helpful notes

Our virtual soapbox, we offer up hints, tips, suggestions and industry techno babble to anyone who wants to listen.

Color Basics

The basics of color? Well, in fact, there’s no such thing. Of all the challenges involved with professional design, color is often at the top of the list. Did you know that a red is not a red is not a red? Even when red is red? Confused? We don’t blame you. Color will render or appear differently under various conditions and within various media, even when the value of that color is, from a mathematical perspective, the same for each occurrence. A basic understanding of this fact will help you better plan your color choices and expectations.

Color Acronyms

CMYK. PMS. RGB. These are just a few of the myriad of acronyms used to designate various color modes or systems within the graphics industry. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black — the four core inks used in 4-color process printing. PMS stands for Pantone® Matching System, a proprietary color system also used primarily in printing. For RGB, the letters stand for Red, Green and Blue — the three core colors used by video display devices such as a computer monitor. Is it important that you know all of the differences and nuances between these and other color systems? Probably not. But your creative team definitely should.

Raster vs. Vector

There are two primary image or graphic types within the graphic design industry: raster and vector. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, depending on how the image will be used.

Here’s one important example: A logo should almost never be created as a raster-based image, or utilize a raster element (such as a photograph). There are simply too many inherent limitations within the raster image type that make it difficult to render clearly and consistently across a wide range of media and sizes.

Let it Flow

When it comes to your strategic plan, it’s important to remember that it’s not written in stone. Measure and assess your plan on a continual basis. Revisit even your most basic goals and assumptions — are they holding true to your expectations from last year, last quarter, or even last month? Stay flexible, and you’ll be in better position to not only adjust or cut what isn’t working, but also ready to embrace unexpected opportunities.

Email and Domain Names

One of the biggest things that we see with small businesses is the use of generic or mainstream email addresses ( or, for example) that don’t utilize a branded domain name. Within any given day, you will be contacted more by email than by any other means, including the phone. People will more likely know your email address by heart than your phone number, so be certain that the domain name portion of your email is branded to your company. It’s the right choice, especially if you want to appear professional.

Whitespace is Your Friend

“Whitespace,” or “negative space,” is the space between elements in a composition, and it is often misunderstood. For many, it equates to “empty space,” and should be avoided at all costs. (You’ll often see this expressed within an overcrowded ad that only manages to confuse the advertiser’s message and/or brand.)

Correctly utilized, whitespace can dramatically improve retention and comprehension, as well as significantly elevate brand awareness and perception.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Repetition is one of the key elements of any promotional or advertising campaign. You could also add the words “planning,” “continuity” and “mix” to the list. Just one mailing, one ad, one tradeshow — or just one of anything, for that matter — is a wasted expenditure. Develop, commit to and work your plan for the best results.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is no doubt one of the big phrases you’ve been hearing lately. Another may be Pay-Per-Click, or PPC, advertising. Are either of these options right for you? If your business is dependent on people finding you directly through the Internet, then an SEO strategy or PPC campaign is certainly the right thing. If your website serves primarily as an informational piece in support of additional marketing or advertising efforts, then stick with the basics and avoid the added expense and maintenance.

Small Changes = Big Savings

In the world of direct mail, even a small change in the size, fold, orientation or weight of a piece can lead to dramatic savings in postage. Be sure to consider all of these factors when planning your next direct mail campaign.

Overruns are Cheap

When printing a project — including anything from business cards to catalogs — consider the cost benefits of overruns, or printing more than you think you’ll need. You’ll often be surprised by how little it costs to increase the size of your order. On some projects, even doubling the quantity will only add 5-10% to your final costs.

Resolving Resolution

Photographic or raster images are resolution-dependant. This means that the physical dimensions (length and width) and resolution (the number of pixels per inch, or ppi) of an image should be of sufficient quality to ensure sharp and accurate reproduction. Acceptable standards vary within print, website, and large format environments, so be certain you’re making the right decision when considering an image size, resolution or format — especially if you plan on using it within multiple environments.

Paper as a Design Element

The paper you select can have a profound impact on your final, printed job. Characteristics such as color, surface texture, brightness, opacity and grain direction can not only influence the overall look and feel of a piece, they can also dramatically affect color, ink absorption, fold quality, image clarity and more. When making decisions about paper, don’t hesitate to request samples, both printed and unprinted, of any sheet under consideration. Only by actually seeing a printed sheet can you know whether a particular paper will fit your needs.

Keep it Simple

When it comes to logo design and development, less is almost always more. When picturing your logo, you may envision several colors paired with a complex illustration or even a photo. What you may not be envisioning is the added cost or challenges associated with accurately and consistently rendering that logo across a wide range of media (print, websites, large format graphics such as signage, apparel, etc.). For best results, commit to simple but identifiable type and graphic elements that are easy to scale and reproduce with consistent results. Avoid photographic or raster elements. And carefully consider your color options. In many cases, a 2-color logo is an ideal choice.