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Part II continues to help educate buyers on the basics of prepaid card production. This article addresses the preliminary steps before the actual design phase begins and the selection of a designer or a design agency. Before tackling the design of a card, it is important to clearly define the card's purpose. Here is a sample checklist to help determine how the card may be used."

Understanding The Basics

How will the card be distributed?

Will it be sold through a vending machine, handed out at a trade show, mailed to a customer or sold in a local supermarket? These considerations can determine the card's size. Designing a card to size is important for assuring that all of the elements such as type size and style, logo size and other information are in proper proportion to the size of the final piece.

Will the card be packaged, and if so, what type of packaging?

If the card is going to be sold in a retail store, some type of security package will be required. If the card is activated at the point of sale, a magnetic stripe on the back of the card must be provided.

What are the specifications, including size, number of colors, type of printing, time frame, personalization and variable data?

Not all prepaid cards are standard credit card size. There are custom die-cut shapes, oversized cards and combined prepaid cards with business cards.

Designing the card to print size is important, as well as knowing the number of colors used for production. If the budget only allows for 2-color, the designer knows not to utilize a photograph in the design. The type of printing is important as well. Art files are set up differently if the piece is going to be printed offset rather than digitally. Different line screens are used to print the cards. Establishing a time frame also is important. If a designer needs to create a piece in one week vs. one month, pricing will be affected.

Printing Considerations.

The next step is to determine what will be printed on the card and its placement. A few considerations:

Will the calling value be printed on the front of the card, the back or both? Will other denominations be offered?

If so, consider printing the calling values using different colors or designs to aid in the accuracy of packaging and distribution. .

Is there disclosure information that is required to appear on the card? Is there licensed artwork or logos?

If so, obtain licensing agreements prior to designing in order to prevent time delays. Personalization and variable data needs to be identified so that the designer can allow for it in the design.
The type of printing process a provider selects will determine the type of artwork that can be used. After the printing method and the printer have been selected, the printer can provide the art specifications needed to produce the job correctly. Sharing this information with the designer will save time and money by preventing changes during the pre-production step.

Design Considerations.

After the mechanics and specifications are determined, the design phase begins. Questions to ask include:

  • Does the piece need to follow a corporate identity?
  • What specific colors need to be used?
  • Is there a tie-in a with major campaign?
  • Is there a specific illustration or theme that needs to incorporated?
  • Who is the audience?
  • Are there samples of similar images or artwork that can help the designer?

Selecting a Designer or Agency.

There are several things to consider before selecting a designer or a design agency. An agency maintains a staff of specialists, including art directors, designers, illustrators, typographers, photographers and other specialists.

Agencies are usually the best choice if the campaign has a very large budget and has multiple pieces. Agencies also can offer the range of services needed to support numerous designs that are executed in different venues (i.e. magazines, direct mail, etc).

A less expensive option to an agency is an independent designer. Keep in mind that most designers specialize in a particular style and typically do not offer specialized services such as photography or illustration. An independent designer is often a good choice for smaller projects in which the concept has already been identified or for customers who know exactly what they want.

Before meeting with a designer or a design agency, ask for recommendations from other companies. When viewing portfolios, ask the budgets for the different pieces. Ask the hourly rates and number of hours spent. If a design agency is selected, ask for the different hourly rates for different design specialists. There are usually different hourly rates for designers, illustrators, photographers, etc. Some design agencies or designers will offer a discount on hourly rates in exchange for a retainer fee that ensures them long-term business.

One really important note is to ask about the ownership of the artwork. Some design companies consider themselves the owner of the artwork and will not release electronic files to the customer. Other design companies consider the client the owner of the artwork and will release the files to the customer to alter and/or reproduce as desired. This is a very important issue to address in order to prevent potential problems.

Another important issue is understanding the difference between design and production. Many designers can create a card that looks great on the computer screen and on color print out, but is not set up correctly for printing.

There is a huge knowledge gap between designing a card and preparing (known as pre-flighting) the file for production. Even though the art specifications may have been provided to the designer, pre-flighting can help identify and correct problems during pre-production, rather than at the color proof stage before going to press.

Some other helpful tips include:
  • If there is a need to deliver different versions of artwork, spend the time and budget on developing one version, as well as producing variations from one design. This is preferable to producing four different versions.
  • If several different pieces need to be developed, make sure the same firm develops all designs. Continuity and efficiency are achieved by using one design firm for all of the pieces.

More Articles >
Understanding The Basics | The Fine Art of Color Proofing | Distributors and Private Labeling | Market to Market |
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