Years ago, one of my television heroes was Jim Rockford, the private eye played to world-weary perfection by James Garner.
Rockford had a couple of things I admired. One was the best answering-machine message I've ever heard: "This is Jim Rockford. Leave your name and number, and I'll get back to you."
In an answering-machine world of music, poetry, singing kids and phony marshmallow folksiness, Rockford's message was beautifully direct and to the point.
That has nothing to do with computers, but I had to mention it. The other thing Rockford had was an amazing ability to switch identities, a feat he accomplished with a little printing press he kept in his car.
If he wanted to be president of the Acme Widget Corp., all he had to do was set the rubber type in a little form and print up a business card. An investigator for Universal Insurance Company? No problem. A partner in Dewey, Cheatum and Howe? Nothin' to it.
I don't know how convincing those business cards were -- this was in the days before home computers. But it's a lot easier today, with a PC and a laser printer, and the results are a lot better.
While it's simple enough to run down to the local printing shop and have business cards made, there are a couple of good reasons to create your own. If you want to look good, your business card can speak volumes. For anything more than a quick and dirty storefront printing job (cheap card stock, whatever typeface they're selling, no logo or design), you'll pay a lot of money.
Or you may work in a large company with a purchasing department that takes six weeks to order pencils, let alone custom printing, and you want new employees to have business cards when they start the job. If you're a small businessman, you may wear two or three different hats, and it's nice to have a business card for each.
With a laser printer, it has always been possible to print business cards using a word processor or graphics program and sheets of card or cover stock. But until recently, designing and spacing everything properly was a time-consuming hassle, and cutting the sheets after they were printed was difficult. The results were rarely worth the effort.
But the popularity of printers that can produce typeset-quality output has spawned a variety of specialty products, including sheets of microperforated business-card stock.
If plain white is OK, consider that Avery Dennison recently introduced a package with 250 cards (25 sheets, 10 cards to a page). If you want to get fancy, Paper Direct, a mail-order company in Lyndhurst, N.J. (1-800-A-PAPERS), has an impressive line of laser business cards on a variety of stock, with color washes, borders and designs, ready for printing. You just add the type. The company also sells coordinated stationery, brochure papers and envelopes.
That's half the battle. The other half is figuring out how to get everything in the right place. Many word-processing programs now come with predefined templates for business cards. (A template is a sample document that has all the correct margins, typefaces and spacing set up in advance.) With a business-card template, all you have to do is type the information you want in the first block, copy it nine times, and you're in business.
If you have an older program without a business-card template, Avery's business cards come with instructions for setting up the most popular PC and Macintosh word processors. Paper Direct also sells a package of word processor templates for its designer cards, brochures, proposals and other specialty papers.
Besides producing type, most word processors today can import graphics, such as scanned corporate logos or commercially available clip art that you can use to create your own business logo without the expense of a professional designer.
You can also find easy-to-use software graphics software with business-card capabilities. The latest Windows version of one of my favorites, Avery LabelPro, puts a picture of a business card on the screen and allows you to place type and graphics wherever you want with a mouse and keyboard combination. Besides a collection of stock graphics, none of which is particularly thrilling, LabelPro contains simple drawing tools for creating lines, boxes and circles. This, by the way, is just one of dozens of kinds of labels, postcards, name badges, notebook index tabs and other repetitive graphic items that Label Pro can produce. The program also includes a mailing list manager to produce beautiful custom mailing labels.
The best program I've seen for business cards is the new Print Shop Deluxe Companion for Windows from Broderbund Software. PSDC, as it's known, is an add-on to Broderbund's best-selling Print Shop for business cards, certificates, postcards and envelopes.
Two key features
Two features make this program a standout. One is its ability to put a graphic backdrop behind your type and regulate its density, which simulates expensive wash printing. The other is its ability to bend type into a variety of shapes for eye-catching effects. The vector-based graphics that come with the package, which can be scaled up and down without losing quality, are also superior to the bit-mapped images I've seen in other low-end graphics programs.
You can select from dozens of predefined layouts, any of which can be modified, or create your own from scratch. If you don't want to get too fancy, you can get the whole job done in about three minutes. If you're into the art of business-card design, you can tinker for hours and produce superb results.
(Michael J. Himowitz is a columnist for The Baltimore Sun.)