How to Design a Successful Multi-Channel Marketing Campaign

While many marketers continue to rely on single-approach marketing tactics—email, search, direct mail—for many others, there has been a monumental shift toward a multi-channel approach, and with good reason. Multi-channel marketing campaign success has been well-documented and with the advancement of tracking, analytics, and reporting tools, a multi-channel approach is easy to plan and manage. Whichever side of the tracks you are on – you are either demonstrating marketing strategy prowess or marketing strategy mistakes.

Year-over-year, research has shown that few consumers are single-channel shoppers anymore. According to a Harvard Business Review study, 73% of consumers use multiple (three on average) channels to research a product or brand before they make a purchase. Why is this good news for retailers and marketers? According to the same study, the more channels a consumer uses, the more valuable they are—spending an average of 4% more on every in-store shopping experience and 10% more online than single-channel consumers. And with every additional channel they used, they spent more money in the store. For retail, the statistics go on to include 23% more repeat shopping visits to the retailer’s stores (loyalty) and a higher propensity (brand advocacy) to recommend a brand to family and friends than those who used a single channel. And, not be overlooked, the value of the data points collected on your audience from different channels can be used to develop future offers, messaging, and entire campaigns. Let’s explore ways marketers can expand their campaigns into the multi-channel world.

Informed Delivery Transforms Direct Mail into Multi-channel Marketing

Direct mail has risen to the top as an effective marketing tool to drive consumers to digital information. Marketers use engagement responses such as coupon codes, personal URL’s, or QR codes to connect physical mail pieces to online videos, landing pages, shopping sites, reviews, and contests. The postal service delivers physical mail to customers without the filters and obstructions common with digital communication channels. Mail is a perfect starting point for businesses seeking to take advantage of multi-channel marketing benefits.

A straightforward way to connect physical mail and digital content is with Informed Delivery® (ID) from the US Postal Service. ID scans every piece of mail that enters its system, and emails consumers digital images of the mail that will arrive in their mailboxes each day. Over 20 million households have subscribed to the free Informed Delivery service. Marketers can leverage this technology by attaching a digital marker to their direct mail, transforming the black and white scan image to a four-color clickable image that is emailed to the registered recipient. This image becomes a digital ad that promotes the content in the soon-to-be-delivered mail. Mailers can double their impressions and send customers directly to destinations such as donation pages, signup forms, special sales, or grand opening messages with no added postage costs. Think of it as a “two for one”! The best part? Informed Delivery is a complimentary service from the USPS. Mailing experts at Bolger Printing can help you add ID to your direct mail campaign, making it instantly multi-channel!

(NOTE: During special promotional periods, mailers can even earn a postage credit on qualifying Informed Delivery campaigns. Ask us for details.)

Social Media Connected to Website

Posting relevant social media content that includes links back to your website is a simple, uncomplicated way to communicate over multiple channels, but it must be part of a coordinated social marketing plan. You can use social networks to present special offers to your loyal followers, connecting them to a landing page on your website with additional data capture points. Lead capture forms can collect additional information (such as an email address) in return for a valuable discount or limited-time offer. It can also offer an opportunity to share the unique offer with their friends and family, creating a referral program.

Don’t forget about the social part of social media marketing. Utilizing it as a broadcast medium is the baseline use of social media, but you can raise lead quality by monitoring your social networks, responding to inquiries, participating in discussions, and interacting in other ways. This aspect of social media requires human interaction—preferably someone comfortable with social networking and time to monitor, manage, and respond on your social networks every day.

Email Marketing and Multi-channel Campaigns

Once you’ve acquired email addresses via lead capture forms on your website, you’ve opened yet another marketing channel. Use the email address for the delivery of digital newsletters or email drip campaigns that further promote additional content and offers.

Many organizations can be successful at promoting their brands and developing leads using their website, direct mail, email, and social media. The costs are minimized by using your creative assets in multiple ways. Re-using content also ensures your branding and presentation is consistent across all channels.

Multi-channel marketing can be as complex or simple as you’d like to make it. If you’re just starting out, keep the effort small and manageable to avoid being overwhelmed with too many inter-related communication channels. Develop content that supports your marketing tactics across multiple channels and then use that content to fuel your channel strategies. The marketing experts at Bolger can help you map out a cross-channel marketing strategy that supports each individual marketing goal you have. Give us a call and let’s put together a time to hear what your sales, fundraising, or recruitment goals are, and we’ll help build a plan to support it.

Print – It’s Worth It!

With all of the communication choices and channels, why choose print? After all, you need a designer, a writer, a production budget, and possibly even a budget for mailing. Is it worth that kind of an investment?

In a word, yes. Any other answer would have had you falling off your chair, coming from a printer, right?! Print has exclusive, unique benefits not found in its digital cousin alternatives including higher brand recognition and customer perception, more reliable deliverability, and the potential for higher response rates. Shaking your head in disbelief? How about a few facts to back up each of these claims.

From Printing Press to the Brain

USPS OIG Neuromarketing Report CoverThe U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) worked with the Center for Neural Decision Making at Temple University on a study of neuromarketing. The researchers compared how consumers reacted to printed vs. digital communications and marketing materials, and analyzed actual physiological effects to measure the differences. They employed techniques such as eye-tracking, heart rate monitoring, and MRI scans to observe study participants as they interacted with both printed and digital.

This study revealed that what consumers say about how they regard printed and digital media and how their bodies and minds react to various marketing channels can differ.

  • Physiological responses showed study participants were more emotionally engaged and interested in the printed material than digital media, even though they grasped about the same amount of information from each source.
  • A week after they were exposed to print and digital ads, participants could recall the content of the physical material better than the digital ads.
  • Participants said they were equally motivated to buy products presented in physical or digital ads, but their brain activity indicated stronger feelings for the products and services advertised via printed material.
  • To test the strength of purchase intent, the researchers allowed study participants to purchase the advertised items and services. When it came to taking action, print out-performed digital.

Clutter, Staying Power, and Trustworthiness

Experts estimate consumers are exposed to approximately 5,000 ads per day. The vast majority of these advertisements are delivered via email, online search banner ads, social media, and television. A printed communication has much less competition, therefore earning more attention.

Electronic messages, like banner ads, have a brief shelf life. They vanish with a single keystroke never to be seen by an individual consumer again until an ad server decides it’s time to display it, based on bids for relevant keywords. In comparison, direct mail advertising lives in the household of the recipient for an average of 17 days (Mailmen), with 72% of direct mail recipients reading or scanning the mail they receive (USPS 2018 Household Diary Study).

The trust factor for print at 71% far exceeds that of online media at 25%. Consumers recognize that businesses who leverage direct mail and print communications have made a conscious decision to invest in that particular form of media for a multitude of reasons, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. It provides a more memorable, lasting, and trustworthy communication experience that is delivered directly into the hands of the recipient—with little or no competition— providing more of the following than any digital ad could ever deliver:

  • Comprehensive product or service detail
  • Additional useful content
  • Personalized or customized messaging and offers

Brand Consistency

Brands of all sizes and in every market segment spend an extraordinary amount of effort and dollars developing brand identities that include colors, fonts, imagery, etc. Turning their messages over to digital channels that provide minimal assurances about how their messages will look when delivered removes the certainty of brand consistency. Color reproduction and image quality varies by device, layout can be greatly affected by screen dimensions, and fonts are regularly substituted. There is only one medium that can guarantee that the recipient sees the ad, the message or communication exactly as it was designed and intended—and that is print. Reproduction is controlled and predictable.

Deliverability

Whether I send you a catalog or a card by way of the postal service, I am confident that it will be delivered to you and you will touch it and at the least scan it. In comparison, if I serve up a digital ad to you, you are likely to practice one or more “avoidance techniques” such as ad blockers, junk mail filters, unsubscribe requests, or simply ignoring and deleting it. The digital ad may have been delivered, but it’s performance simply doesn’t stand up to print.

In conclusion, yes, marketing via print is more expensive than digital channels. However, it’s clear that print makes a positive impact in ways that digital cannot. Want the best of both worlds? Connect your print marketing to digital marketing – include direct mail, email, landing pages, personalization, video, tracking and analytics!

Planning a multi-touch, multi-channel print and digital marketing campaign is in the DNA of Bolger. We’re proud of the talent we employ here within the Bolger print, digital, and mail facilities, and we are always ready to serve your needs. Print may require a budget, but our expertise and experience are free!

Making a Difference with Data

Direct Mail marketing generates heightened engagement and customer response when incorporating the use of data to leverage personalization and versioning. Study after study, year after year, this is a well-documented and proven fact. With today’s data analytics tools and advanced print technologies, marketers can create highly targeted print pieces with an infinite number of variable elements per page—including fonts, text, images, graphics, and positioning.

How does it work? When creating documents with variable content, you are merging a file from a design program (such as InDesign) with a spreadsheet or database file. This can be as simple as using data from programs like Excel or Filemaker, to a more advanced approach of designing custom data integrations with CRM platforms or ERP platforms. The key to executing these projects properly is preparation and planning, so let’s look at some basic guidelines for ensuring a successful campaign.

1. The best variable data campaigns start with the data. Build a functional database with information stored in an easily searchable architecture, including basic data such as first name, last name, and mailing address, layering in adding additional data points such as individual purchase history, engagement history, demographics, gender, age, or any other element you deem useful. Your data points should include information that will help place, promote, and sell your product or service to the right people. From that database, determine the messaging, offers and timing of your variable campaign to each segment of individuals from your list will be the next step. You will have the ability to customize each recipients printed piece to each individual.

2. Assemble the data before undertaking the design. Let the data determine how to best create the design of the piece, letting the design adapt to the data.

3. Talk to your print service provider early on in the process. Their experts will have valuable advice on how to set up your data and art files, preferred formats, and other guidelines that will save you time and money, increasing the success and ROI of the campaign.

4. Each row of information on a spreadsheet represents a unique document, while each column represents a corresponding field within the document (designed as part of the artwork). Data columns can also serve as criteria for selecting variable text or images. Variable text fields can include offers, unique messaging, dates, or any text content within your database. Variable image fields can include any set of pre-chosen images that can be assigned to an image box within the document. Ask your print service provider for specific data file guidelines such delimiters and qualifiers, and guidelines for the use of multiple images that can be changed per field, per printed piece.

5. Use a simple, but consistent naming protocol for the columns, such as name, image one, image two, and place the name of the image to be used in the field into the corresponding field in the database. Be careful to use the precise name of each image. You can use .jpg, .esp or .tif extensions.

If you are doing more complex variable documents, you may have to employ a VDP application that can work with a relational database and extract the data to be used.

6. Use a program like InDesign to create the art file. Create a sample or proof indicating the positions of all the variable elements and use the precise name for the fields and for the images in each field.

7. Keep all images in one folder and be sure to not use any subfolders. Again, use precise names for all fields.

8. Best Practices when creating your art file:

  • The Long and Short of it. Check that the longest variable text from text fields will fit in the allocated space. Also check the shortest text field. Pay particular attention to text that may re-flow and wrap to the next line.
  • Don’t Be Caught Empty-Handed. Specify a default value to use if a row contains blanks in a variable column, otherwise it may result in an empty field when printed.
  • Image Size Matters. The size of your image files should be between 1 – 5 MB (not to exceed 5 MB) with a resolution of 300 dpi. Keep the range of images to be used in any specific field to be similar in size (dimensions), otherwise prepress programs will scale to fit them into the provided image box and you may experience your images being enlarged, reduced or skewed in some manner.
  • Fonts Can Be Finicky. Include all the fonts you plan to use in formats such as .otf and .ttf. Remember some styles and effects don’t carry over in the variable text, so you must attach all the fonts.
  • Decoding Codes. If you’re adding items such as barcodes or QR codes, send the information embedded in those codes.
  • Addressing Address Fields. It is best to keep address fields as individual fields rather than one single field that has all address information in it. Split the address into Address 1, Address 2, Street, City, State, Zip. BONUS: By keeping the zip code in its own field you are able to take advantage of favorable pricing for pre-sorted postal rates.

Your custom-designed variable print project deserves customized attention. Bolger understands this and has experts on-staff to guide you through the entire process—from the first step of data collection and data management to the design of the piece and each variable characteristic. We have a wealth of knowledge and assistance available to help you.

Manage Your Brand’s Communications and Campaigns—24/7/365

Many organizations, particularly those with user communities of employees, partners, and customers, face the challenge of how to manage brand communications to effectively reach these diverse audiences. And as channels and methods advance and converge, marketing and communication professionals find themselves spending more time on managing the tactics rather than building the strategy. As a result, resources are stretched and companies find themselves seeking ways to simplify the workflow of creating, producing and delivering their branded messages and campaigns across multiple platforms.

Leading Print Service Providers (PSPs) have found themselves at the center of this convergence—between print and digital communication mediums—and are helping to solve this problem by developing intuitive, customized software and dashboard solutions. They recognize that as more organizations focus on an omni-channel approach to their communication strategy, the need to have this sophisticated level of integration and management becomes critical to the success of the brand’s communications.

In response to this need for a powerful brand asset management tool, Bolger has developed SmartQ®, a comprehensive on-line platform that includes workflows and management for creating, ordering, tracking, and reporting of both digital and print communications and programs. SmartQ streamlines communication asset management and workflows across multiple channels and multiple users. It is a custom-developed, secure middleware system where authorized personnel can manage all branded assets and projects (print and digital), maintaining all company communication requirements.  When integrated with secure data sources, SmartQ serves as a centralized communication management hub. Check out our video tour here!

Wondering how SmartQ can help your organization? Think product launches, compliance and regulatory requirements, events, PR, new client acquisition, and client retention among many other scenarios.

Today’s Communication professionals are faced with the challenges of converging methods, practices and channels. Communication is complex and often leads to workflow problems that consume large amounts of time, energy and cost. Left unaddressed, many companies are spending too much time and money on creation, execution and delivery instead of strategy and new ideas. Tools are available to restore a proper time balance between executing tactics and developing strategy, putting the power back on your hands.

The Single Customer View

All marketers want to understand the customer experience in order to create more effective messages and campaigns. Yet most marketers are also keenly aware of the hurdles those messages face on their way to target audiences: unsubscribe lists, junk folders, the hit-and-miss nature of social media platforms, and often, a lack of clean and accurate data to drive those campaigns.

More specifically, companies don’t necessarily lack data, but their customer information is stored and organized so haphazardly it’s difficult to use. One way around this issue is to adopt the Single Customer View approach, or SCV.

SCV, also known as Unified Customer Journey, combines all available customer information into one source, creating a unified view of customers that is well structured and easy to parse. You can draw data from the main points of customer contact, including websites and mobile platforms, CRM systems, email, all types of advertising, and printed materials.

The SCV should include all customer communications and interactions, including social media comments. Companies can enhance in-house information with third-party sources to further drive intelligence. Organizations should focus on the most useful criteria, whether that is demographic segmentation, purchase history, or highly individualized data.

 

The Benefits of the Single Customer View

Merging your silos of information offers many benefits.

Critically, you’ll work with clean, accurate and de-duped data. You can plan your campaigns without worrying about data errors. Nothing damages a carefully planned and executed campaign quite as spectacularly as inaccurate information. Bad data damages trust. Once trust is gone, it’s difficult to get it back. This is especially true when striving to increase repeat customer business.

Inaccurate data also wastes money. If you have several Karen Smiths in your database can you be sure they are all same person? If not, you will spend money to send duplicate messages repeatedly and annoy customers in the process.

SCV is essential for designing good omnichannel campaigns where coherent and consistent messages are critical to avoid alienating customers.

It’s also crucial with print and direct mail, which offers definite advantages to marketers. Unlike email, consumers don’t usually block direct mail. Relevant physical mail is nearly always opened and read. Good data can make printing costs more efficient by eliminating undeliverable items, removing dupes, and augmenting data for more precise targeting.

You can achieve precise customer segmentation with SCV. Standard segmentation such as demographics, geography, website traffic behavior, or purchasing patterns are great, but a unified view of your customers can bring to light particular segments based on issues, perceptions, and other data points you hadn’t previously considered. It’s possible to be as hyper segmented as you wish.

Likewise, you may gain new insight into your customers’ journey, identify their first interaction with your organization, or assess which touch points are most effective.

Customers can easily tell when a marketer has done a slapdash job of tailoring a message and has failed to draw on their personal relationship with the company. This can negate efforts to retain clients, upsell, or gain referrals.

Creating a functional SCV can be a technical challenge that requires good data analytics skills. Yet the efforts are worth it. Talk to our data experts about how to bring order to your data and use your customer information to achieve your marketing objectives.

For Designers: Fear of Data

The world is awash in oceans of data. Every time each of us engages in a transaction, answers a survey, browses a website, hands out a business card, or contributes to an online thread, we leave a bit of information behind.

All that knowledge can be a huge help in honing relevant marketing messages that resonate with consumers. But the data ocean can also be intimidating. Before you can turn those information bits into data-driven marketing campaigns, they must be processed, organized and manipulated—a prospect that can push up anxiety levels. In addition, designers and creatives can be leery of too much data for fear it will dim the creative spark.

Some reluctance is understandable as data manipulation does require specialized skills. The good news is that Bolger Printing has an entire team of data experts on staff to help you evaluate and leverage your data. Handling the data tasks and executing on successful data-driven marketing campaigns is our goal.

Let’s look at how data can be used for maximum effect:

Data backs up the gut feel

Marketers and creatives use data even when they don’t realize it. When creatives tap into a gut feeling and energize their talent, they’re tapping into experiences, prior successes and failures, and knowledge of their audience. That’s data. A more structured approach simply brings order to the process.

Data makes messages relevant and clear

Information lets you know what your customers want. It identifies their challenges and offers insights into their buying behavior. You can use this knowledge to decide what message to send to each client or group, and when it should be delivered. This detailed audience profile—a design brief in designer speak—focuses the message, unleashes creativity, and produces a better customer experience because the targeted individuals are receiving pitches that matter to them.

Data creates fully customized experiences

Having the right data is the only way to create variable, customized, and personalized campaigns. Studies consistently show that when marketers customize messages for recipients, response rates rise along with trust in the brand. Think about the many companies that stream or recommend content based on user preferences. Your campaigns can be just as relevant and well received.

Data proves what works

Tracking the response and engagement rates of various creative approaches and campaigns will indicate what resonates with audiences, giving creatives deeper insights into the emotional triggers that hit the mark.

Data helps keep up with consumer tastes

How often have you read about companies that failed because they didn’t keep up with changing consumer tastes? If executives had been keenly attuned to purchase and browsing patterns, comments, foot traffic, or other metrics, they might have avoided business downturns. Data helps you keep up with your customers’ preferences so you can fine tune your creative initiatives.

Data can tell you how to communicate

By examining where and how your audiences receive your messages you can choose the best-working platforms. If you know that younger clients respond to social media offers and older clients like direct mail, for instance, you can adjust accordingly.

Data prioritizes your outreach

Data identifies patterns of dissatisfaction, highlighting at-risk customer segments. Are you losing long held clients? Perhaps it’s time for a customer appreciation marketing campaign. Are you not gaining traction with a younger crowd? It’s time to do something inspiring for them.

The expertise required to collect, validate, organize and manipulate reams of data is at the heart of this process. Our experts can help with all your data-management needs, leaving you to focus on finessing your strategy and your message.

2020 USPS Direct Mail Promotions

Want to Make an Impression? Send Something!

Strategic sampling makes the right impression

Everyone one likes free stuff. It’s just how we humans are wired.

Free product samples, kits, or other materials can be an effective marketing strategy that generates goodwill and customer-base growth. With today’s increasingly sophisticated technology, companies can execute this strategy with precision, timeliness, and efficiency. Physical product fulfillment can be triggered automatically to reach leads as they pass pre-defined thresholds in the sales funnel.

Sampling, or the strategy of giving away free items, is ubiquitous. Cosmetic companies are some of the highest profile deployers of this tactic, but almost all companies can use the strategy with free products, consultations, information, or services.

Several factors make sampling an ideal strategy.

  • Sampling can be cheaper than other advertising options, particularly if customers experience your product by taste, touch, or smell. Showing the attributes of a product is more effective than writing about them.
  • Product samples create goodwill among customers and can be the lynchpin of social media or direct mail campaigns.
  • Physical products can be an excellent means of getting customer feedback or testing the waters before full commercialization. Ask recipients what they think of your product and make tweaks before investing in a full-scale roll-out.
  • Free products or information can be superb lead generators. Free materials can feed your mailing list and add to important data collection. Ask customers to provide key information about their business or their buying habits and reward them with a free product or service. Timing this step to critical points in the sales funnel can be very effective.

Strategic Sampling

Timing giveaways to occur after customers have completed pre-determined tasks such as filling out a form, watching a video, or visiting a landing page may deliver the highest ROI. It ties your offer to a specific action when you can urge a lead to take the next step towards closing.

Technology-driven fulfillment methods make this process run smoothly. Leading-edge fulfillment service providers combine the best of electronic and physical fulfillment techniques, handling both products and printed materials.

Fulfillment professionals can align distribution of collateral material or promotional products with CRM systems so potential customers receive product samples at key junctures in the sales cycle. With such triggered fulfillment techniques you allow customers to experience your products when it’s the right time for them, not as part of a mass distribution exercise.

 

Offload Fulfillment Headaches

If you’re rolling out marketing programs by geographic location, strategic sampling also works. Determine the order of the locations or markets you want to reach and let your technology and service provider partners do the heavy lifting.

Additionally, materials that complement the samples can be delivered electronically via email or as printed pieces. On-demand production with digital presses can enhance and personalize printed items for more effective targeting. It’s an optimal alternative to large print runs that create inventories of materials that may become obsolete.

Sampling, like most marketing initiatives, is most effective when directed at the right audience at the right time and bolstered with a personalized message. Your fulfillment provider can handle these tasks for you and take complexity out of the equation. You needn’t worry about technology, warehousing, kitting, postal and shipping rules, tracking systems, staff time, inventory management, or other logistical challenges.

Talk to our experts at Bolger Printing to discuss how triggered fulfillment can energize your sales/lead generation strategies.

Extra Impressions of Your Message (for free)

Informed Delivery from the US Postal Service sends consumers a preview of the mail they will receive later in the day. Consumers receive a morning email that displays images of soon-to-be-delivered letter-size mail. The great news for direct mail marketers and others communicating with their customers is the USPS distributes your message in an additional channel at no charge!

This is one of the few times you can get something for nothing. The base program is automatic and requires no special preparation by the mailer. About 17 million consumers have subscribed to Informed Delivery and are receiving previews of their mail in their morning inboxes. The open rate on these emails is extraordinary-about 65 percent.

Marketers should take advantage of these extra free impressions and add compelling text and graphics or teasers to their envelopes, postcards, or self-mailers. These efforts will make the scanned pieces stand out in the morning emails and increase the chances of engagement once the physical mail pieces arrive in consumer mailboxes.

The USPS doesn’t support flats, catalogs, and magazines in the basic service, but read on to see how mailers of these materials can still take advantage of the Informed Delivery program.

 

Informed Delivery Campaigns

Mailers can substitute the default monochrome images with full color ads that include a call to action and a link. Again, the Postal Service charges nothing for this service! A campaign requires little extra work. Most times, the artwork and landing pages will already exist as part of your marketing campaign. Mailers can work with print and mail service providers like Bolger Printing to design and submit an Informed Delivery campaign.

Informed Delivery presents full color ads first in the list of a consumer’s daily summary of mail pieces. A link in the ad can lead directly to landing pages for special sales, donation collection, event sign ups, video demonstrations, customer online portals, and more. Mailers can include flats, catalogs, and magazines in their Informed Delivery campaigns featuring substitute images.

If you’ve been thinking about running a multi-channel campaign, Informed Delivery is an easy and inexpensive way to start.

 

High Value/Low Cost

To make Informed Delivery campaigns even more effective, segment your mailing list. Your customers will see different graphics or links, depending on criteria you declare. A bank for instance, might provide links to different branches depending on the mail recipient’s location. Or an airline might alter their offer according to consumer loyalty points. The possibilities for targeted marketing, including extra free impressions and website links, are endless.

After the mailing, the US Postal Service compiles Informed Delivery campaign statistics. Mailers can view detailed reports on campaign delivery dates, email opens, and clickthroughs. Pre-mailing file analysis is also available so you can estimate the number Informed Delivery subscribers in your target zip codes or on your mailing list.

The US Postal Service runs promotions to encourage mailers to give Informed Delivery a try. Call us to hear about the schedule for the next promotional period and save money on postage while still doubling your impressions for free. It can’t get any better than that!

Learn more about the Informed Delivery program and see a personalized video explanation at www.usps.com/business/informed-delivery.htm. Don’t worry about the technical items or campaign set-up steps. The mailing experts at Bolger Printing will take care of those details for you. To experience Informed Delivery for yourself, sign up at www.informeddelivery.com. Within a few days you will receive your digest of daily mail via email. Once you see how it works, call us to double the impact of your next direct mail project.

Best Practices for Images

Nothing beats the beauty of a crisp and finely detailed printed image. Or the rush of cracking open a book fresh off the press. At the same time, printing can be a complicated process with multiple variables and exacting specifications for sending a file to print.

To make the process less complex, let’s have a look at how to handle three of the most common problem areas: color, bleeds, and resolution.

For detailed guidance about file specifications, please refer to our file preparation page.

 

Color

Getting colors right is a common issue, so let’s start with the basics. Your computer uses a color space called RGB (red, green, blue) to produce all the colors you see on the screen. A printing press uses the CMYK color space made up of cyan, magenta, yellow and black to produce printable colors. This is known as the four-color process.

Before you send files to a printer, you must convert RGB to CMYK in your design software, such as InDesign.

The difference between the two color spaces can be significant. RGB produces bright and vibrant screen colors a press can’t always replicate. RGB can reproduce a wider spectrum of the color gamut than a printing press, meaning it’s possible to display colors in RGB that you can’t make with CMYK. What you see on the screen can appear quite different on paper.

For best results while converting color try the following:

  • Select colors for fonts or other elements in your layout using CMYK definitions, not RGB
  • Try to calibrate your viewer to emulate CMYK so what you see on screen more closely approximates what a press will print.
  • Don’t use your office printer to gauge CMYK reproduction. That device is likely not calibrated correctly and will not produce a correct proof.

 

Spot Colors

While the four-color printing process can reproduce endless hues, reproduction inconsistencies can appear. A CMYK color formula printed on one press can appear different on another press. Consistent color reproduction every time requires a spot color. Presses produce corporate colors like Coca Cola red or Home Depot orange with spot colors. Ink suppliers pre-mix these colors to a standard known as the Pantone Matching System, or PMS colors. Specialty inks like metallics or neon inks are also considered spot colors. Your print service provider must image an additional printing plate for each spot color.

 

Bleeds

A printed file includes a trim size and bleed areas. The trim size refers to the final dimensions of the piece after it’s trimmed and bound. The bleed is a border area of printed content that extends beyond the trimmed edge and is discarded during finishing.

Bleeds are safety margins that allow guillotines and knife trimmers to cut a piece to the required size without leaving a white border along the edges. Bleeds should be 1/8” larger than the trim size on all sides. When you’re designing a printed piece, create the image and have your design program add a bleed space for you.

 

Safe Area

A related topic is the safe area, or type safety area. This is the area on a page where designers can safely place images, text, and other elements that won’t be cut off during binding. Leave a free space of at least 1/16” from the trim line on all sides to avoid cutting mishaps. You may have to adjust the safe area further in the gutter (gutters are extra space added to allow for binding). Your printer can recommend acceptable parameters.

 

Resolution

Crisp, beautiful images depend on proper resolution. Resolution refers to how much data images contain. Screen resolutions generally top out at 72dpi, or dots per inch. This looks good on most screens and makes files easier to store and display. A printing press needs a resolution of 300 dots per inch, so screen images are usually unsuitable for print.

The 300 dpi applies to resolving the final printed image. If you’re using an image that’s 2” x 2” with 300 dpi and resize to 6” x 6” you will dilute the resolution. The larger image must be 300 dpi to print clearly.

Resizing an image to a smaller dimension will not harm the print quality, but be cautious about enlargements. It’s possible to enlarge an image using various methods in Photoshop, but this yields limited results.

Guidelines provided by your print service provider are meant to ensure your printed pieces turn out as you planned. You’ll prevent extra charges, avoid delays, and experience the best results by designing with the printing process in mind. When in doubt, call the professionals at Bolger Printing for assistance.