During the late summer, I tried my hand at selling greeting cards of my art. I prepared some small images of my art, printed them on the laser printer at the library, and glued the images to blank cards. They sold well at the farmer’s market, and I even sold a batch to a local natural foods store, where they sold out within weeks.
When I decided to have my art printed onto greeting cards, I searched the web for advice. I became overwhelmed by the choices available: print myself with my own printer, or use print shop services? Print directly on card stock, then trim it myself, or print on paper and then glue it on pre-cut cards? Use an online printer, or a local print shop? I spent several months over the winter mired in decisions. I finally acted on several ideas, but quickly found out that for me, using a local print shop produced the best cards. The process was a bit scary, though, because I hadn’t learned from my online sources anything about how to get from art to marketable cards. The purpose of this article is to present my experiences, and what I learned from it all.
Create artwork that looks good on a greeting card
Not all art is fit for shrinking. Sometimes details are lost, between scanning and then printing, so that the image comes out muddled. The smaller the scale of the original artwork, the better it will look as a greeting card.
Not all images are work for marketable greeting cards. Greeting cards generally tend to be purchased by folks who are going to send them for a birthday, wedding, get well wishes, or a thank you. Artwork depicting images that are unpleasant usually won’t sell well as greeting cards. Just sayin’.
Putting art in a digital format
It’s usually a good idea to put your art into a digital format for posting online or backup storage, but if you want to print cards of your art, getting digital images is necessary. I learned that taking photographs of my colored art worked well in diffused natural light. I don’t scan the colored images because they lose too much color in the white light of the machine. The black and white pieces come out best when scanned, so I take them to my local print shop for scanning. I ask the owner to convert the PDF images to .jpg while he’s at it, because my computer does a bad job with this conversion– the images become pixelated and blurry. Finally, I crop and enhance the images in Photoshop.
Inquire with printing companies
The next step is to start calling print shops. There are online options for printing greeting cards if you are in a pinch; for example, if you are unable to leave the house or live far out of town. However, I found out after working with my local print shop that they could have handled the entire transaction over the phone and email, and they even delivered my 3,000-card and envelope order free of charge. Since most of us live in a town which has a printing company, it makes sense to stay local, especially since you will probably need some special attention (I will explain throughout this section).
A quote for your artwork is free. When a printer creates a quote for you, it works as a contract if you decide to use their services. When you have a quote in hand (or in your email) the shop can’t change the price on you when you go to pick up your order. Because it is used as a contract, the clerk you speak with takes it seriously and might need to call you back or email you with the final price for your request. That’s okay, because you’ll be calling around to find the best deal for what you want, and most importantly, the best customer service. When you call them up and tell them that you’re an artist looking to get prints of your work made, they need to be patient. If they’re trying to rush off the phone, you’re not going to have a good relationship with them. These aren’t yard sale fliers, after all: they’re your heart and soul, and they need to look better than the mass-produced cards on the rack next to them.
Size of the cards (5×7, 3×4, etc.)
Postcard, bifold, or center fold (or other)
Matte or glossy finish inside and out (matte finish is best for the inside)
Color of paper (lighter is best)
Weight and thickness
Weight is measured in how much a certain amount of sheets of the paper weighs. 80 or 100 lb card stock works well for high-quality cards. The point system measures the thickness of a piece of card; 12 or 14 pt. work well for cards.
Bleed or no bleed
Bleed is used to describe the space at the edges of the card that need to be cut off if you choose that the artwork will cover the entire front of the card, with no border. Not all art is suitable for being trimmed (like cropping in Photoshop). If you don’t want to trim your art, framing the image with a white border (no bleeds) looks nice, as long as the border is well balanced in its half of the card, and the printer does a good job cutting the cards apart.
I was surprised to find that I had to have my printer remake my proofs when the cards they made cracked and split upon folding. Paper, like wood, is produced with long fibers running the same direction. The paper will split if you try to fold it in the same direction as the grain. The grain should run perpendicular to the fold. Remind the clerk to include “grain-correct” in the order.
The score is the very important indention in the spot where the fold is going to be. The fold comes out nicely when the card has been scored. Some printers have a mechanized method of doing this for you; mine did not. I bought a scoring board and score my cards myself.
Formatting for Printing
It might be the case that each printer has their own way of doing this, but I want to briefly discuss the methods my printer needed me to use to prepare the cards for printing:
I chose to have my cards printed with no bleeds (bordered). I have a Mac, so I had to change the size of the page in the page layout document. I changed the size of the page from 8.5 x 11 inches to 7 x 10 inches (for a 5×7 card) by clicking File>Page Setup>Paper Size>Manage Custom Sizes. Then I changed the page size and set the borders to .25 inches. The fold would be at 5 inches, so I set a guideline at 5.25 inches, to include the border around the image. I inserted the artwork image in the center of the front half of the page, against the guideline to ensure its balance in the border. Finally, the backside information was inserted upside down. I saved the page as a PDF before handing it over to the printing clerk.
If I was to choose to do the card with bleeds, the document would have had to be set larger by a small amount, so that the printer could trim the excess off. The image would have had to be set against the center fold of the document.
I learned all of this by hanging out in the print shop for a whole afternoon, preparing the files of my cards with the supervision of the clerk. This is why it’s so important to choose a printer with great customer service.
Okay, so you’ve submitted your PDFs and you’re ready. The printer will prepare a few copies of the product for you (called proofs) to approve before they do the big print job. My printer asked for partial payment before they would make the proofs. If you pay before you get the proofs, you are in no way obligated to continue with the order if the cards end up unsatifactory. You can get your money back and start over with someone else.
My experience was that I was pretty unsatisfied with my first set of proofs: some images didn’t come out well (my fault), the grain was wrong, and the cuts weren’t square (their fault). I felt pretty let down, but when I pointed out my concerns, the clerk said she would remake the proofs the way I wanted them. I also realized that on the back side of the quote that they gave me was a list of Terms and Conditions, which stated that I could get a refund of my money if the big order came out poorly. When the second set of proofs came out well, I approved the order, and was happy with them in the end.
As mentioned above, make sure to get a money back guarantee in writing before you get the big printing job done.
As I mentioned already, there is much to consider when you choose to have your art printed. However, all of these difficult decisions become much easier when you have a printer who cares. I managed through the process, and even though I was very worried about the investment, I am so glad I took the leap. People love real art on cards. They’re like fine art for the people– affordable, and they even come with their own stand. Besides, in a culture inundated with the mass-produced cards of the big box stores, we owe it to the world to create better greeting card options.
What were your printing experiences?