The Catalog Production Process

Handy suggestions on making your catalog project go smoothly.


Ask yourself the following questions as you prepare to produce a catalog for your business:

What is the objective?

What do you want to communicate? What does the tone and look need to be? Do you want to project bold and powerful or subtle and understated, hip and trendy or conservative, youthful or mature?

Who is the audience?

What is the demographic of the person you want to buy your products? Knowing who will be reading the catalog will help you create and communicate the message, look and tone you desire.

Who will be the designer?

Selecting the right catalog designer or catalog design company can be difficult. Most designers do not specialize in catalog design and will lack the expertise to design a productive catalog. Designers not used to doing catalogs frequently do not realize the huge workload volume a catalog presents and will go over budget, past deadlines or both.

Don’t forget about choosing a photographer. Like designers, most photographers are not accustomed to shooting product and producing print-ready images.

What is your Budget?

Help your catalog designer/producer help you get the best catalog that fits within your budget by sharing your financial limits as well as how many customers you need to reach. The designer will be able to choose formats, paper, printers and design styles that will better achieve your goal without going over budget.

Catalog Production

Once the planning is complete catalog production begins. In general, we follow the steps listed below when producing a catalog:

Gather product data

Before any design can take place, you must gather a complete list of all the products you will include in the catalog, as well as all non-product copy. If some items will be grouped together as one catalog photo block (such as a shirt that comes in 4 sizes and 6 colors), make sure that is clear for the designer. Further sort the list into categories or spreads.

Write product copy

Although most every company can pull a list of products, item numbers and prices from their computer system, virtually no company maintains proper product name and descriptive copy. Product names used in inventory software typically have names like “JACKET SORRENTO BLUE LARGE.” In your catalog that same product would instead be called “Sorrento Jacket”, available in blue and size large.

Product descriptive copy should be between 30 to 60 words long for general consumer catalogs. Business and technical catalogs should be as brief as possible while getting across the information a corporate buyer needs to make an informed purchasing decision.

Plan and design the overall look and feel of the catalog

In the planning questions above you decided the catalog dimensions, catalog objective and catalog audience. With that information we design the master layout for the catalog. All page design then originates from this master layout.

In the master layout we design all common page elements, grids, design themes, and type specifications for all type occurrences. We mock up a couple pages to test the design specs.

Design spreads and cover

After the overall look and feel of the catalog has been designed, product list and copy created, we sketch out each spread, identifying the items on the spread and their approximate layout. We also specify any product photography that will need a special shots, such as with a background or model, and sketch approximately how we envision the photograph’s layout.

Product photography

The last step before laying out the pages on screen is to acquire all the picture and graphic files. We do the photography of new products and special shots specified in the layout sketches. Then the images are “processed” in Photoshop – adjust levels, add a clipping path, convert to CMYK.


This is the most exciting part of designing a catalog – putting all the elements together on the page.