The humble business card may seem truly old-fashioned, even out of place, in a digital epoch where we can share our contact information via email, Facebook or LinkedIn. But there's still a place for something printed with one's name, title, company and address on it. Until a few years ago, the options for buying those cards usually involved investments of time and money - often a fair amount of both.
I've had a couple of experiences with an interesting online firm that has radically changed all that. Vistaprint.com, a firm with headquarters 107 miles southeast of Amsterdam in the Dutch town of Venlo, will give you 250 business cards for $10, but there's more to the story.
You've seen Vistaprint's website ads; they're almost impossible to avoid. The $10 offer is for cards in one of several basic designs, on regular card stock, and you'll pay for shipping, of course. It's not a bad deal by any stretch and, yes, it's a come-on. The firm hopes you'll order more than 250 cards, upgrade the design and finishing options, and perhaps purchase some matching letterhead or other accessories.
For many new entrepreneurs - people who are either suddenly or by design striking out on their own - the Vistaprint arrangement makes a lot of sense. There's a seemingly endless gallery of designs from which to choose, you can add your own text, logo or photo, and the options of heavier paper stock or coated cards can be appealing.
Best of all is the price, which is often far lower than you can get in a local print shop or office-supply chain store. Those firms often will "job out" these orders and take a small commission, and that's where the time and expense come in. The Vistaprint folks eli minate that middleman.
They also eliminate a lot of wasted time. In the past two weeks, I've placed two orders, each, as it happened, on a Monday afternoon. By Tuesday evening, online tracking showed the cards were ready to ship. My first order arrived the Friday after ordering; the second should do so as well.
If that's all there was to the story, it would be interesting but not all that technology-oriented. There is, however, a bit more to the tale.
Along with the online design tools, Vistaprint.com will print your cards from a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. The format generally is created by Adobe Systems Inc. and available through programs such as Adobe's Acrobat, InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Microsoft's Word also will produce PDF files.
For the first of my printing orders - a two-sided business card with color logos - the PDFs uploaded quickly to the Vistaprint website. I could see what the card would look like, approve the design and, with one click, set the press into motion.
For the second order - a card where the title and address needed updating - I loaded the PDF of the current design into Adobe's Illustrator and made some quick changes, and we were off and running. The Illustrator program, a new version of which launched this week as part of Adobe's Creative Suite 6 release, is easy to use when working with an established design. I'll let you know of other experiences with CS6 in a future column. For other users, a program such as the Mac-based Business Card Composer from BeLightSoft.com or Business Card Studio from Summit Software (www.summitsoftcorp.com/) can handle the design tasks and give you the PDF files.
Although buying and using design software will not turn a person into a designer any more than repeat visits to McDonald's would turn you into a Big Mac, some thought and careful work with such programs, coupled with a quality print job from Vistaprint, can make the task easier. Chalk up another small advance for the tech era.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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