Art Of The Business Card – Black Paper

When we work with designers on projects we have conversations about “production strategy.” Sometimes letterpress is a good fit for the design intent, sometimes not. And often times we combine other production methods to achieve the effect being sought after. Black business cards present a range of production challenges. Flooding a white paper with black ink doesn’t produce fine detail in small type sizes. Here are two projects featuring different ways to print on black paper by combining letterpress with other processes.

Jamie Wickard Card – Designed by our friends at Westwerk Design

This card was produced on black paper stock: Tonal Black letterpress ink and a gloss black FOIL (side 1) and Silver Letterpress (side 2)

Antitdote X Card – Designed by our friends at Antidote X

This card was produced on cream paper stock custom duplexed to black paper stock. (Black letterpress on the cream side and white ENGRAVING on the black side) Then it was finished with custom die cutting.

To achieve fine white type on a black background Engraving is the most premium (and most costly) printing method.  By duplexing a black stock rather than printing black ink and reversing out the white we’ve achieved something letterpress and offset printing would not have done well – notice the fine 3 point serif type! White foil and screen printing can print on black, but not with detail like that. Letterpress printing does not do well printing opaque white on dark colored paper and achieving bright opacity either. Like offset printing, opaque white can be laid down with several passes and achieve a mottled looking white – not a bright white. As a rule for general production: only metallic inks have good opacity on dark stocks.

Of course this all combining of production methods comes at a cost. Which comes to a final point – KNOW YOUR CLIENT BUDGET. Our best production advice is to know what your client wants to spend before finalizing your design. If you have an extravagant design with multiple production steps and your client has only a $300 dollar budget, you’ve just wasted design time on something they can not afford to produce. But if you plan production along side design, you can present your client an option that doesn’t need rounds of compromise. That is what “production strategy” is all about.

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  • I’m curious about the engraving process … 

  • Engraving is one of the most expensive commercial printing processes. Engraving is like Intaglio printmaking. Engraving uses metal plates and pushes the surface of the stock up into the plate, producing a slightly raised surface to the artwork. Engraving is perfect for fine detail. We partner with another talented vendor on projects with engraving components.

  • I don’t see how that process would allow for the white of the card stock to pierce the black of the duplexed backing. Is the black cut? I don’t mean to be thick, but the card in question is, perhaps, one of the most technically beautiful I’ve seen — and I’m eager to picture the process so that I can use it in some of my work in the future.

  • No, the paper is not cut to reveal the white. Our process is: First the black paper is engraved with white ink. Then the white paper is letterpress printed with black ink. Then the two sheets are glued together back to back (duplexed). Lastly, those duplexed sheets are die cut to the final shape.

    Engraving is how money is printed, pull out a paper bill from anywhere in the world and note the detail that is there in the image. It is sick! Engraving traditionally produces some of the most crisp and beautiful typography. This is the crispness and exactness we look for in inking our letterpress plates for fine type work. The engraving process pushes the paper into the plate. It is one of the few production processes that can create opaque white on dark colored papers.

    Conversely, the letterpress process pushes the plate into the paper. Letterpress can achieve opacity on dark stocks through the use of metallic inks, opaque white does not work well.

    Does that help?

  • I know how to engrave by hand – I imagine it’s the same (or more or less) with digital report ?
    Project a protective medium in the form of the letter (we call it transfer), acid bath, cleaning, then print ?
    Nice white ink by the way. If I can’t avoid white, I curse everyone. Especially on leather inker (for a lithography stone)

  • Thanks, that explanation made the difference!

  • [That] is quite possibly the nicest business card I have ever seen, including the American Psycho flick!

    How much did that job cost, and in what quantity? I’m looking to launch a new folio site in the summer, with some more of my recent work, and am pondering getting some cards done too. I need something *so* ripe, or it won’t be worth it.

    I’ve always been intrigued about engraving in my client print work, but their budgets never facilitate using that method. I spoke to my print shops but they just got shirty when I mentioned anything other than conventional runs. I’d love to have a piece of it for myself, in the form of a b card perhaps.


  • On a cost scale of $ to $$$$$ the Antidote X card would be a $$$$. -It uses premium papers and it doesn’t have that many colors, but does require several production steps. Any job going through that many production steps is best to consider at higher quantity, in this case the cards were produced for multiple persons in the company making the value a bit better. A good rule of thumb is not to plan an elaborate card to produce at only a quantity of a couple hundred pieces. The per unit cost can be several dollars each.

    That said, the stopping power of a finely crafted card literally buys you additional consideration in the hands of a recipient. They hold on to it because it is different. Artful production cuts through the glut of conventional printing. And that is most certainly worth something.

    All of our projects are custom and priced to clients specifications. Highly custom work takes additional time to estimate and produce. Contact us to share details on your project at:

  • Hey, thanks for the insight. I’ll drop you a message now.

  • Hi –

    I’ve been playing around on my little desk top press and would love to try printing silver on black paper, but can’t seem to find a source for black letterpress paper. Can you help?


  • Amazing job! Bravo!
    Do you know what font they use for the Jaime Wickard card?

  • Hi,

    Where can I get black business cards like these printed?

  • Artana – We do! Studio On Fire in Minneapolis produces the letterpress work featured on this blog. We often partner with other vendors when an aspect of a letterpress project needs a non letterpress component.

    If you’d like an estimate, contact us to share details on your project at:

    or email:


  • I still think that black on white or white on black still looks the best very professional, and classic at the same time and the above designs are just stunning as well. This is my first visit to this blog and have just loved it hope to visit again soon.

  • I just love black on white and the other way round clean simple elegant what more would you want

  • I love the look of the Antidote X card, but…..I may be bias since I have a wallet full of them. Thanks for featuring our design combined with your phenominal quality printing.

  • Black business cards are look like so nice I really impress of ur great work……I think this is on of the best card promote to ur business…….

  • Wow great job! Can anyone recommend a good black stock for this kind of job.

    Any help would be much appreciated.

  • I need a business card in beautiful thick black papger. My logo would be in embossed Gold
    The cards have been designed already. How would I be able to get them to you to have a look.

    Also where are you based? What is your turn aroudn time – realistically.

  • I need a business card in beautiful thick black paper. My logo would be in embossed Gold
    The cards have been designed already. How would I be able to get them to you to have a look.

    Also where are you based? What is your turn aroudn time – realistically.