How to Get Your Rack Cards in Welcome Centers and All Over Town

Get your Rack Cards in Welcome Centers

You’ve done the hard part… designed, created and printed a stunning set of rack cards to advertise your business. (See “Print Power: Six Tips for Creating Custom Rack Cards.”) You display them in your shop and use them in targeted mailings. But what other ways are there to put these branded, custom designed pieces to work for you? They need to be out working for you – available where the right people will see them.

Rack cards are perfect for targeting the traveller and the tourist industry. Displays are seen at welcome centers, convention and visitor bureaus, chambers of commerce, restaurants, tourist attractions and local businesses. Anywhere and everywhere the travelling public is likely to visit is a potential distribution point for your rack cards, but getting into all these places can be difficult and very time-consuming. Consider hiring a distribution service.

Tourist brochure distribution businesses serve exactly this need. They maintain and service rack card displays in a variety of venues where tourists and travellers frequent. You have seen these racks in hotels, restaurants, craft shops and attractions. Tourists have come to rely on these sites for information about local events, bargains, restaurants and entertainment. The distribution services refill and service the rack displays on a regular basis – weekly, and more frequently during peak tourist seasons. They also may offer advice on or even handle brochure printing, or special deals for Chamber of Commerce members. Locally (we are here in Asheville, North Carolina – a booming tourist area) two such services that offer great distribution schedules are Mountain Information Centers, Inc. and Brochure Advertising Services, Inc.

Welcome to N.C.!

If you choose not to use a distribution service, a great venue to get your rack cards or brochures into the hands of a large group of potential customers FOR FREE is through your state’s Welcome Centers. Travelers stop for a quick rest and to stock up on information about accommodations, tourist sites, events, restaurants, historical sites, and shopping. Each state operates differently and with varying guidelines, so the first step would be to contact your state tourism authority. In North Carolina your contact is the Director of Visitor Services at the NC Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development (4324 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699). You can find instructions at this link. Any tourism or tourism-related business is permitted to place its brochures in the North Carolina Welcome Centers, but you must first receive approval of your pieces, and then you will be provided a list of Welcome Centers and instructions on how to properly send your free materials for distribution.

Welcome Centers in NC will display your rack cards and brochures in their display units. If your pieces are larger than the standard 4″ x 9″ size, they can be displayed on tables nearby but this will be at the discretion of the Center director. Some brochures are not permitted – such as purely commercial or non-tourist related businesses, literature that rates travel attractions, political or religious tracts, etc. – but if your business is related in any way to the tourism trade in your area, check out the opportunities your state’s Welcome Centers hold.

Ask your printer to help you find out all the options that are open to you for rack card and brochure distribution sites. They can help you design, create and distribute your cards to all these places. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Beginner Email Marketing Tips

Beginner tips for email marketing

Perhaps because everyone is use to having an email account and has figured out how to “cc”, “bcc” and send an email to all their friends at once, people seem to have developed over-simplified assumptions about what email marketing will entail for a small business. In order to begin email marketing in an efficient, trackable and LEGAL manner, you have to do some preparation. Below are some beginner tips that might prove helpful:

USE AN EMAIL MARKETING SERVICE. Using Outlook or a similar program to do regular email marketing or e-newsletters will quickly become overwhelming. That’s when you need the help of an email marketing service that will, among other things, maintain your lists and ensure you are meeting all legal obligations about not spamming. They will also provide you valuable reports and feedback on click and bounce rates and the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. MailChimp and Constant Contact are two excellent services used by many to manage and grow their marketing efforts online.

KNOW THE LAW. You MUST HAVE permission from every single person you send email marketing to and you must keep that information current. If you do not have their express consent to receive your marketing emails, you are sending out “unsolicited commercial email” or UCE, which is known as spam. The Federal Trade Commission can prosecute you for violation of the CAN-SPAM law. Let MailChimp, Constant Contact or other such services help you develop and maintain your mail lists to comply with this law and keep you off of spam blacklists.

THINK OF EMAIL MARKETING AS A RELATIONSHIP. When you send email marketing to the public, you do so with their permission. In order to keep them interested in allowing you that permission, give them something they want and can use – useful information, details on products, sales, upcoming advancements. And learn to read and study the reports you will receive back from your email marketing service so you can continuously hone your message. Take in the feedback from these customers and learn what they are telling you.

LEARN HOW TO WRITE A GOOD SUBJECT LINE. Subject lines, according to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2011, cannot be misleading or contain false information. Beyond that, the subject line should be interesting enough to make someone want to open it. MailChimp studied their clients emails with the best and worst open rates and found that the best were often the most straightforward. They tell what is in the email, rather than using pushy or catchy sales phrases. If its a newsletter, they call it a newsletter. Overly creative or catchy emails scored lower on this study. Read more from MailChimp about how subject lines work.

LEARN HOW SPAM FILTERS THINK. You want your email to be opened and read, but for that to happen it has to get by the customer’s spam filter on their email account. If you write like spam, you will be identified as spam. So avoid the common tricks of the emails that you hate receiving yourself: using all capital letter in subject lines, using lots of exclamation points or colored fonts, and using the words “Free” or “Test” in the subject line. Sending your email as one large image rather than html coding will get you identified as spam also.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Generosity – good for business, and…well, just good!

Generous Business Practices and Marketing

Your business reflects your principles. They are part of your brand – the basis of how you interact with your customers and your community. Putting a spirit of generosity in the way you work will always in the end bring benefits to you, your customer, and your bottom line.

Now generosity doesn’t have to mean giving away the farm with some wacky doorbuster special. It means finding ways to show appreciation for each customer – value-added services and perks that can range from something as low-cost as friendly customer service at every contact, all the way to valued gifts and rewards. Your budget and resources will determine what level you can invest in, but the point is to act on a generosity of spirit regardless of the economics.

At ImageSmith, we have sought ways we can show consideration for our customers above and beyond providing quality services on schedule.

  • Friendly, helpful customer service – when you put yourself in the customer’s place, you can see many ways to provide information and guidance to meet their specfic needs, rather than just direct them in a way that will profit your business. Dealing with them while keeping their schedule and priorities in mind will go far in creating good will. generosity is good for business
  • More than expected – seek to give your customers more than they expect. Often for us, as printers, this can mean packaging a few extras from a print run for delivery – pieces that might have just been thrown out as extras can be given free of charge as a way to say “thanks.” When we are embroidering items and have an extra, we include it with the customer’s order as a nice surprise and a way of saying “thank you for your business.”
  • Advertising that is also beneficial to our customers – this means promotional products. The exposure and advertising we receive from our branded promotional products is married to the usefulness of the products themselves. Sports cups, bandage dispensers, t-shirts, office supplies… the variety of available promotional products is vast. Think about which ones best fit with your brand and enjoy the process of giving them out to your customers.
  • Information & “paying it forward” – We live in an information age, and being generous with knowledge and expertise has a greater value than ever. I think there is often an old-school tendency to try to “guard” knowledge – when you have figured out a better way to accomplish a task, you don’t want your competitor to learn it and benefit from your struggle. But here again, being generous with your expertise builds good will, and, perhaps more importantly, establishes your authority and skillfulness in your field. To be a source people trust and turn to for information is a benefit to both them and you. As printers, we specialize in marketing and communication skills. We want our customers to turn to us a marketing consultant who has their best interests in mind.

Blogging is a great way to provide information to customers – and to receive feedback from them. Also, the world of social media allows you a powerful venue to help establish your principles in the minds of your customers. Use it to attract attention with helpful information. Being generous just makes good business sense. Box of printed material with sticker


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

White Space – Minimalism in Graphic and Web Design

White space in design

Why Less Can Be More

They say nature abhors a vaccum… apparently so do graphic design clients. For many, the impulse to fill up every available space with type or artwork can clutter or completely derail a project. A staple of good design, the wise use of white space can lend an air of sophistication to a layout, and should always be a consideration in any style of design. But when a specific minimalist look is desired, editing and balance are crucial in order to maintain the open real estate needed to create an effective version of this classic look. Its usually helpful to agree upon that basic style at the onset – otherwise the need to “fill in” generally takes over.

White space - minimalism
Great use of white space in design

Many years ago in my first contact with graphic design, I was on the “annual staff” at my high school, creating the page layouts for the yearbook. Now this was the late 70s and well before computers or software. Page elements were sketched out on actual size graph paper in blue pencil. Measurements for the printer were done in picas. Photos and text were given corresponding numbers for placement, and the photos were “cropped” by marking the actual desired size on the developed photo with a grease pencil. Wow – seems primitive now. Anyway, my point is one of the ideas we were presented with as students was a page layout they called “isolated element” – one side of the layout might have a collage of pictures or text with the other side having one single photo. Clearly, the isolated photo was the focus of attention. We were told to use this design idea sparingly, if at all. Minimalism –they thought it was a little bit radical I guess.

minimalist design of
Minimalist design of

What I did not understand at the time was that the space in between the photos was an element as well. An essential point in this creative process is seeing that the “empty” space is really not empty at all. It exists in contrast to the other elements on the page as well as being defined by them – it has “weight” and structure. Similarly, it does not even have to be white. Minimalist design can use black or any color as its base. The open areas exist visually in the design as powerfully as any other element.

Generally employed when a more upscale or luxury approach is desired, minimalist design relies on structure, great typography and an understanding of balance. Some white space is considered passive – such as the space between the lines of type or the border area of a page. By contrast, active white space would be the territory left open on purpose between design elements. Both passive and active white space are planned and controlled in a well-designed piece of work. Though not a solution for every project, minimalist design with an effective use of white space is a powerful technique.

One good habit you will develop as you explore a minimalist approach is the necessity to prioritize and condense. The design itself requires you to decide what information is essential, and what is fluff – a good practice on any project. It reminds me of an episode of “Absolutely Fabulous” where Edina is running around her apartment knocking things off of counters saying “Surfaces! I must have surfaces!” Or even better, when she flashes back to her college days where her minimalist friends had an apartment totally white with nothing in it but a tiny picture hanging by a thread.


A successful minimalist design is:

Confident. Clean. Structured. Stable. Elegant. Fresh. Pure. Cogent.


Minimalism can also convey attributes that are less desirable. Without a proper focus and balance, minimalism can be:

Mysterious. Cold. Obscure. Vacant. Deserted. Uninviting. Unhelpful.


The first step toward effective use of white space in design is to see that open space as an element itself. Great articles are easy to find online about the use and theory behind white space in design, as well as inspiring galleries to convince you of the beauty and functionality of this style of design.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Print Power: Six Tips for Creating Custom Rack Cards

Rack Cards are High Impact, Low Cost Marketing

Rack cards are a staple of print marketing, and perhaps their greatest asset is their size. The standard 4″ x 9″ size makes it convenient, concise and appealing. As opposed to a flyer, pamphlet or folder of materials, the rack card is just the right size to pick up, slip into a coat pocket or purse and carry for later reference. This size forces you as a designer or copy writer to edit down your information and graphics a bit – leaving the essential information, but not an overload of details or offers. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your next rack card design:

  1. The TOP half is your prime real estate: depending on both the way rack cards are typically displayed and the natural path the human eye travels across a page, the top half of the front of your rack card needs to include an eyecatching image, graphic, or type. The split second in which a person’s eye passes over the rack card is the only chance you will have to catch their attention and entice them to stop, take in the image or word and hopefully pick up the card to read further. Do not bury the main impact of the design at the bottom of the card, as many times this will be covered up in a rack display.
  2. Include a clear call to action: The size of the card will encourage you to include only the important information. But be sure this has both a clear and easy to follow call to action: i.e., call this number, click this QR code, bring this card in today for 10% off. And don’t forget your contact information – phone number, website, and physical address. Hopefully they will be referring back to this card to find you.
  3. Plan a series: Rack cards can be used effectively to advertise or inform about a series of products or services. Design a set with the the same graphic features, but vary the color of each so they are all complimentary. You could do one card for each of your business’ services, product lines, sale promotions, company policies, etc.
  4. Mail ’em out to a targeted audience: Rack cards are 4″ x 9″ for a good reason – a standard #10 envelope is 4.125″ x 9.5″. Rack cards are built to be mailed. You can design them with a mail panel and use them as a “self-mailer,” saving the expense of envelopes. Target your mail recipients with a purchased list selected based on location or household income or other specifications. Also, print some pieces on heavy card stock to be used as in-store displays or handouts, and others on text weight paper to be included in mailings, billing, or any other bulk mail that you are sending out. If you are already contacting customers for another reason by mail, don’t miss the chance to include a text weight rack card insert that won’t increase your per piece mail cost.
  5. Invest in good display racks: keep a well stocked display of your rack cards in your lobby, waiting area or near registers where customers or clients will normally pause. You can also have employees hand them out during the course of other transactions, and keep them handy for people to pick up as they come and go.
  6. Include a QR code: quick response codes will help link your print marketing to your website and online marketing efforts in a trackable manner. Most folks are now familiar with what a QR code looks like and how to “click” it with a smart phone to access more online information. Let your rack cards serve as a link between your on and off line business.

Finally, choose a printer that can help you define the look of your printed materials, keep your products in line with the look of your brand, advise you on marketing strategies, mail and e-commerce solutions, and who can suggest other options you may not have thought about for your marketing budget. That advice comes to you free of charge – an amazing bonus of working with a quality, professional print/marketing provider.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Mixing Ink – the Pantone Recipe for Print

Pantone Swatch Book

Twitter uses a specific blue – not the same as Facebook blue, or Ford blue, or “Big Blue” IBM. Coke always wants the same red, whether its on a T-shirt, paper, plastic, a television screen or a glass bottle. To reproduce color consistently, especially across different media, platforms, techonologies and visual arenas, everyone needs to be communicating in the same language of color, so to speak. The PANTONE® Matching System is that language – an industry standard and means of selecting, communicating, reproducing, matching and controlling colors. For offset, lithographic printing, Pantone created a Color Formula Guide with well over 1000 classified colors that fill the CMYK gamut. From a set of basic inks, each of these colors can be mixed.

For spot color printing, the Pantone Guide contains ink mixing instrusctions for each color, a “recipe” with amounts given both in parts and percentages. If a printer needs a large quantity of ink, or is doing regular printing for clients who use a specific color for their brand, these inks will be purchased premixed. But for smaller quantities, each color in the Pantone Guide can be created with a mixture of 2 or more of 14 standard base colors. They are: Yellow, Yellow 012, Orange 021, Warm Red, Red 032, Rubine Red, Rhodamine Red, Purple, Violet, Blue 072, Reflex Blue, Process Blue, Green, and Black.

PMS spot color ink

In the image above, our printer is mixing PMS 151 Orange for a client’s job. The formula for that exact color is 12 parts of PANTONE Yellow (or 75%) and 4 parts of PATNONE Warm Red (or 25%). For this small amount of ink needed, he weighs each ink amount on a scale and then mixes thoroughly together for the correct color match, which is then tested alongside the PANTONE preprinted swatch for that color to doublecheck the outcome.

Pantone recently unveiled their cloud system of color management, PANTONELive: “a cloud-based color bank.” It is a color management system for companies and brand owners who do marketing over a large variety of media and across a diverse geographical area to ensure everyone is speaking that same color language.


ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Co-Op Cash is Out There: Get Money to Help Pay for Your Advertising!

Finding money for advertising

For many small businesses, co-op advertising is an untapped well of funding. Whether from product manufacturers or other agencies, arrangements for cash reimbursements for a percentage of your advertising costs on certain items are out there. The funding helps you advertise – the advertisement helps the manufacturer sell more product. Everybody wins.

What is Co-op advertising?

When a manufacturer wants to increase sales volume of a particular product line, reach a specific target market, or as part of their plan for brand recognition, they will make money available to retailers to share – in part or sometimes in whole – the cost of advertising that product in your local market. Many of these cost sharing arrangements will be for a limited time and will of course have specific limitations and requirements for participation. But you can be reimbursed for a percentage of the cost of your advertising – a very lucrative deal for your business, and a wise investment for the manufacturer. Everyone in the co-op chain benefits.

How do I find out if my suppliers have co-op money available?

Ask. It is really that simple. And when you begin to look around you may find other untapped sources of financial backing for your marketing. Depending on the specific nature of your business, look into grants or funding that could be available through trade associations, chamber of commerce, local entrepreneurial groups, or government assistance for start-ups, agricultural businesses or tech groups. Large entities like the state, local and national government as well as large corporations have many programs designed to stimulate economic activity in a general field or of a specific product. Sometimes, the raw materials used in the production of certain products also have marketing campaigns that could be helpful. Got milk? Cotton: the fabric of our lives. Pork: its what’s for dinner. And so on….

Often the requirements of the co-op funding are little more than placement of a logo on your print advertising and a proper claim submittable. Check with your suppliers – it never hurts to ask. And remember that a good print/marketing provider will be able to help you with the implementation of the co-op requirements as well as the claim submission and billing for the advertising funds. It’s a deal too good to not investigate.

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.