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Letterhead Planning and Design

Letterhead Planning and Design

Creating an Image | Content Elements | Design Format | Design Creation | Production


Creating an Image

The letterhead that you use for your business will affect the image that others form about your company. It is sometimes the first opportunity that you have to present your company to someone. It is important that the design you create for your letterhead reflects the image you want conveyed. Your letterhead will not only provide the customer with your name and address, it will also create an image about the quality of your products or services.

The design you use for your letterhead should express your company's personality. A letterhead designed for a company that sells children's toys should be different from a letterhead designed for a law office. Each needs to reflect the personality of the company to create the proper image. You can affect the image that is created through the use of different elements on your letterhead, such as your logo, ink colors, typestyles and the paper it is printed on.

When deciding what elements to use on your letterhead, you should consider some of the following factors:

  • Does your company have a logo? If it does, the logo should be used on the letterhead. If you do not have a logo, consider having one designed for you, it is a good way of expressing your company's personality. Once you have a logo, it can also be used on your business cards and envelopes. It should be used on other marketing and communication materials that your company uses. Using it on all company materials builds consistency in appearance and company recognition. See Design Creation for more information on logo design.
  • What colors are used to represent your company? If you have other printed materials that have a color scheme that is used, you should incorporate the same colors into your letterhead. This will create company identity through the use of the associated colors.
  • Select a typestyle to use for your company name. Select a style that reflects the image of your company, different typestyles create different images. You should also select a typestyle to use for the other content on your letterhead. Try to limit the typestyles that you use on your letterhead to two different typefaces.
  • Decide on the information that is important to be on your letterhead, such as company name, address and phone numbers. Does your company have a slogan? If it does, you should use it on the letterhead. A slogan is a good way of providing a message about your company, products or services. See Content Elements for what type of information should be included on your letterhead.
  • Select the type of paper you would like your letterhead printed on. The paper's weight, finish and color will all affect the image your letterhead conveys. If you use a special type of paper, you may want to determine if you want to use the same type for your envelopes and business cards. Using matching stock adds consistency to your overall company image.

Once you have determined what elements you will use, you are ready to start the design process.


Content Elements

The content of your letterhead consists of any information about your company that you want included on your letterhead. The main purpose of your letterhead is to provide information about your company. The content should include the following elements that are applicable to your company.

  • Logo
  • Company name and address
  • Contact name
  • Phone numbers
  • Fax numbers
  • E-mail address
  • Slogan

Do not include any unnecessary information. The letterhead should not look overcrowded and should leave plenty of space for the letter itself.


Design Format

There are several methods that can be used to choose the format for the layout of your letterhead. The format can be determined through custom designing or by selecting a preset template.

Custom Design

Custom designing provides many options when determining the format. You can create most any format that your imagination allows. Copy placement, typestyles, ink colors and paper types are only restricted by what your manufacturer has available. Custom designing allows you to use a design unique to your company. Keep in mind that opting to use a custom design will most generally cost you more than a template type format. See Design Creation for more details on custom designing your letterhead.

Templates

The use of templates for the format of your letterhead is a suitable option in many cases. Template formats can be used through special software, Internet applications and catalog orders. Most template formats allow a certain level of customizing to them. The level of customizing is different with each application. The areas affected are listed below.

Logos/Graphics - Some allow you to use only their artwork for a logo or to add a graphic to your letterhead. Others may allow you to use an image stored in your files. Catalogs will generally have stock art available but will also allow you to furnish your own logo or graphics as artwork, film, on a disk or as an electronic file.

Ink Colors - Some applications restrict you to the use of one or two colors and only have a limited number of inks to choose from. Some will have a large selection and allow four color process. Others will allow most any color you desire but will apply special upcharges and may result in extended delivery times.

Typestyles - Generally you have a selection of typestyles to choice from. Your choices can vary from eight to several hundred, depending on the provider. A minimum level provider may restrict you to selecting a typestyle for the main line and only allow a standard preselected type to be used for the other information. At a higher level, two or more styles may be allowed. The selection of type size will also vary from different providers.

Format Type - The different format selections may vary from four to twenty, while other applications have the option to place copy in locations where ever you indicate (with some limitations). Generally the size is a standard 8-1/2" x 11" and sometimes there is an option for a monarch size of 7-1/4" x 10-1/2".

Paper - Most applications will have a selection of papers that include a standard economy grade, a smooth finish paper, a laid finish paper and a linen finish paper. Depending on the level of the provider, the color selection may vary from two or three colors of each to the full line of colors that are available in that grade of paper. See Design Creation - Paper for samples of the different paper finishes and colors.

Using a template application can provide you with many options to give your letterhead a customized appearance. Before using one of the template applications, be sure that your options will meet your needs and that the provider will produce a quality product for you.


Design Creation

Designing your own letterhead can be a challenge but if you have the appropriate elements to work with, your job will be a lot easier. It is always helpful to look at samples of other company letterheads. This will give you some ideas and a feel for the type of design you would like to use to create an image for your company.

The guidelines below will help you with creating the design for your letterhead.

Logo Design

If you do not presently have a logo, you should consider designing one or have one designed by a professional. Your logo should be a professional representation of your company. It may be well worth the cost of having it created by a professional since it is an investment in the future image of your company.

Whether you design your own logo or have it created professionally, there are some basic elements that you should use to develop the design.

  • Company or Product Type - What type of personality do you want to convey; formal, bold, cheerful, youthful, technical, professional . . . ?
  • Graphics - Do you have a graphic that reflects your company type that could be incorporated into the design? It could be pictures, lines, squares or other shapes used to represent an image of your company.
  • Typeface - Sometimes letters of a special typeface are used to represent the first letters of the company's name, such as the GE used for General Electric.
  • Ink Colors - Many times there are specific colors that are used to represent a company. Those colors could be incorporated into the logo.

Sample Headings Showing Different Logo Types

All of the basic elements can be used to help create the right design for your company. Several designs should be created and then evaluated to see which best represents the image you want for your company.

Typeface Selection

Select typefaces that reflect the nature of your business. Try to limit your selection to two different types. You can use bold and italic in the typefaces you select but avoid overuse. Avoid using all capital letters. They are more difficult to read. If you have a specific typeface that is used on a business card or other marketing material, use the same typefaces for your letterhead. Be sure you select an easy to read type for the copy that will be printed in small print.

The typeface on the top sample shows a type style that is too casual for a company dealing with the latest in technology. The middle style is hard to read and does not convey the same sharp confident image conveyed by the bottom typeface.

The type size you use will vary for different information. The company name should be the largest type size used. The address, phone numbers and other information should be between 9 pt. and 12 pt., but be sure it does not get too small, making it difficult to read. The size you use for different information will depend on what you want to attract the most attention.

Layout Design

There are many options that can be used for the layout of your letterhead. The company's name, address and phone numbers are generally located somewhere at the top of the page. They can all be centered, left justified, right justified or a combination of alignments can be used. Look at samples from other companies or designs offered in catalogs from letterhead suppliers. This may help you get a feel for the style of layout you are interested in. Then start placing the elements on the page. Move them into different locations until you find a design that you are satisfied with. You may want to layout several different designs that you like and show them to others to get their opinions. Then decide on a final one.

Shown below are some different layout options.

The designs shown here are just examples of some different layouts that can be created for your letterhead. You can change the placement of the elements in anyway that appeals to you. Just remember that you are trying to convey the image of your company.

When custom designing your layout, you can make it most any size you want. It is best to select a standard 8-1/2" x 11" size or a monarch 7-1/4" x 10-1/2" so that they match the standard envelopes that are available.


Color Design

The colors of your design are added by the ink and paper you use. Colors have their own personality traits so they play an important part in your design.

Ink - By the use of color ink you can add most any colors that you want to your letterhead. If your company has special colors associated with it, you should try to use your company colors to promote consistency, unless they would have an undesirable effect on the image you are trying to portray.

Try not to overdo the use of color because it can cause your letterhead to look cluttered or unorganized and result in attracting attention to the wrong areas. Use color in areas that are the most important and where you want a person's attention to go.

When selecting the colors you want to use, you should be aware of color associations. This will help you select the appropriate color for the image you are trying to convey.

Image Colors Associations
Masculine

Black, gray, dark brown, dark green, deep purple, dark burgundy, rust

Rugged, powerful, bold, strong
Feminine Light blue, pink, flesh, yellow, peach, light gray, lavender, rose, mauve, pale green Gentle, loving, caring, bright, soft, tender
Bright Pink, blue, red, green, yellow, orange, purple Youthful, active, cheerful, fun, playful
Natural Brown, rust, gold, burnt orange, tan, hunter green, dark reds, all earth tones Wholesome, outdoorsy, dependable, nature
Warm Orange, yellow, red, gold, terra cotta, beige Sunny, warmth, radiant, active stimulating, glowing
Cool Light blue, turquoise, teal, light gray, silver, mint green, white Airy, fresh, tropical, breezy, calm
Elegant Black, gray, platinum, silver, gold, metallics, navy, burgundy, forest green Confident, powerful, classic, rich, sophisticated, luxurious, graceful, superior quality

The color association can help if you do not already have established colors. You also want to be sure the colors you choose go with each other and that they will not clash with the paper on which the letterhead will be printed. Many times black is chosen as one of the colors because it coordinates well with other colors.


Paper - The paper you use for your letterhead can affect the image you are trying to achieve. It will be the background for everything on your letterhead. Using a colored paper is an inexpensive way to add color to a short run letterhead. If you need a large quantity it may be better to use white paper and add color by using colored ink.

Be sure that when you choose your paper that it will look good with the ink colors you have chosen. If you are going to be printing envelopes and business cards, and are planning to use matching stock, be sure to check availability of stock for those items.

There are many different papers available for your letterhead. There are some basic types that are generally available from most suppliers. Each supplier will have different grades and colors available so it is best to consult with them to see what your options are when you are determining which paper would be best for you to use. They can also tell you if they have matching envelopes and business card stock. Some of the basic types available are shown below.

20 lb./ 24 lb.White Wove Bond

A smooth finish bond, no texture and no watermark. It is an economy grade that has a flat appearance.

20 lb./ 24 lb. White 25% Cotton Rag Bond

A high quality bond, which contains a watermark. Has a crisp white appearance, offers good contrast.

24 lb. Laid

Laid bond has a soft, subtle texture that adds depth to the paper. Its classic appearance conveys a professional image.

Laid paper is watermarked and available in white and colors. The colors shown are the ones most often offered. Check with your supplier for availability of other colors.

24 lb. Linen

Linen paper is embossed with a fine linen texture. It portrays a look of elegance.

Linen paper is watermarked and available in white and colors. The colors shown are the ones most often offered. Check with your supplier for availability of other colors.

24 lb. Recycled Fiber

A recycled stock with a smooth finish that contains visible fibers. The visible fibers give the paper its own unique look and can add just the right look to your letterhead.

Fiber paper available in white and colors. The colors shown are the ones most often offered. Check with your supplier for availability of other colors.

The papers shown above are just some of the most common papers available for your letterheads. If you have a specific paper that you are interested in, contact your supplier to see if it is available.

Note: Any letterhead that will be running through a laser printer must be printed on laser compatible paper and with heat resistant inks.

 

Special Design Features

There are many options for adding special design features to your letterhead. Special features range from simple copy techniques to finishing techniques, such as embossing and foil stamping. Shown below are some of the special features that are available.

Text on a Path

Text on a path can be used to attract attention to a specific area on the letterhead. It is a technique where a line of text follows the curve of a line or object.

Reverse Type

Reverse type displays the text in white and the background in a color. It can add extra impact to the design of your letterhead.

Bleeds

A bleed is when any of the printed copy runs off the edge of the sheet. It can be an attractive element added to your letterhead design. The bleed feature generally adds to the cost of your letterhead because it has to be printed on a larger size sheet and then trimmed to the finished size.


Screen Tints

Screen tints can be used to create a shaded effect on the letterhead. They may be used in the logo design or anywhere such an effect is desired. It is a good way to create the appearance of another color without actually having to use another ink color.

Gradient Screens

A gradient screen has screen densities that gradually blend from one density to another. It can produce a softening effect and blend one area of the letterhead into another.

Phantom Screens

A phantom screen creates an effect similar to a watermark. Generally a logo or some other graphic is enlarged and then screened very lightly (approximately 5%). The screen is then printed in the body of the letterhead to simulate the appearance of a watermark. The phantom screen must be printed using a very light percent screen so that it will not interfere with any printing in that area.

Photographs

A photograph can be printed on the letterhead by using a halftone. It can be printed in a single color or in four-color process. Adding a photograph to your letterhead will increase your cost. Photographs are not often used on letterheads but could be a nice addition if used effectively.

Thermography

Thermography is a printing process that creates a raised image on the paper. Thermography gives a high quality look to your letterhead. When designing copy for a letterhead that will be printed in thermography, you should avoid using gradients and screens because they will have a tendency to fill in. If they are used, a coarse screen should be used. For more information on guidelines to consider when designing a letterhead that will be printed in thermography, see Print - Thermography.

Metallic Ink

Metallic inks are printing inks containing metallic powders, which produce a gold, silver, or bronze effect. The metallic inks can give your letterhead a very distinctive look. There is generally an additional cost charged for the use of metallic inks because they are harder to run, which causes more production time.

Foil Stamping

Foil stamping requires a heated metal plate with an engraved image to strike a foil film, transferring the foil coating from the roll film onto a stock that is to be imprinted. The stock to be foiled then receives the high density metallic finish, resulting in a reflective image with a bright and dense metallic appearance. Use caution when selecting a foil to be used on any document that will be imprinted on a laser printer. Choose a foil that has a high resistance to heat. Foils can be used on your letterhead for logos or accents surrounding logos, borders or highlights surrounding images. Foil stamping gives your letterhead a professional, high quality look. For more details on what to consider when you are planning to use foil stamping on your letterhead, see Finishing - Foil Stamping.


Embossing

Embossing is a process that applies pressure to the back side of a material to alter the surface, giving it a three dimensional or raised effect. The procedure involves the use of two dies, one fitting into the other so that the raised die forces the stock into the recessed die to create the embossed impression. Additional charges for embossing are based upon the size and amount of detail in the dies, so the cost may vary from one design to another.

Embossing attracts attention and gives your letterhead a very high quality appearance. There are several types of embossing available, each requiring a small difference in the process that is used. The most common types are shown below.

Blind Embossing - An image embossed into the paper in an area where there is not a printed or foil stamped image. Blind embossing creates a clean and distinctive or subtle image on paper stock.


Single Level


Multi-Level
Registered Embossing - An embossed area in the paper that registers with a printed image. Registered embossing adds a dimensional look to the printed area.
Foil Embossing - An embossed area in the paper that registers with the foil stamping in that area. Foil embossing adds a dimensional look to the foiled area.

For additional types of embossing and details on preparing your copy, see Finishing - Embossing.

Engraving

Engraving is the highest quality printing process that you could use for your letterheads. It is a process where an image is etched or cut into a copper plate. Today engravers use photo-etching or other high speed techniques to do the etching process but historically it was all created by hand by engravers. Once the die has been etched with the image, it is secured on the press. Ink is applied and excess ink is wiped away so only the etched lines in the die are filled with ink. Then high pressure is applied to the paper, pressing it against the die. The pressure pushes the paper into the etched areas of the die, causing the paper to be embossed and the ink is then transferred to the surface of the paper.

The paper used for engraving must have the tensile strength to hold up under the high pressure it is exposed to. Cotton fiber papers are ideal for engraving because of their high tensile strength. Consult your supplier to be sure that the paper you select is suitable to hold up under the engraving process.

The engraving process produces the highest quality image of any type of printing process available. It has an extraordinary ability to reproduce very fine details into crisp, clear images. The engraving inks that are used are highly opaque so they produce a very solid image whose color is not affected by the color of the paper.

When designing the artwork for your engraving, be sure to work with your engraver to ensure that your design will not cause any problems in the engraving process. Relying on your engravers expertise will result in an engraving that will produce the image you are expecting.

Engraving produces a very distinguished look. It is used many times at an executive level as a sign of success or importance. It conveys an image of a company as being successful, established, high quality and prestigious. People appeal to its quality, which results in a positive image of the company. The cost of engraving will be more expensive than other printing process and it will vary depending on the size and detail of the image.

Design Tips

The following tips are some general guidelines to help you as you are designing your letterhead.

  • Gather all of your content elements and decide on the ink colors and type of paper you will be using before starting to design your letterhead. This will give you the necessary pieces to create your design.
  • Select typefaces that reflect the nature of your business. Try to limit your selection to two different typefaces. You can use bold and italic in the typefaces you select but avoid overuse. Avoid using all capital letters, they are more difficult to read.
  • Put emphasis on the name and the other information you want people drawn to first.
  • Do not overcrowd the letterhead with too much information. White space used effectively will help attract attention where you want it and avoid a cluttered effect.
  • Use color selectively. When color is used in too many areas, the areas start to fight for attention. Use color to emphasis specific areas.
  • Be sure your copy is positioned in an appropriate position, whether it is at the top, bottom or on the sides, so that adequate room is left for the letter itself without making it look crowded on the page.
  • The typestyles and format you use should follow through on your letterhead, business card and envelopes to promote consistency throughout.
  • If you are trying to design your own letterhead and create the artwork on your own but are not confident in what you are doing, it may be worth the cost of having someone experienced do the work for you. They will be able to provide the artwork prepared according to the printers requirements, saving you the time and cost of having to redo artwork that is not prepared correctly.


Production

There are some production requirements that need to be considered when you are planning and designing your letterhead. Being aware of production requirements will help eliminate problems during production, which can delay delivery and result in additional cost. Some of the areas of concern are discussed below.

Artwork

If you will be furnishing artwork to the printer, be sure you furnish it according to their requirements. Some features have special requirements, such as copy with bleeds and photographs. Layouts containing a bleed are required to have the copy, that bleeds, extend 1/8" past the edge of the paper. The letterhead is printed oversized and the excess is trimmed after the letterhead is printed.

When a photograph is to be printed on the letterhead, check to see what needs to be furnished to the production department. If your letterhead has embossing or foil stamping, check with production to see what is required.

If your letterhead is to be printed in two or more colors, you will need to furnish production with artwork indicating color separations or furnish separate negatives for each color. Many printers will accept digital files. Consult with your printer to see what options are available for supplying digital files.

Ink

When using colored ink, check on what the printer's standard inks are and then select from those if possible. If you have a special ink that is required, check with your printer to see if it is available. They can usually match the color you need at an additional cost.

Be sure to indicate if your letterhead will be running through a laser printer. Heat resistant inks will need to be used to withstand the high temperature of the laser printer.

Paper

The weight and finish of the paper may affect the quality of some features and inks. Once you select a paper, if you have any special features you are using, consult with your printer to see if the paper you have chosen is suitable for the process that will be used.

If you are going to be using the same paper for your envelopes and business cards, be sure to check availability. Envelopes are not always available in all colors and weights. Some stock may not be available in weights suitable for business cards. Many times special items can be ordered at an additional upcharge.

Customer Supplied Paper - Some printers will accept customer supplied paper. Be sure that any supplied stock has been stored and handled properly. If the printer receives damaged stock it may cause problems in running, causing excessive waste and additional cost to your letterhead.

Master Runs

If your letterhead usage is large, with many individual runs, you may want to consider having a master run of the letterheads printed. The master run is printed in a large quantity and then stocked by the printer to be imprinted in smaller lots for the different individual letterheads. Some masters may have a logo preprinted and then different addresses for different company locations are imprinted as they are needed. Sometimes all information except a person's name is preprinted. The information that is preprinted can be anything that will not change from lot to lot.

Running masters results in economies by producing a larger quantity at a lower cost per piece than running small individual orders. It can cut down in delivery times also because imprinting can be provided on an on-demand bases. The best economies are gained on letterheads that are two or more colors.

If you are interested in a masters program, consult your printer to see if they offer this option. If they do not, the possible savings may make it worth consulting another printer.


Envelopes

Along with the importance of the image that your letterhead conveys, is the importance of the image conveyed by the envelope that the letter is sent in. The envelope is the first item seen by the recipient and will form the first impression of your company.

The design of your envelope should follow the design of your letterhead. Use the same logo, ink colors and typefaces used for the letterhead. If there is an envelope available in paper matching the letterhead, using the matching envelope conveys a professional image.

Generally, the basic elements used on an envelope are the logo, company name and address, and sometimes a slogan is used if it does not take up too much space. Keep the information on the envelope in the upper left hand corner of the envelope. Do not let the copy extend too far down or too far to the right. There are guidelines set up by the United States Postal Service that indicate where the limitations are, see Postal Regulations.

The standard size envelopes that are most often used for letterheads are # 10's (9-1/2" x 4-1/8"), # 9's (8-7/8" x 3-7/8"), Monarch (7-1/2" x 3-7/8"), and # 6-3/4's (6-1/2" x 3-5/8"). There are also mailing size envelopes available that allow information to be sent without having to fold the documents. Some of the common sizes are 6" x 9", 9" x 12", and 10" x 13". Mailing size envelopes are generally not available in the special paper grades. Be sure to check with your printer for availability of matching envelopes.

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