Before printing, it can help to familiarize yourself with certain terms to help ensure you get the results you want. Whether you are printing at home yourself or hiring someone to print for you, here are a few to get you started.


The extra area of the design that extends past where the finished edge of the card will be (indicated by crop marks), which are trimmed off after printing. This lets the entire surface of the card be covered with a design.

Trimming off bleeds and crop marks

Trimming off bleeds and crop marks

Crop Marks

These are small crosshair-like markings that indicate where to cut so that you can trim your cards to the correct size. You need these if you are printing at home and the finished size of your card is a different size than your printer can handle. You also need to include these on your prints if your design has bleeds. If you are receiving files ready to print from Little Rectangle, crop marks and bleeds will be set up for you if needed.

Alternatively, if you have a full bleed design and your home printer can print all the way to the edge on unique sizes (such as 4×6 or 5×7) you can buy paper that is already the finished size you need and print without needing to trim them out afterward. Also if your design isn’t full bleed (it doesn’t extend all the way to the edge), and you have paper that is already the finished size you need, you can print without needing crop marks, bleeds or trimming.

If you are taking them to a print shop, they can usually set up the file for you (with crop marks if needed) and trim them out as well. A shop generally only charges around $10-$20 for trimming, which is definitely worth it!

Color Matching

This is pretty self explanatory, but it isn’t always obvious what it takes to get the right color printed. If you are printing at home, it is easy for you to know if the color looks like you want it to. However, it requires clear communication if you are having someone else print it for you, and a proof (sample of a finished piece) can bridge the gap. If printing through Little Rectangle, you will receive a physical sample of your order, along with a color match page that will show variations of the colors used in your piece so that you can pick the one that is just right. Then the file will be adjusted to achieve those results and final printing will begin.

If you plan to take care of printing yourself, we can still provide you with a color match page so that you can print it at home or at a local shop. Then you can contact us with your chosen color and we can send you final files for print. Be sure to always print this page on the exact paper you will be using for your finished pieces, as slight variances in paper color can affect the ink color.

Printing a color match page allows you to see variations of each color used and choose which one looks just right.

Printing a color match page allows you to see variations of each color used and choose which one looks just right.

Digital Printing

This method is the most common form of printing that is easily achieved at home. If you request for Little Rectangle to manage printing for you, this is the most affordable method and can be done in-house. We use an Epson Artisan 1430 inkjet printer. Ink lays flat on the paper. It is quicker than more intricate methods, like letterpress and offset, and can produce beautiful, crisp results.

It can’t achieve certain effects, like printing light ink on dark paper – this would have to be reversed where the dark background is printed on a light-colored paper. Sometimes large areas of solid ink aren’t always consistent looking, but we can try!

Full Bleed

This is used to describe a design that will extend completely to the edge of your finished card (no border). Some printers cannot print to the edges automatically, so if your design is full bleed, you may need to print on larger paper with bleeds and crop marks then have the cards trimmed out to size.

Full Bleed vs Border

Full Bleed vs Border

Inkjet Printer

These printers use ink cartridges rather than toner. It is important to know before you buy paper for your project whether you will be using a laser or an inkjet printer, since occasionally some papers are made for one or the other and your results won’t be what you want if you get the wrong kind.

Laser Printer

These printers use a toner cartridge rather than ink. In general it is said that color quality is better from an inkjet printer, but it never hurts to try and see your results. It is important to know before you buy paper for your project whether you will be using a laser or an inkjet printer, since occasionally some papers are made for one or the other and your results won’t be what you want if you get the wrong kind.

Letterpress Printing

This method uses metal plates to imprint your design into paper so deeply that you can feel where the letters and design are rather than laying ink flat on top of paper. It can make quite the impression! Bad pun, I know…

Apple Letterpress Tree Card | Photo by  Glenn Fleishman

Apple Letterpress Tree Card | Photo by Glenn Fleishman

Aside from making an impression in the paper, it also allows you more choices of inks – metallics print well, even on dark colored paper. White doesn’t print very bright on dark paper, but a silver can be used for a similar effect.

It requires more setup and can be a bit more expensive, but it can be worth it for the beautiful result. Different impressions/colors are laid down one at a time, so a limited color palette can help you stay closer within your budget.

Offset Printing

This method produces crisp, beautiful prints and is useful for achieving unique results, such as printing with specialty inks (neon, metallic, etc). The costs associated are more than digital printing, but you can usually find a solution that works for your budget. As with letterpress and screenprinting, a limited color palette helps keep costs low.


A proof is a sample of exactly how your final print should look. It is important to request this from a print shop, or create one of these yourself at home before you say “go” and print the entire order needed. Seeing this can tell you what adjustments need to be made in order to get the design looking just right, and saves you from costly mistakes.

There are two types of proofs – digital and physical. A digital proof is a PDF that shows you what will be printed and is good for checking for typos. A physical proof is one that you actually hold and examine yourself to get a true picture of the paper and printed result. If time is a serious factor, photos can be taken of a physical proof and emailed, but of course this wouldn’t be the most accurate representation.


This method is great for achieving a unique, somewhat textural and hand-done look. It also offers a wider range of ink choices, such as bright neons or metallics.

It uses – you guessed it! – a screen. Printers pour ink onto a framed, fine mesh screen that has a design baked into it – then they run a squeegee carefully across the surface to transfer the design onto paper. It can only print one color at a time, unless you ask for “split fountain” in which you get a gradient-like effect by using two inks at once. Generally, screenprinting is best suited for most budgets when using, at most, a 2-3 color design since you have to layer each color on separately.

It can also work with light-colored inks on dark paper, but it differs depending on the colors and it is best to ask beforehand.

If you want extremely fine detail and perfect consistency in your pieces, this may not be the best choice. However, slight inconsistencies that suggest being made by hand can be the perfect look for some projects. Nowadays it can be pretty easy to mimic a screenprinted look using a digital printer, which can cut costs.

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