Join a Community of Card Designers

Here is information on our new greeting card community group.  I like the idea that someone can ask "where can I find a good printer?" and 25 people respond.  I also like meeting designers and writers from all over the world, and seeing pictures of their studios.

My thoughts about a communty group: Since I've been writing this blog since 2007  (wow!),  I think it would be beneficial to shift our communications from a me-to-you format (blog) to a Community format (allows us all to talk to each other). 

This is a great way to learn skills, network with colleagues, access resources, and get news from a variety of talented people in the industry.

Therefore, I have set up a private community group on Facebook, called Greeting Card Designer.

Want to find a printer? Get feedback on your art? Meet other designers? Have a laugh? Join here, introduce yourself, and post a picture of your studio!

Getting into the Greeting Card Business: New Online Class

I have collaborated with to create an online course on Getting into the Greeting Card Business.  The content is based on my experience of working in the industry for over 20 years, and from publishing over 1,000 cards.

Anytime. Class is self-paced with student/teacher feedback on your final project in the skillshare gallery.

How to Register: 
Register here. 

Cost:  $20

In this class you will learn:
  • The fundamentals of professional card design.
  • Transforming art into a greeting card.
  • Writing sentiments.
  • Making designs "market-ready" according to industry standards.
  • Top selling occasions.
  • How to turn one card into a larger "collection".
  • How to make a card out of any image.
  • Handmade cards.
  • Where and how to sell cards (including online).
  • Licensing art on cards.
  • Manufacturing and distributing nationally.

The class includes:
  • 8 Units
  • 14 videos
  • 39 steps
  • Final project
  • Feedback

Getting a Job at a Greeting Card Company

When I was doing some research on the greeting card industry, out of curiosity I wondered what kind of "art skills" greeting card companies require these days. I found the following job titles.

• Art Director
• Art Assistant
• Associate Editor
• Illustrator
• Designer
• Graphic Artist
• Creative Specialist.

Where to Find Jobs in the Greeting Card Industry
Here are just a few examples of companies that often post jobs:

• Note: Since job listing pages change frequently, read instructions for locating jobs on each site.

American Greetings
or go to homepage and select "careers."

or go to homepage and select "careers" under "opportunities."

or go to homepage and select "about us" and "employment."

or go to homepage and select "about DaySpring" and "employment."

Leanin' Tree
or go to homepage and select "employment."

Do you make "mail art?"

Mail Art is a process where strangers (or friends) mail each other their handmade art on the back of a postcard. Often it is done around a specific theme.  Here are some more examples from my blog mail art gallery. 

Also check out Kim's etsy store (example below) for some really great mail art.

Mixed Media ALTERED ART  POSTCARD Weird Feeling

Should you license or self publish your designs?


Manufactured Cards
A lot of card designers ask me this question.  Based on my experience of self-publishing for 15 years and licensing for about 5 years, I can say they are completely different ways of working in the greeting card industry. Here are the main differences I've found between the two. My opinion comes from running a full-time, self-supporting business in both industries.

Studio Space
The amount of space you need to run your own self-publishing business is dramatically larger than licensing.  When you manufacture cards you need a large space for storage, packing, shipping and possible staffing. In licensing, at bare minimum, all you really need is a computer for sending digital images.

Decisions Over What Gets Published
When you self-publish, you have complete control over what gets published. If you want to create edgy, bohemian cards, you can do it. It is easy to design, print and sell a new design in as little as 2 weeks.  If you try to license those same designs, you might not be able to get a publisher to take a chance them, especially if the topics are controversial. Also it might be 18 months before the card ends up on store shelves.

When you manufacture cards you take a financial risk.  It’s possible you could spend several thousand dollars printing your own designs and not be able to sell them (that’s why you should start small with local stores), whereas in licensing there are very few costs other than buying a computer and a graphics program (which you probably already have).  I do not count trade shows and advertising as an expense because I have not found them to be a very significant factor for success in either businesses.

Time Investment
Manufacturing cards is very time consuming.  If you are successful, you will find most of your days involve the movement of card stock and packing boxes.  In the evenings you will probably be doing paperwork, paying reps, tracking orders and other details. Also, employees, sales reps and stores depend on you, so you can’t just stop working and take a spontaneous vacation. In Licensing, you can work as much or little as you want, but the less you work, the less you will make. Also, when you submit cards for licensing, you don't know how many will be selected, so you may spend time creating several designs that are never published.

I found self-publishing to be a more profitable and reliable income, mostly because I could respond to trends and steer the direction of my business. For example, the odds of my cards selling good one day in 2,000 stores, and then suddenly failing the next day was pretty slim. I could rely on those accounts, and I could add sales reps slowly as my business expanded. In licensing, an artists does not have control over what gets published or how long cards will stay on store shelves. Therefore, it is hard to predict income.  The upside is that it is satisfying to create one piece of art and continue to get royalties from it several months or years later.

What is your experience licensing or self-publishing? Share your comments below or on my facebook page.

More ways to stay connected with card designers:

• Take an Online Class: Getting Into the Greeting Card Business.
• Sign up for Greeting Card Designers Facebook Group.

What kind of Greeting Cards do People Buy?

I  asked Meryl Hooker some questions about the retail scene and what artists should know about greeting card trends.

She has worked with many independent card designers as a greeting card sales rep, won several awards for her sales skills and has a special talent of pinpointing what people want. When I worked with her, she was often my top selling rep.

She is now the card and gift buyer at Pulp, a trendy store in Washington DC. (more bio below).

What do customers want these days?

One thing I see every day is that people still want, and actively seek out contemporary items that reflect who they are. We have a national drugstore chain one block away from the store and people could choose to get their cards there, but they come to Pulp instead. That says something to me about the quality of product and aesthetic our customer base is willing to pay for.

Going from a manufacturer's sales reps to a greeting card buyer at a store, my plot point has moved and I'm closer to the customer than I was. I am exposed to vast amounts of raw, uncensored data every day in terms of what customers want, think, and are willing to spend.

For the independent card designer, what do you think they should pay attention to? What should they stay away from?

My best advice for independent card designers is:

  • Build the strongest, most cohesive, sellable line you can. 
  • Create a strong collection of birthday, thank you, sympathy, wedding and baby cards. 
  • Blank cards still have legs provided the designs are strong. 
  • Learn how to run a business and understand it is, first and foremost, a business. 
  • Learn about the industry from both the creative and retail side. 
  • Ship on time. 
  • Be professional and easy to work with.
  • Stick with a traditional 5x7 size and stay away from square cards.

I recently interviewed six stores who sell handmade cards and they all said card sales have increased over the last 2 years What do you attribute this to?

People have an innate need to connect with other people. As sexy and convenient as social platforms are, ultimately, they lack human warmth. You can't send a text to the birthday boy at the party when you hand him the gift and even in our practically etiquetteless society, you still can't email your condolences.

At the end of the day, each of us wants to feel connected to other people and just the right card can express how we feel. No matter how tech savvy any of us is or becomes, we can't get away from that basic need.
The primary thing I've noticed is how much paper we still sell at Pulp. Cards have always been a key category and I'm really happy to say it continues to be true. I've seen so many independently owned stores move away from greeting cards as a major category in favor of gift items so I was pleasantly surprised to see that cards are still cranking at our registers.

As a buyer, what are the important things you look for, when selecting cards for the store?

I am primarily looking for a solid lines that will meet the needs of my customers in terms of purpose, price and design. Every card on my shelves must pass the "why would someone send this card?" test. The price has to be consistent with the type and quality of the card and, most importantly, the design has to fit in with the Pulp brand. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of card lines that I personally love but will not bring into the store because they aren't the right fit. Believe me, it's hard to turn so many brilliant companies away, but the business manager side of my job has the final say over the creative, artistic buying side.


Meryl Hooker is an independent business development expert dedicated to helping locally owned businesses thrive in a big box world. She is an internationally recognized speaker, consultant and writer currently serving as the General Manager & Buyer at PULP in Washington, DC. In 2012, Meryl retired after nearly 15 years of serving as a Mid-Atlantic sales representative for greeting card and gift companies.

She was a partner at Center Aisle Group and co-authored a book for the greeting card industry  "Pushing the Envelope: the Small Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working With Sales Reps" and"Showtime! The Greeting Card and Gift Company’s Guide to Trade Show Success".

A self-described sales nerd, Meryl takes great pride in the fact she’s seen the legendary rock band, KISS, 19 times – and counting—and openly credits KISS, Inc., as the model and inspiration for her business structure and success.

Good News for Indie Card Artists: New Sales Trends

If you publish your own cards, or design handmade cards, there are some positive trends leaning your way.

Since most sales statistics for the card industry are based on figures from large or publicly traded corporations, it is hard to know what is going on in the independent card market.

To find out what is happening in the alternative card industry, I interviewed six independently owned gift and card stores in Berkeley.  I talked to ten different people and asked them what trends they are seeing in card sales. Some of the best news was that there is an increase in sales of handmade and hand-embellished cards.

Here are the notes from my interviews:


Here are what the stores reported on sales trends:

  • All stores reported an increase in greeting card sales over the last two years.  When I asked them to respond to negative news articles I'd read on the greeting card industry, they felt those statistics did not apply to their store.  
  • The gift oriented stores reported that cards are a popular item in their store and customers often look at the racks.
  • Most stores are selling more artistic, handmade and local artist's cards.
  • One store manager who had a significant increase in card sales this year attributed it to "people want to touch paper again." 
  • One stationery store reported that it was common for a customer to come to the register with $35-$40 worth of greeting cards. He said that customers will buy a lot of cards because they like a particular art style or theme (and not necessarily because they need greeting cards).
  • One upscale greeting card store is expanding to two local branches. 
  • All the stores said they felt they served a completely different market than chain stores that carry greeting cards.  One store reported "People who buy cards in our store take time to evaluate them.  People who are just running errands or need to buy a card out of an obligation tend to buy cards in drugstore chains."


Here are what the stores reported on customer trends:

  • Buyers are now willing to spend $5 per card.
  • Younger "hipster" buyers are coming into the market.
  • Two stores reported that customers will buy cards to keep and frame for inspiration. 
  • One store reported that their customers often ask for help when selecting a card.
  • Some stores reported that customers ask about "the story" behind the card publisher or the artist. 
  • One store clerk said she received special training on learning about the artists, and the different paper qualities of cards.

Here are what the stores reported on card design trends: 

  • More cards are now being packaged and protected in individual cellophane bags because they are handmade or have embellishments added.
  • Almost every store strongly emphasized that their customers buy cards for the interesting imagery, and not for text. Text is not as important as it might have been in the past.  
  • One store said trends are moving towards "thought-provoking" imagery.  These are images that make the customer ask "what is this about?"  
  • Here are some examples of images the stores pointed out as being good sellers:
  1. A moose riding a bicycle.
  2. Mute-colored, over-sized serious clown with a tiny head.
  3. A loosely drawn ballerina with glitter sprinkled on it.
  4. A geometric-shaped man that only covered a small edge of the card.
  5. Green letter press card with a man's exterior head and internal ribs.
*Note: None of these cards had words on them.
  • Two stores reported that they make a point of encouraging customers to come up with their own text for the inside.  One store specifically advises customers to search on google if they get stuck.  These stores seem to prefer blank cards. 


I asked stores what they suggest artists do if they want to succeed in the card business today.  Here are their responses:

  • Pay special attention to your image. It is more important today than it used to be.
  • Witty text isn't as necessary as it used to be. For example, leaving it blank or just saying "happy birthday" can be good enough.
  • Designers should create more cards that can be bought any day of the year (and not limit them to an occasion). 
  • Artists should try to make cards that are curious and unpredictable. 
  • If an artist is just starting out, they should focus on creating Birthday, Thank You, Valentine's day and blank cards (no words).  
  • One store said that artists should be very careful about over-investing financially.  She said some of her favorite designers did not display at a recent gift show* and she later found out they had quit the business because they couldn't afford it.
*Kate's note: Some gift show fees can range from $5,000-$8000.


While my informal survey was limited to the city of Berkeley, the responses are also consistent with the IBIS World 2013 Procurement Report on the state of the greeting card industry.  This report stated that overall corporate card sales were down, but that "Areas of growth are likely small geographic areas and niches in the market." 

If you are an independent designer or handmade artist, what is your experience?

Free Alternatives to Photoshop

It appears that Adobe is going down the path of charging a subscription for their software (instead of an artist being able to buy it outright). So you never really "own" the software.  You are merely renting it. 

If you are like me, you are not a fan of subscriptions.  I believe you should be able to resell it or give it away when you are finished with it, as long as you follow the licensing guidelines. 

Here are 10 free alternatives on the Gizmodo website.  Read about them here:

How to Make a Series of Cards from one Image

I had a fun greeting card Video Meeting yesterday with a blog reader Susan Gutnik and one of the many things we discussed was one of her new card concepts.  I thought it might be interesting to readers to see how an artist can make a variety of cards from one image.

In the example below, I started with Susan's card image of a red pepper, and then used photoshop to experiment with different styles.  These simple mockups only took me about 15 minutes and they are a good example of how an artist might explore different ways to work with imagery.

The learn more about Susan's work, go to her website  She also has some fun license plate cards with creative messages on them.


Are Trade Shows Dying?

It's no secret that over the last decade gift shows are declining, both in exhibitors and attendees. It's not just in the gift industry, but in almost every product industry.  So what is the future of trade shows? 

I believe if trade shows are expected to survive, they must incorporate more technology in functional ways, such as:

  • Open the show to end consumers for crowdsourcing. Allow people to vote and rate products in real time (like Threadless did to develop an estimated 30 million dollars T-shirt company) which will generate outside buzz. It also allows wholesalers to get feedback directly from the public before manufacturing a product. Instead, they can gauge popularity, which will also help buyers and reps predict what will sell.
  • Divide vendor booths into "themed" sections of the show, and create a circular seated "lounge" area in each section. Have snacks, seating and a kiosk of product powerpoint presentations in the background. This allows for relaxed social interactions among buyers and sellers.
  • Plan daily free "events" and demonstrations in the booths, instead of having a static display. Have the show organizer coordinate all the events on eventbrite. Then attendees can register for the events ahead of time. Popular events can add more sections as needed. 
  • Use Ustream to broadcast the event as if it were a TV show.
  • Do podcast interviews on the floor with key attendees, and post them on itunes.This way, anyone subscribed to the RSS feed will get it both now and in the future.
  • Invite people to the show who cannot physically be there. Include them by:
-Using Google hangouts for small group meetings.
-Using Google helpouts for one-on-one consultations.
-Using Ohours to auto-schedule a series of virtual meetings.
-Offering live educational webinars for remote attendees.
-Allowing them to register for events which are streamed live.
  • Create Youtube videos of product demonstrations in the booths. Post all videos in one location on a youtube channel.
  • Use your badge QR code to download preformated digital-friendly catalogs that can be delivered to your tablet on the spot.
  • Don't force buyers to take home paper that might end up in the hotel trash can. Instead offer to send documents to a person's kindle app where they can read it in leisure time or on the airplane. Optimize digital product images for mobile devices so buyers can download them, take them home and mull over products without having to go from website to website.

I think the future of trade shows might be like the annual tradeshow in Boston called "Inbound." It has grown from 1,000 to 10,000 attendees in 3 years.  They avoid using rows of booths.  Instead, they have lounge gathering areas.

What are thoughts on tradeshows?  Leave your comment below or on my Facebook page.