How to Write Greeting Cards
I know cats like this.
Greeting cards are big business and there’s an insatiable demand for new ones. Even if you’re not serious about doing it for a living, thinking up ideas for cards is a great way of exercising your creativity.
In this article we’ll look at:
Do I need to be good at art?
Photographs and prints
Do I need to be good at art?
You don’t have to be a fabulous artist to design a card. As long as your mock-ups make it clear how you want the finished cards to look any wobbly penmanship will be forgiven. Having said that, make any artwork as neat and professional-looking as you possibly can. If you don’t intend to produce the finished artwork yourself make this clear when you submit your ideas.
Remember that a card publisher will want a series of similar looking-cards not just a one-off, so at the very least you should submit six designs.
Using old photographs and prints
Many cards feature old photographs and prints that have been given funny captions. Keep a look-out for prints and photos that might lend themselves to this kind of reuse but be aware of copyright issues that might limit your choice of material.
As a rule the copyright of a photograph expires 70 years after the death of the copyright holder, but identifying who this is can be tricky. Frequently the copyright holder won’t be the person who took the picture. If the photographer was employed to take the pictures, the copyright belongs to the person who paid them. In the case of a still from a movie the copyright might not expire until 70 years after the deaths of all its principle creators i.e. the director, screenwriters etc. To add to the confusion there are instances where copyright might be revived or extended beyond 70 years.
If you ultimately can’t trace the copyright holder you at least have to show that you’ve made every reasonable effort to do so.
For more advice on copyright see Writers and the law.
What card sizes are there?
There’s a huge range: some are based on standard paper sizes, such as A5 and A4, while others are unique to particular companies. Your best option is to look at an existing card range you’d like to emulate and copy its dimensions, making sure that any designs you produce are in proportion. When you create your design make it slightly larger than the size of the finished card, this extra (the ‘bleed’) will be cut off when the cards are trimmed to size. Without an adequate bleed a card might end up with an ugly untidy border.
Writing and design tips for greeting cards
Mind the top. When cards are displayed on a store shelf it’s usually only the top third that’s visible. Make this top-third as eye-catching and distinctive as possible.
Spread out. Don’t feel you have to confine artwork to the centre of the card’s front. You can use all the space available to you, including that on the inside of the card.
Avoid landscape cards. These are the ones where the card hinges at the top. These are less popular that portrait cards (hinging at the side) as they tend to get hidden behind portrait cards on the store shelves. Portrait cards also stand up better when the recipient displays them.
Do you need pictures of people on your cover? Avoid them if you can, ideally your card should be suitable for a recipient of any ethnicity.
Don’t mix imagery. This is important in cards with a religious theme. Don’t have a Nativity scene with a Christmas tree standing in the corner, or an Easter card with the Virgin Mary skipping down the road with a basket of chocolate eggs.
If your card has no message (known as a blank) make sure the design incorporates enough empty space for a personal dedication.
Ensure the artwork matches the theme. Most people buy a card to mark a specific event. If you’re creating a themed card make sure the design is unambiguous and appropriate to that theme. Don’t design a card with the word ‘Congratulations’ above a picture of a champagne bottle if the inside reveals it’s actually a birthday card. Congratulations is not an apt or appropriate word in this context (well done for living another year?).
Keep it simple. Consider the production costs of an unusual card design. Printing, cutting and folding are simple processes, but if your idea involves something out of the ordinary, such as inserting a window of coloured plastic, this is likely to be expensive. Weigh the options. Will the added attraction of your novelty card justify the extra cost of producing it?
Submission guidelines for greetings cards
Don’t send original artwork in the first instance (you might not get it back) and make sure that every design has your name and contact details on it. It’s also useful to give individual cards distinctive titles. Some companies are happy to accept emailed submissions, but don’t send large high-resolution image files that will jam up their mailboxes.
If you’re doing the final artwork yourself and submitting it as hard copy remember that it will be digitised at some point. It will help if your submission is small enough to fit on the bed of a commercial desktop scanner.
As a first step always contact the companies you’d like to send your designs to and ask for their submissions guidelines.
Finding out more
There are Greeting Card Associations in both the UK and USA. The websites of these organisations offer advice for freelance writers and artists interested in creating cards and also include directories of greeting card companies together with their contact details.
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