Branding and Image Programs

A basic image program is the use of your logo on business cards, letterheads, and envelopes. The idea is to have your name and logo in front of potential and existing clients – any time you can. Place your logo in every document you design.

The Basics

Image programs are exercises in organization. As an in-house designer, you might have to sell the program to your managers. Organizing a company image is generally a low priority – unless you work for an advertising agency.

Subtitle Logos

Some designers like logos containing a company name. If you design a logo with your name as part of the design, don’t assume readers will notice. Any time your logo appears in a layout, include a subtitle. The name should appear somewhere on the page in a “normal” text font.

Use It – Always

Companies concerned with image place logos and nameplates on everything. They do not buy generic receipts or use software that does not allow them to customize an identifier.

If you must use software that prints your company name in a typeface you do not use as your nameplate, then pay for pre-printed paper. If necessary, have the logo and nameplate watermarked into the page. Cotton paper can be marked using a water-based solution so when held to light the watermark is visible. Today, a watermark can be a light ink design. Watermarks are images that are overprinted.

Consistent Designs

Image programs involve the consistent use of logos. It is equally important that you implement the logo design consistently. The factors to consider are:

  • Colors and shading,
  • Typefaces,
  • Placements, and
  • Accompanying text.

Colors and Shading

Do not change the color of a logo in different documents. If you use a light blue for your logo, match it carefully every time it is printed. Be picky – if a print shop gets it wrong, have it reprinted. If you use shades of gray, they are as important as colors.

Accompanying Text

Along with your logo, most documents feature an address, company slogan, or other information. Do not vary these lines of text. A slogan, such as “Your Source for Printing Supplies,” should not be changed to “The Source…” unless you are redesigning every document in the company.

This rule extends to minor items. If your address is in California, do not use “Calif.” on some documents and “CA” on others. Follow this rule for punctuation and special marks, too. Do not change “and” to “&” to compensate for smaller spaces.


Typeset accompanying text in the same typefaces across all designs. Do not use Arial in one design, Futura in another. They might look similar, but they are not the same. Accompanying text becomes as familiar as your logo. Changing the typeface is obvious to many readers.


If you place the slogan to the right of your logo on business cards, place it to the right on letterheads. While positioning seems like a minor concern, it is part of the design. Anything to the top or on the left is read first, unless another element is too large to ignore.

Business Cards

Image programs begin with business cards. Calling cards have existed since the aristocracy determined that paying for a design and printing showed wealth. Today, anyone can afford a cheap box of business cards. This prevelance of cheap cards makes outstanding design more important.

Shapes and More

Modern business cards measure 3.5 inches wide by 2 inches tall. Business card cases, organizers, and trays are all made for this size card. Standards are great for organizing, but lousy for designers wanting to be unique.

One simple way to be a bit different is a vertical design. Most recipients are likely to study a vertical design closely – it’s just different enough.

Basic Grid

Most – but not all – business card designs are based on well-defined zones. The following illustration marks the grid created by these zones.

Need example of zones on Biz Card

Business card zones are not analogous to newsletter or full-page design grids. Grids used for traditional layout design are based on the text font’s point size. Business card grids are based on arbitrary rectangles.

There are variations to these zones. The most common variation is to combine the bottom two zones into one. Placing one larger zone at the bottom allows for a long address line.

Zone Rules

If you decide to modify the basic grid, we have some advice to prevent disaster. As usual, you can ignore our friendly tips, but we suggest following the rules for a while first.

  • Limit zones – and therefore elements – to less than a third of the card’s area.
  • The center zone is the only one that may overlap other zones.
  • Leave six points between zones, allowing for white space.

Notice that each of these rules is meant to protect white space and ensure a balanced apearance. Keep zones to reasonable sizes with lots of “air” between them and your designs are much easier to read.

Good Business Cards

Collect business cards by the dozen. Anytime someone offers you a business card, save it. Analyze it. The most important part of a business card is the logo or nameplate. Ask yourself if your business card is one of the ten best you have ever seen.

Effective business cards generally follow the following guidelines:

  • Liberal amounts of white space,
  • Light on details,
  • Focused on name and phone number, and
  • Easy to read.

Ideally, your business cards end up tacked to walls and bulletin boards. The goal is to have your business cards kept by people and not tossed into the round file.

White Space

The majority of a good business card is blank. Failure to leave sufficient white space ruins a card design.

Crowding affects many in-house designed cards. Template-based cards seem “empty” by comparison. White space works. Limiting the paper real estate covered with ink forces you to follow the other suggestions for a good card. If you have enough room for only eight or nine lines of text, those items are focused and easy to read.

Light on Details

Business cards are not business plans. Do not cram more than is essential into a design. Inevitably, designs with too much detail resort to small fonts that are difficult to read. If there is a special authorization, certification, et cetera that needs to be on a card, keep it as brief as possible. Most special terms can be abbreviated.

If there are details you must include, but that readers do not need to notice, then resort to 6-point fonts. Avoid type much smaller or you might as well leave out the information.


A company’s name and phone number always dominate a good business card. Employee names, addresses – unless you have no phone, which is a bad idea – and other information is less important.

Readers naturually focus on items based on location and size. Knowing this, place important items near the top of the card and enlarge them. Remember that readers also scan from left to right, so position phone numbers and addresses accordingly.

Easy to Read

Sans-serif fonts seem natural for business card designs. Sans typefaces feature uniform strokes without embelishments. As a result, small sans fonts are quite legible. Serif fonts tend to feature varying-width strokes. At the thin points, serif faces seem to “break apart” when set as small fonts.

Seven-Square Inch Disasters

It is much easier to create a rectangular disaster than to create an eye-catching business card. Sadly, most people never realize they are handing out ugly cards. You could make a career out of fixing bad designs.

Big, Bigger, Ugly

Bigger is not always better. Sure, you might have a great logo, but it should never be more than a third or even fourth of the card. And text might stand out at 18 points, but much larger on a business card and it “screams” to readers.

The Uni-Face Card

A card typeset in one typeface, set in several fonts – especially without artwork – is headed for the round file. Readers like variety. At the very least use two typefaces.

Black and Grey

With more designers using colored and textured papers, the danger exists that text will blend into the card. Yes, we have actually seen black type on a grey card. “Seen” is an overstatement, since it was necessary to tilt the card to read it.

If you select a colored paper for final printing, make sure the colors of ink used do not vanish on the paper. If your company logo is dark blue, avoid dark papers. It is easier than you might think to be impressed with a paper stock and forget what is being printed on it.


Image programs involve exposing your company’s name and logo to as wide an audience as possible. Businesses rely on letterheads to do this on a daily basis. While you might properly view letterheads as extensions of business card designs, letterhead designs tend to reach a more exact audience.

Basic Grids

Letterhead designs allow for less freedom than business card designs. Most letterhead designs use a combination of the following areas: the top one to two inches, the lefthand one to two inches, and the bottom inch. The center of the page might also be used for a watermark.

Graphics and Logos

Graphic elements, including logos, are usually placed at the top. They might be in the top-left corner, top-right corner, or centered. Occassionaly, graphic elements are placed in the lefthand margin below the top couple of inches.

Good Footing

Footers are lines of text printed below the primary body of a page. Letterhead designs generally repeat address and phone information at the bottom of a page. Repeating this information reinforces how to contact your company.

With most wordprocessors, it is very easy to have a running footer throughout a multi-page letter. It is a bit much to use a full letterhead on every page, but a footer is unobtrusive. The philosophy of running footers is used in long-document design, too.


Watermarks were once indicators of success. In many ways, they still are – which is why we like them. In the old days — and still, if you have the money — watermarks were stains made on cotton-weave paper using a water-based solution. Since watermarking each sheet of paper is expensive, most companies don’t even consider such a purchase.

Today, faux watermarks are created using light-colored inks. The simplest method for in-house designers is to print a light grey image, centered on the page. If you have a PostScript-compatible printer, you can print watermarks and text simultaneously.

Good Letterheads

It is very easy to recognize a well-designed letterhead. The qualities of a good letterhead design include:

  • Consistent use of logos and type,
  • Unobtrusive,
  • Logically positioned elements, and
  • Easy to fax or photocopy.

There isn’t much to letterhead design – to be blunt.



The best letterhead designs do not detract from the letters they adorn.


Copier Friendly

Wastebasket Bound




Good Envelopes


Never Opened


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Writer: C. S. Wyatt
Updated: 21-Oct-2017
Editor: S. D. Schnelbach