You’re ready to begin—or think you are. You can efficiently design a marketing project by following these five steps. Whether you do it all yourself or hire professional help, your project will go through these five stages.
Step 1 — Organize, Plan, Budget
First, set the budget and deadline for your project. Your budget includes all or some of the following: writing, designing, editing, proofreading, illustrations, photography or stock imagery, choosing the right paper, printing, folding, binding, labeling, and distributing.
Everything that goes into making the printed piece comes under the term “production.” To determine various production deadlines, start with the date you want customers to receive your piece and work backward. Leave enough time for the elements noted above. Set deadlines for completing each of these functions.
Step 2 — Develop a Concept and Pull Together the Text and Images to Design a Marketing Project
Clearly identify your target audience and determine what you want to achieve with your printed piece (e.g., increase your marketing exposure, establish your corporate identity, launch an advertising campaign, etc.).
Outline a “design brief” that clarifies your concepts, goals, and budget for the project. This will help you (or your designer) tailor the design, typography, graphics, and color to your targeted audience. Thinking through these elements of the concept early will also help you stay within your budget. Do black and white “thumbnail” sketches by hand (which are small—about 2” x 2” drawings) of your ideas on paper.
Prepare your text in a word processing program or hire a writer to compose text and headlines to fit the space you need. It’s best to collaborate closely with the writer at this “brainstorming” stage to develop a theme and determine the right amount of text and graphics needed. If you write the copy yourself, I highly recommend hiring an editor to perfect the language and ensure it’s easy to understand.
Use professional drawing programs such as Adobe Illustrator to do your graphics. Then, use photo-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop to touch up and crop your scans and photos. Determine what file formats and resolution your graphics and scans should be to produce this project. Don’t hesitate to consult with a designer or printer to get this right!
Step 3 — Page Layout
Once you select a general direction for your project, use a professional page layout program such as Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress to design your color “comps.” This means compiling the text and graphics into one document.
I recommend you use “grids” to help with the positioning and alignment of text and graphics. These are nonprinting guidelines that make it easy to lay out your document in an organized fashion. Then print your comps as laser prints or low-resolution color PDFs. If you have a multiple page project such as a newsletter, you should design style sheets for reoccurring type treatments. (Setting up style sheets lets you automatically format your text, subheads, headlines, etc.) Using style sheets saves a lot of time throughout the production process. You can have a professional designer set them up for you.
Step 4 — Editing and Proofing
Proofread, proofread, proofread! Hire an editor and/or proofreader for assurance that written mistakes on the piece get noticed and fixed. Be sure to dial all the phone and fax numbers printed on your layout and go to all the websites to confirm that the stated website locations are correct. At the same time, make sure your design aligns well with the words, that the correct captions appear under the illustrations and photographs, and so on.
At this stage, it is best to output high-resolution digital color proofs so you can see a close color reproduction of your piece. Alternatively, you could proofread the pages from a set of black and white or color laser prints. Be sure to review the entire layout before you prepare the files for the printer.
Step 5 — Pre-Press, Approvals, and Printing
Perform a pre-flight checklist (this is a list of specifications you must follow so that your document will print properly), or convert your file to the PDF format to ensure that all graphics and fonts are included in the files sent to the printer. Beware: Skipping this step can lead to delays at the printing stage.
Some printers require a completed “file prep form” to ensure files are submitted properly. For traditionally printed color pieces, the printer may prepare a “matchprint” color proof. Alternatively, your printer may give you digital color proof or black and white proof prints. It’s important to carefully review these proofs for accuracy in matching the colors before printing.
For traditionally printed one or two color jobs, you may review blueline proofs, which are contact prints of the film negatives. Made of light-sensitive, off-white material, bluelines show your layout printed in light-blue and medium-blue colors. From these bluelines, you can read the type and distinguish the color breaks (division of colors). Pay careful attention to these bluelines. This is your last opportunity to review your piece before it gets printed. Remember, any changes made at this point are very costly. Please note, most printers are discontinuing matchprints and bluelines, and are now exclusively using digital proofs or “soft” proofs (a pdf file sent to your computer).
Once you sign off on these proofs, you may want to do a press check, which takes place at your printer’s facility while your project runs on the press. At this stage, you verify that the colors and other details are correct before the entire quantity is printed. During the press check process, you get a preview of your finished piece and come away with a sample hot off the press!