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How to Plan, Design, and Sell a Greeting Card Collection

I’m in the process of releasing my new greeting card collection and it got me thinking about how streamlined my process has become for designing and selling my cards.  In the early days, I struggled to sell a single card a month and was always guessing about what themes and styles would sell well.  Now my biggest problem is keeping on top of shipping out card packs each day!

I’ve come a long way in my greeting card process and wanted to share some of my biggest takeaways with you all below.  Whether you are already designing cards or are an aspiring card designer, I think this post will help you create a road map for designing and selling your next collection!

Planning

A lot of new card designers jump straight into drawing when they want to make a new card, but I would caution against doing any drawing until you have a clear idea of the style and theme of your cards.  Cards without a clear theme and style don’t stand out to buyers, so make sure you know what your goals are for the collection before putting pencil to screen!

My first step is to scan every card website I can think of to get an idea of what styles and messages are trending.  Then I put away all the card images and start writing about my own interpretation of the styles.  Here’s some practice for you: Go to your favorite store that sells cards and take a picture of a few of them.  Then go home and write down all the vocabulary you can think of to describe the cards.  Next put the cards away and start sketching/drawing/painting your interpretation of that style using only your list of vocabulary as a guide!

For the cards below I wanted to create a modern take on vintage botanical illustrations since I kept seeing that style all over the place and have always loved vintage images.

Because I was clear on the card style, I knew I needed to take inspiration from vintage botanical images, but pair them with bold colors and modern phrases.  When viewers look at these cards, they get that vintage plant illustration feel, but also pick up on the modern colors and lettering.

A few other things I always plan are:

1. How many cards will be in the collection

2. What phrases will I letter (I write out a list)

3. What reference images will I use (I make a folder of images)

4. Where will I sell the cards (It’s okay if you don’t know this yet, but it does help with designing for a specific market)

Designing

Before diving into designing a card, I always start out with some thumbnail sketches (aka small, loose sketches of the card concept).  This may include the words and layout that will be on each card, and possibly even some of the accompanying imagery (like plants or animals).

Next I design one card in a few different ways so I can play around with style.  I might try different ways of finishing the composition (like gouache texture vs. bold solid shapes) and test out various types of filler elements and color palettes.

Once that one design is strong and survives the “sleep test” (aka I can sleep on it and still love it the next day), I start designing.

The hardest part is getting that first design done, so be aware that it is easy to get stuck on this part of the process.

Once you create a few versions of the first card, if you can’t make a decision about which one is best, it’s time to ask someone else.  Post the versions on Instagram, ask your creative friends, or post in The Studio Community to get feedback from creatives like you.

Selling

Once you have a set of cards you are proud of, it’s time to get them out into the world.  This is where a lot of artists get stuck though.  Where is the best place to sell?  Can I sell to art licensors and print-on-demand (POD)?  What is the secret to getting found?

In my experience (and this goes for all online income) the hardest paths are the most profitable.  To illustrate this point, let’s compare print-on-demand (POD) and Etsy.  Listing a design on a POD is easy (just upload, tag, and title the design) whereas listing on Etsy takes some time (photographing, ordering prints, shipping, etc.).  Because listing on Etsy is so much more labor intensive, a lot less people use Etsy compared to POD, thus you’re competing with fewer artists and almost no one with your same style.

After experimenting with both POD and Etsy I can tell you that hands down Etsy is more profitable AND doubles as a search engine for art licensors who are looking for great work.

Two of my most recent art licensing deals came from people who found me on Etsy, and nearly every month I have a huge custom order on Etsy that lets me sell several hundred cards to a single buyer.

Note that I look for non-exclusive art licensing deals so that I can both sell the cards myself and sell through art licensors!  I make less money on the art licensing deals, but more money overall when I can sell them myself indefinitely.

What about sites like Minted where you enter a contest to sell your cards?  In my experience, Minted has a market that doesn’t match up with my style well.  Cards that got low scores in Minted contests were some of my best sellers on Etsy, so in the end I chose not to enter any more Minted contests.  In contrast though, I have friends who make a lot of money from Minted, so in the end you have to do your own experimenting to find out what sales channels have the best market for your style.

A note for the beginners...

In the beginning of my card making journey, my cards were terrible.  The lettering didn’t make sense, the elements were too close to the border, and the colors were all wrong.  But over time my cards got better and better.  

That doesn’t mean that I woke up one morning though and had people begging me to sell my cards!  In contrast, I continually work on getting my cards out into the world throughout the year through outreach to licensors and my own marketing efforts.  In the beginning, no one is going to believe in your card designs more than you, so make sure you are prepared to work hard to get them out into the world!

Note that starting locally is often the easiest way to get your momentum going.  Go to your local museum, gallery, tourist shop, or any other local place that sells stationary and tell them about how you are a local artist who designs gorgeous cards and find out how you can start selling there.  Take a few samples to impress them!

My Sales Process in a Nutshell

Once I have a collection of designs that I’m happy with, I get to work on marketing and selling them.  My first step is to order prints from Vistaprint so I can check the colors and trim.  Next I photograph all the cards and get them listed on Etsy.  Last I send the digital images to the art licensors I’ve worked with in the past to see if they’re interested in selling the new collection.

Of course, this process takes some time and I may not see profits from the designs for a few months, but once you get a few collections out there in the world, the monthly payments from past collections combined start to add up!

Design a Greeting Card Collection Class

Want to learn my whole process for designing a greeting card collection from original concept to finished card collection?

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