A beautiful letterhead can make all the difference to the success of your branding. There's a huge difference between receiving a letter on standard blank paper, and getting one topped with a beautifully designed letterhead. A letterhead acts as a marketing opportunity, provides an opportunity for brand engagement and, apart from anything else, lend credibility to the words on the page.
Designing an effective letterhead is a unique challenge. Sometimes your letterhead design will be the first interaction a customer has had with a particular company, while other times it will be used to reinforce the brand identity. It's crucial to get the details right, but to also produce something that's eye-catching, and memorable.
One of the most important principles behind an effective letterhead is to keep the design as simple as possible. Keep in mind that a letterhead is essentially a delivery mechanism. It's important your letterhead looks and feels great in the hand, but the design should make way for the content of the letter that's printed over it.
By all means use your design to showcase the content, but don't try to wrestle it for the reader's attention. It's useful to ask yourself whether you're competing with the content: if you're in doubt, simplify your letterhead design.
There are times when it makes sense to use Photoshop as your design tool, and it's perfectly possible to design a letterhead using Photoshop, but there are far more suitable tools available for the job.
At the top of the list are Illustrator and InDesign. Both these tools have excellent typography controls and are vector-based, making it easier to draw simple elements and reposition them effectively.
There may be certain legal requirements for information must be included, such as registration numbers for accrediting bodies such as Companies House, or The Charity Commission. But beyond those requirements, consider what information is really necessary, and choose the right details for your letterhead.
If you only have Photoshop available to you, keep in mind that print-destined artwork should be produced at 300dpi and if you're printing your letterheads commercially there will be a bleed requirement. Letterhead design, like almost every other field of design, is about communicating important information effectively. Usually (although by no means always) the most critical piece of info you need to communicate is who's writing the letter – the company or individual responsible. After that, a return address, telephone number or email address are all needed; but they're not quite as important as the company name.
Colour is an extremely powerful tool that can make or break your letterhead design – but as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Use colour sparingly and make the most of the impact it brings to your letterhead design.