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Create Your Own Business Cards with Adobe InDesign (Sorry, Word Sucks)

Updated on August 16, 2010
mmmmmm... Creamy off-white paper stock.
mmmmmm... Creamy off-white paper stock.

As a Graphic Designer I’ve sometimes scratched my head when clients requested super basic business card designs. With the right software, these designs are criminally easy to make. Professionals such as lawyers and CPAs love luxury plain paper stock with simple black type. Such an approach looks a little underwhelming on screen but once the finished product is in hand, a clean, elegant business card is worth its weight in gold.

Probably the main reason people avoid making their own business card is because they don’t have the right tools. Maybe they took a crack at it with Microsoft Word and ended up practically breaking their keyboard in frustration. Designers won’t go near Word, even for easy projects. Getting design elements to lay right is possible in theory, but you have to get through hell to get there.

Non-designers wrongly assume that layout software used among Graphic Designers must cryptic and technical. In truth, it isn’t, and as technology improves it keeps getting easier. No matter what business you’re in, having a grasp of tools like Photoshop and InDesign is a huge advantage. By taking care of easy graphical tasks yourself, you’ll save money.

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to make a simple 1-colour business card with a logo graphic and all the typical contact information. We will be using Abobe InDesign CS5 for layout. Even those without any previous experience with InDesign will be able to follow along, as I’ve created this tutorial with absolute beginners in mind.

Creating a business card sized document in InDesign CS5 (Mac).
Creating a business card sized document in InDesign CS5 (Mac).

Creating the Foundation

Once you launch InDesign, change your units of measurement from Picas to Inches. Go to “InDesign>Preferences>Units and Increments”, on the PC version this should menu be accessible from “File>Preferences”. Under “Rulers Units” click on the drop down menu beside “Horizontal” and change the value to “Inches”. Do the same for the “Vertical” unit’s option. Click “OK”.

Click on “Create New>Document” on the welcome screen or alternatively go to “File>New>Document” via the top menu. Once the “New Document” window pops up, change the page size to “US Business Card”. Under “Margins” I recommend that you start at 0.375”. Once you change the “Top” value all the others follow suit since the values are linked together by default.

Data Entry Sucks

Click on the type tool (the big “T”) at the left of the screen. By default the font is Minion Pro on my Mac. That is fine for now. I recommend experimenting with typefaces after all your data has been entered in. Click and hold down the left mouse button somewhere along the pink margin on the left, drag it out and release. Now we have a little text box that can be reshaped and moved anywhere without restrictions. That’s the beauty of proper layout software.

Enter in the name of the individual, the position, company slogan, phone number, e-mail, fax, mailing address etc. Create a line break after each new bit of data. When you’re done, drag the box off into an area outside of the layout. This area is called the pasteboard.

Let's make a simple white business card without a bleed.
Let's make a simple white business card without a bleed.

The Two Column Trick

In this tutorial, we’ll be creating a two column layout. Essentially half of the information will be on the left of the card and the other half will be on the right. This creates balance, and that is what makes design attractive to eye.

If you have a company logo and would like to integrate it into the design, now would be a good time to roughly place it in. Go to “File>Place” and select the image file. Logo graphics must be 300dpi or higher in resolution in order to look crisp when printed. Vector logos in a format like PDF or EPS don’t use the same technology as your typical graphic, so the same rules don’t apply. Typically, either format is preferable to a TIFF or JPG graphic, at least with logos.

The next step is to create two new text boxes. Stretch them out to meet each other in the center of the layout. Left-align the box on the left and right align the box on the right.

Since people read from left to right, you want to have the most important information on the left side. Usually, name, position, phone and cell phone are positioned here. Copy and paste the data from the text box you set aside the pasteboard, either to the left or right side. If you’re lucky you’ll have an even amount of items on the left as on the right. If not, you can merge two short pieces of data on one line. Consolidation like this usually takes place with the mailing address, usually on the right.

King, Peasants and Lining Up the Troops

Now you are approaching the fun stuff. I usually use at least three different text treatments: bold, regular and small. This creates a hierarchy so that the most important information captures the viewer’s attention first. Any difference in type size should be in increments of at least 2 pt. Otherwise it looks like a mistake and creates dissonance visually.

Bold type

  • Employee Name

Regular type

  • Main phone number

Small type

  • Job position, fax, e-mail, mailing address

Using different type sizes on the left side compared to the right is fine. Keep one rule in mind: you’re lines still must match up on either side. In other words, if you were to draw a line barely touching the bottom of the type at the left it should touch the bottom of the type at the right.

Now that you are experimenting with type, the next principal you need to learn about is leading. The spaces in-between a line is called leading. By default the space under a block of text is a little greater than the point size of the font. So for example 12 pt, text has 14.4 pt leading.

By using the baseline shift feature in InDesign, you can adjust leading so that lines match up with each other horizontally as explained above. The “Baseline Shift” tool is located directly below the “Vertical Scale” tool in the contextual menu that shows up when you are editing text.

The approach used here is very close to what I've taught you. The right column may look better left or right aligned depending on how things play out. Sure sure to try everything and see what sticks!
The approach used here is very close to what I've taught you. The right column may look better left or right aligned depending on how things play out. Sure sure to try everything and see what sticks!

A Few Words About Design

Design is a constant process of tweaking. Each element is like a part of a face. Beauty is a side-effect of every element being proportionate. Don’t make the beginner’s mistake of trying to make everything stand out. It’s impossible. Think of the logo and the person’s name as the captain. The phone number is second in command and the rest of the pieces of text play a small supporting role.

One of the best benefits of creating your own business card is the fact you can make modifications to it easily in the future without picking up the phone. In business, contact information is always subject to change. Design houses tend to overcharge for minor copy edits, and the designers hate doing it. The firm is also sure to mark up printing costs up to 100%. So, armed with Adobe’s Creative Suite, some design skills, and a DIY philosophy, you can save yourself a bundle.


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      JSchmeltz 6 years ago

      Great tips for using InDesign to create business cards. InDesign is a great layout program and has worked for me professionally for years. I've found that when your cards are done you can have them professionally printed for best results. I use and have gotten great results. Best wishes on your next business card project.