How to Simplify Card Making for a Profit

Handmade Card Manufacturing
Copyright © 2010 Kate HarperThere are many ways to simplify your card design to save costs. I am going to use the card sample to the left as an example of how I simplified a design.

I reduced the card color from 4 to 2 (only Black and Red). My stores felt the colors could easily be dropped since they didn't add much to the design. This card worked better as a "Less is more" design. Can you get away with a fewer colors? Printers often charge more for extra colors. Try using an Copyright © 2010 Kate Harper, How To's, Products, Start a Card Business, **Copyright © 2010 Kate Harper,envelope as one of your colors.

Do you really need all the materials you are using for decoration? Or can you just get away with a few?

Before, on this card, I had the long quote strip glued on a third piece of paper. I removed it. Instead, I used a very highly textured card back (not seen in photo) to give it a handmade paper feel. I made sure that I could still print my logo on this paper, (some papers won't go through a press) by asking a local printer.

Have you chosen difficult materials?
If you are making a collage style card and can't decide whether to use cloth or paper materials, consider how difficult it will be to cut them. Cutting 500 small pieces of cloth may be more difficult than cutting 500 pieces of paper.

Can you preprint part of the card, such as the back, text or the background pattern? Rather than rubber stamp the red image, I decided to eventually get it printed on the quote strip.

Are you hand signing each card? Stop. Stores know it is impossible for a card designer to do this long term and still be happy (or sane). They want to know you are serious about doing business and will be around for awhile

Do you really need a border? If you are trying to create a border around your design by using paper or handwork, try using a colored envelope instead, like I have used a red envelope in the example. It becomes as a natural border around the card.

Can you get cards pre cut, pre scored and pre folded? This card had all of these things, including a precut quote strip.

Avoid imprinting card ordering codes on the back of cards. Try to have the same back for each design (meaning, the actual card you are gluing or printing on). In a million ways, this will save you a lot of money.

Some stores may fight you on this and demand you imprint card codes, because all the big companies do it that way, but trust me, I ran a business for a decade and no one stopped buying from me over card codes. Once I explained to them it's just way too expensive to print 100 different backs for 100 designs, they were sympathetic.

If you print 5,000 copies of card #257, it will end up in your basement once you realize it is a bad seller. That's a waste of paper and a waste of money. Stores want you to imprint card codes for their reordering convenience, but remind them it may cost you $20,000 - $50,000 for that little convenience. You are trying to make a living too, and you can't take those large financial risks. Besides, in 90% of the cases, your sales reps already knows the card codes by heart anyway (because they are memory geniuses). Print one universal back to use with ALL your designs.

What is "Handmade," Anyway?

If you are machine printing part of the card, is it still handmade? Everyone has a different definition of what handmade is. In my case I was paying people to glue the card, put the envelopes in the cards and slip them into individual bags. I consider that handmade.

It's possible to take this card one more step and print the whole thing with an embossed raised edge (which I did). A card designer may not be able to afford the cost of machine printing and embossing, especially when they aren't sure if the card will sell.
Making a card by hand is also good way to test out a new idea before you invest a lot of money in printing it.
Don't worry so much if the card is handmade or not. Just remember that what matter is that you are the designer and people are buying your cards they like it! If you feel uncomfortable calling your card handmade, consider calling it handcrafted, hand assembled or Made in the U.S.A.!

Some purists may not want to reduce their handmade card designs to a manufacturing level, but if you want to make a good living in this business:

You need to aim towards what will sell, and what is not overly labor intensive.
Remember, your goal is to not be a card slave. Your goal is to make a living selling your art.

Find your own "sweet spot" when addressing these challenges.

For me, when I shop for cards, I'd rather buy a local artist's mass-produced machine-printed card, rather than a beautifully handmade card that was outsourced to another country. I like to invest in my community.

I hope you liked this article. Please leave feedback on the comments below. It helps me know what topics are interesting to you. -Kate

Handmade Card Business Articles by Kate Harper

Backcopy:What to print on the back of your cards

The Handmade Card Business: Card Codes

The Handmade Card Business: All About Envelopes

Starting a Handmade Card Business: Manufacturing

How to Make a Living in the Handmade Card Business

Making Cards: Questions to Ask

Simplify Card Making for a Profit

How to Set Up a Handmade Card Factory

Paying People to Make Your Cards

Here are books I own or recommend for learning about the card business. Some are out of print, but used copies can be found online.  They cover themes such as starting a card business, writing text, designing cards, technical skills, copyrights and marketing your work.

The Greeting Card Business

Get Your Greeting Cards Into Stores: How to Find and Work With Sales Reps (Updated 2017 paperback) If you like to make greeting cards, this book explains how to get your cards into stores and sell them nationwide.  Learn about changing trends in the indie card market and niche opportunities available for artists. Book includes detailed guidelines on pricing cards for a profit, getting professional feedback on your designs, finding sales representatives, pitching your card line to them, approaching stores, and the industry standards you should follow. Information is also applicable to gift items, such as magnets, journals and calendars.

Start and Run a Greeting Card Business From a British author, whose country has a long history of greeting card design, she takes you step-by-step through the process of starting and running your business with lots of useful practical advice to help you, including: - Deciding what type of cards to produce - Finding your market - Dealing with printers - Copyright and licensing - Pricing and profit. Kate's note: Some specs are different (card sizes) since it is UK standards.

Greeting Card Design This volume features a vast array of fun, elegant, simple and imaginative greeting cards designed by internationally-known artists, illustrators and calligraphers. With over 300 full-color photographs of creative, popular, and inspiring greeting card designs, this invaluable sourcebook showcases the very best of what is happening in the industry today. Accompanying text explores the history of the greeting card industry and examines the major contributions from the leading innovative companies.

Card Making Ideas

The Complete Photo Guide to Cardmaking This book includes step-by-step photographed instructions for a wide range of techniques, as well as projects to accompany each area of card making. All paper-crafting techniques that can be employed for card making are thoroughly covered, including a comprehensive description of paper types available, folding options and techniques, coloring and image transfer methods, and adding embellishments. Inside, you'll also find methods for using a computer to design and print cards. More than 80 projects give you lots of ideas and inspiration to create cards of your own, using the techniques you've learned. Unique envelope templates and a helpful source list are included.


The Encyclopedia of Greeting Card Tools & Techniques Featuring hundreds of handmade cards from leading artists, plus step-by-step photographs of key skills.Sidebars on today's most creative card makers showcase their areas of expertise, from Dee Gruenig's rubber-stamp designs to Alli Bartkowski's quilling.

Creative Lettering: Techniques and Tips from Top Artists

Sixteen calligraphers, painters, collagists, card makers, fiber artists, and graphic designers—give their personal perspectives on lettering. They all offer their favorite tools, how they use them, their signature technique with step-by-step instructions and photos, and an alphabet sampler of their own font.

Uncommon Cards: Stationery Made with Found Treasures, Recycled Objects, and a Little Imagination

This DIY guide contains eight sheets of cardstock and basic stitch patterns that can be completed with nothing more than a needle and thread, either by hand or machine, transforming a blank card into a whimsical, inspired, one-of-a-kind design. The perfect expression for birthdays, graduations, or a simple thinking- of-you note, each design incorporates inexpensive and easy to find household items such as strips of fabric, brightly colored plastics, handmade stamps, and more.

The Print Making Book: Projects and Techniques in the Art of Hand-Printing

Techniques include relief-, screen- and mono- printing – all using tools and materials that are easy to source and use at home in your kitchen, bathroom, or garden. There are easy-to-use templates, step-by-step illustrations, and full-color photography throughout.


Start with a Scan A guide on how to transform raw, scanned images into attractive, finished illustrations. Filled with hundreds of illustrations, it starts by covering the technical basics of scanning, and provides the information needed to get images out of the computer and onto the printed page. The rest of the book shows how to scan almost anything (burlap, clip art, family photographs, found objects) to create a quality piece of artwork. Learn how to create textures and backgrounds, transform photos into graphics, and work with type. Two chapters discuss scanning images for the Web and using scanned images in arts and crafts projects. Book is a resource for scanner users who want to focus on illustrative techniques rather than technical issues.

More than 45 card designs are provided, with full instructions and close-ups that display card details, and the book includes source lists for recommended supplies to replicate the designs at home. The uncomplicated projects make the book suitable for beginners, and more advanced crafters will appreciate the outline of design theory that enriches their existing card-making experience. The basic tools and techniques of card creation are also covered, from stamping to hand-coloring.


Patti Gibbons said...

Good points. I still however, hand sign each one of my cards as I consider each one of them a mini work of art, deserving of a signature. In all fairness, I sell my cards at shows, privately, or by private order, because it isn't really worth selling them wholesale. I have had a few printed in the past and they did sell, but I have to find a cheaper printer place so I can drop their price a bit. I was having them printed and then adding one piece of hand embellishment to it. The cards were so nice however, that people still did not mind paying 5.00 for one...but you get into the wholesale bind. If I am paying 1.00 a card to get it printed, and spend a little time signing, and adding to it, I am only making 1.50 gross profit for each one. Oh the conundrum of it all. Thanks Kate---onto your next blog!

Gillian McMurray said...

I don't make my own cards on a large scale but this series of articles has been a real eye opener. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge. Looking forward to the next instalment.

Kate Harper said...

Patti--your profit per card is actually very good! Any card that is making a profit of 20% of wholesale price is doing great. A a massive scale that could be $100,000 annually. If you get a card designs that sell for you, all you need to do is ramp of the sales by adding sales reps.

Artist said...

About your card: simplicity is often more. I also like the colors red and black. As being synesthete I live a life in colors. Synesthesia means that I see colors when I see words and numbers.I transform this in paintings of names and birthdays.

Annaleah said...

Wow! Those who love card making very much can be productive and can earn some money while doing the things that that they really want. nice post!

Marin Press said...

Great post!

I am struggling with the issue of just how handmade to make my cards. I bought a small letterpress printer as a way to be able to make my own cards with consistent images rather than had drawing each (that would be nuts, I know) but not have to invest in large print runs for now.

Letterpress is still very labour intensive and paper & supplies are expensive. I just bought an professional quality inkjet printer to try out as a more cost effective method of production after deciding it was my designs rather than the method of printing that was the priority.

I get $2.50 wholesale for them and my paper and envelope are about 50 cents. Labour, printing materials... not exactly sure, it can vary. Some days it just feels like it will never get past being a nice hobby!

Look forward to more posts...

karen vallerius said...

I am thinking about publishing here in the UK and have just found your incredible, inspiring and informative blog - thank you so much for sharing your experience with us newbies! I can see I am going to be spending literally hours in your company reading your words of advice. Thank you, Karen

Sabina said...

Dear Kate,

I am a fashion buyer but for years I have kept under tight lid my creativity. However, becoming greeting card designer has not left me for years and I enjoy occassional sales from my hobby on* Your blog is absolutely fantastic! Thanks for all great hints and tips! Your style is adorable and undoubtedly your business is flowrishing!

My best wishes and again, thanks for sharing your experiences!


Sharon said...

Kate, I find your information timeless. I am retired and have been creating my printed and my handcrafted cards for 12 years now. Hints on how to create more time, streamlining processes in the creating, and what to look for when doing new designs has been eye-opening for me. I sell over 100 cards a month at a up-scale grocery/health store and I also sell at a Farmer's/Craft Market a few Saturdays each month.
Trying to better control my time so I am not a slave to my cards. Price ranges are from $4 to $10. and they sell regularly. I feel I have found my customer market here, but always wanting to be better and offer new things to my customers.Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I am going to order some of your 99 cents books to
read. Sharon from Las Cruces NM