink hits the paper, that is when your design becomes reality—and the reality of your design can be enhanced with the right choice of paper and printing techniques. This choice can also help create the outcome that you are looking for, most importantly to meet your clients' goals, and their clients' goals. But sometimes, there have to be compromises. Typical culprits for why we choose the paper and printing we do can probably be linked to two things: budget and time constraints.

BECAUSE YES, absolutely we want to print those mailer cards with a combination of black- and red-dyed cotton stock paper printed with silver ink and laser die cuts! We’ll throw them on the letterpress, then hand laminate them with a tear tab to show a message inside when you pull the tab... Ooh buddy! If you could see what I see in my mind, the client would freak out! They will love it, because as designers, we know in our hearts EXACTLY what our client needs, right…?

Nine times out of 10, the client will get the pricing and say, “Uhm, can we try another option?!” Cue “The Price is Right” loser sound. Now your heart is crushed because those were going to be the greatest mailer cards ever in the history of mailer cards, and you’re also out of time.

Thankfully we have great people and vendors all over Dayton and the Miami Valley who have served this magical industry for a lifetime. They have a deep knowledge of products and techniques because they grew up in the business, and their knowledge is invaluable. They want us to lean on them for insight, and help us make the right choices based on our design desires and our clients’ goals, budget, and delivery. Invite these experts into your office and have a conversation with them, or set up a phone call. You know, where you dial a number and two people talk with voices, not through chat, text, or email? I know, it’s hard these days—but give it a shot.

For example, we've hosted our printing partners, like Mike Toth of Think Patented and Terri Price-Deep of Millcraft papers, in our office to share with us cool little “Paper 101” sessions. These sessions are always informative, collaborative, and show our team the latest and greatest paper and printing options that are currently out there. Think about setting something up like this for your team. You'll get to look at some really creatively produced prints that will definitely pump up those design juices. Another big plus is that, as a team, you learn something new together, and there’s plenty to learn about right now.

Examples of print materials received from Millcraft

 Examples of print samples we received from Millcraft during their presentation

Paper and printing have gone hand in hand for centuries, but in the past decade we have seen some unprecedented changes with both. I’ve been designing stuff since I could draw, but since my first paying client back in ’98—you know, back when you had to run 1,500 pocket folders because it was much more justifiable to spend the money, even though the client really only needed 250—big changes have happened. Now we have 27-inch digital sheets of paper that we can use to literally run one pocket folder if we want to! Say what?! And we’re not even talking about 3D printing either… that’s a whole other ball game. This is about paper and print, and there have been major changes to accommodate just about any client wish, any design, any budget, any quantity, and any timeline.

Use these paper and printing tips to design whatever your heart desires, or help take what your client wants to the next level!

  • Stay in Touch – Work with great vendors in your industry that have your goals at heart, like the ones I mentioned here in Dayton. They want to take care of you—their business depends on it.
  • Options are Good – Examine at least two to three paths in design toward the results you are looking for.
  • High-end vs. Low-end – Will low-cost paper or printing deliver the results you and your client are after? Maybe spending a tiny bit more will have a greater impact, without killing the budget or deadline.
  • Keep a Mini Library Having paper sample guides at your fingertips can easily help you decide what you are looking for to enhance your design. More importantly, they provide the correct lingo to speak with your printer when quoting production. This helps with making accurate quotes to pass onto your account executives and share with your clients. They will appreciate having accurate numbers when the project is over because you delivered what you promised as an agency.
  • Keep Up – Once in a while, try to keep up with what’s happening out there in the paper and print world through things like trade shows or special events, so you can stay updated with new production techniques and products that can enhance your design.
  • No Mona Lisa – Understand the full scope of the project. As designers, we love to dream of making stuff cool all the time. I mean, at our very core we are visionary people, we are always thinking of revising. I recall once hearing early in my career, “Derick, not every project needs to be the Mona Lisa.” Talk about a motivation killer… but for some reason, that stuck with me.

Those words would spontaneously pop into my brain and I would evaluate their meaning. I started realizing maybe I had been thinking about design and production wrong in some ways. Just because a design you created was not some amazing illustration that had a six-color print with spot varnish and a foil stamp on touché paper doesn’t mean it wasn’t a masterpiece.

In fact, the Mona Lisa—for us advertising and marketing folks—is truly the entire process we go through from concept to the delivery of the goods. It’s delivering the best we can with what we have to work with and it takes collaboration between teams, clients, and vendors. This requires masterful skills from all involved and a commitment to deliver your best.

Sample of print work LMG has produced for past clientsSamples of print work LMG has produced for past clients

Yep, it’s amazing these days! We are lucky to have so many options and capabilities to produce our creativity. Your choice of paper is just as important as your choice of printing. Keep these tips in mind and lean on your vendors, so you can drive the design results you are after for your clients. This will allow you to focus on delivering more solid creativity, making you a much happier designer.

Derick Meyers +