So, ladies and gents, have you tried the postcard route for a while? Are you getting bored of it? Well, don’t give up on them, because they’re definitely useful, but you can always supplement your promotion with other things.

A bit of a disclaimer though: sending these out is a bit different than sending postcards out. As they cost more to make and you want to make them look nice and presentable, you are not going to be mailing these suckers out to everyone on your mailing list. Rather, these are good for favorite clients and your dream clients. AKA, the people you love or would love to work with; not to be discriminatory, but if you send out 500 postcards, that’s one thing; but sending out 500 self-promo items is costly, and unless you’re rich, you want to scale it down a bit.

So, what do you do? This was one of the most fun things I learned in college; we first had a class assignment devoted to it and then I later put together my own independent study to explore self-promotion overall. The amazing thing about self-promotion is the limitless options– okay, well, there are limits, but things can be customized and combined so much you’ll barely notice. You could make a mini-folio of work; you could create a toy; you could make a calendar, stationery set, book, a button set, whatever. Pretty much, what do you think you could make that would hold a client’s interest enough to keep it? If you make something like a calendar or stationery, there is an added benefit that it’s functional. In college, I made a hand silkscreened envelope that contained a letter, an original silkscreen print, and a stuffed toy that resembled one of the motifs I was drawing at the time (either an arm or a little bubble ghost), both of which were drawn in the print.) Now looking back at it, the production value wasn’t perfect, but for a one week assignment (where I made 18 of them, with hand embroidery on each one), I understood how these things need to be thought of realistically. Some of my classmates at the time made food, or put together food items; but now that I think of that, I don’t think it’s wise. Why? For one, people might not trust food sent through the mail; someone could tamper with it. For two, say you have an art director living in the southwest? If the mailboxes are anything like mine here in AZ, they’re metal, and from March through October they heat up and melt anything that is left inside. So it’s just not practical; stick to items that say more about you and your work.

I’ll use a bit of self-reference here: I’m now going to be producing an item that I will use as a promo item. Namely? A notepad. To be more specific, a to-do list. To be honest, I’ll be selling some of them and using the rest as promotion items, but still the idea is there. This is my first time sending one out to art directors, and it’s a little nerve-inducing! I’ll keep you posted if I get any new clients from it though. Pretty much there will be a postcard included, packaged in an envelope with a specially designed label (I’m thinking about getting a custom stamp with my art and address, so I can mail out packages). I’m keeping it simple and clean; but of course you can go very elaborate, with fancy papers, envelopes, etc. Really, what you want to do is make it feel like it is yours, and not generic; so design it well, with your sensibilities, and don’t just scrawl in sharpie on a manila envelope half taped and crumpled.

If you’re concerned about whether your idea will be mailable (and you live in the US), you can talk to the post office (international illustrators; forgive me, I’m not sure. Your mail services might also have this though, so ask around). More specifically, there are Mailpiece Design Analysts throughout the country (this took me forever to remember the proper term!) who can assist you in figuring out the regulations and the mailability of your item. Especially when it comes to paper thickness, barcodes, all that stuff– it’s best to figure this out ahead of time. This link explains it better, and you can look up your local analyst at the same time.

So here’s the steps:

1) Go through your mailing list and figure out who you want to send something to. Cull it down to how many you can afford to mail out. For me, I probably will send about 20-30 notepads out, because I’m poor.

2) Start brainstorming with your budget in mind. What would you think would be neat to get? What do you want art directors to figure out from you? Do you want to make it functional or not? Some scrapped ideas I’ve had so far (more pushed to the back burner than scrapped, I guess) include a calendar, a small silkscreen print set, and a stuffed animal. (The last being more cute than tying into what my art is about.)

3) Find your supplies, and research the methods. Talk to fellow artists, go to paper boutiques, find good printers, etc. Research bookmaking, how to make an envelope, a new technique, whatever. Even if you don’t use everything you learn, you can always keep it in mind for a future project.

4) Make a dummy (a test product)! This might seem like a bit of a waste at first, but it’s good because you can work out the kinks that you might not have thought of in the brainstorming stage; like, did you measure an envelope right? Is something too thick? How do you put together a book? Etc.

5) Consult the mailpiece design analyst, and find out what you need to do to make it mailable.

6 ) Make them. Be sure that like a postcard, there is some way of them being able to know who you are, and how to get in touch. Maybe a postcard you already have mailed, maybe a page in the book (if you made a book), maybe a little note. Something that ties in and doesn’t look half-assed though.

7) Mail them.

eight) Wait!

And that’s all I’ve got for now. Thursday, I’ll talk about some of the companies you can look into for a few options for promo items.

PS: in the next month or so there will be some features of me interviewing different people in the industry, art directors, illustrators, reps and the like; I’ve already gotten two lined up, so if you are an art director or a rep or an illustrator who’d like to be profiled and help out the blog, please contact me! And if you have any questions you’d like me to ask them, please also drop me a line.

Hello all! Here’s hoping you’re having a lovely Thursday, I’m feeling pretty good I must admit. Definitely raring to go on wrapping up my treatise on postcarding it, so let’s get into the nitty-gritty and share sources.

I haven’t used a lot of places yet, but I have ordered sample packs from some, so I’ll list some of those as well with my thoughts, along with pricing for 500 cards (that’s the run I use; I usually don’t use them all up with mailing so I’ll put them in packages and hand them out at cons, that sort of thing).

Without further ado, in no particular order:

1)4by6.com: This is the first place I printed my postcard with. I think their prices have standardized since I first used them, because I went 4/1 (color front, black ink back in case you forgot from last entry) to save money, but now 500 cards go for $110 regardless of the color on the back. They did a pretty good job; I received the cards pretty quick, and the colors were close (though a bit more purply toned than what the original watercolored image was). The default coating was glossy on the front and uncoated on the back; good for hand-writing addresses (which, I did once but will never do again! My hands killed me.). Their sample kit is quite nice and free.

2) Modern Postcard: I haven’t used them, but I’ve seen samples of cards printed by them. They do a good job and I probably would like them. The cards are wider than some (4.25×6″), which could be nice. 500 cards cost $129 or $155 based on whether you ask for color on the back. (I prefer a color back, so I would be going for the latter.) They coat with an aqueous coating, which I think was semi-gloss when I saw those samples. Why haven’t I used them? Quite frankly, the price. Might make me a cheap-wad, but I’ve found good places for a good price.

3)Overnight Prints: This is the company I currently use. Don’t be put off by their ‘design for dummies’ sort of interface; it ain’t pretty, but they do good work. I hear that their customer service is atrocious, so if you are needing to talk to someone try a different company, but there are a number of reasons why I like them. Their prices are really reasonable (around $90 for 500 4/4 cards!), and if you have a coupon like I do, it’s even cheaper. They offer rounded edges, which while I’m not positive if that’s USPS friendly, it looks beautiful. They offset print the cards, which just looks nicer in my opinion. And last but not least, the finish. Their standard is this satin finish on both sides that just looks perfect with my illustrations; they also offer gloss, but I would rather go with satin any day. The colors look pretty spot on from what I see on screen, so I’m happy to recommend them.

4)PsPrint : Another company I have not used yet, but actually will use in a couple weeks for a different print job (notepads for sale/self-promo); their samples arrived quickly and the quality was pretty nice. I like them in theory at least because they offer a variety of printing, so if I get any crazy schemes in mind they might help. They also offer different paper options, including recycled for you eco-conscious out there… based on what you choose, prices go from $60-100 based on color or black and white back, paper choice, etc. The front side is coated, back is not.

5)GreenerPrinter : Don’t get me wrong, I want to like GreenerPrinter. There’s a part of me that cringes when I think about what wastes and pollution my print job may be producing, and I would like to make things more eco-friendly. However, the prices are out of my budget right now ($109 for black back, $140 for color), and to be honest the samples I got (mostly ads and trade announcements for vegan-friendly things) looked okay, but I wasn’t super impressed. I guess it was just a bit too glossy/cheap looking to me. But to be fair, they give you lots of paper options, and that’s nice.

6) Others: Really, there’s a slew out there. I found this resource of other printers, many of whom I never heard of, but haven’t sought them out yet. If any of the ones I’ve listed don’t appeal, I’d check the resource out. I’m pleased with Overnight Prints though; my last three cards were printed with them and they’ve all looked beautiful.

Next week we’ll continue the promo talk- in case you want to do something more than just postcards. Again, Tuesday will be a broader talk, and Thursday will be more resources/companies.

Have a great weekend and happy illustrating!

Well, this week is all about sending out what may be the most cost effective promotion ever: the postcard. I’ll start out by talking about how to design one today, and then Thursday’s post will be all about getting it printed, where to go, and how to send them out.

First off, the postcard is a very simple yet effective way to get art directors to see your work printed. A postcard is small, tangible, and while you may not hear right away from an AD, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t keep it. I’ve had quite a few jobs pop up where art directors were just waiting for the right job to use me…So there’s that. You must be aware of the whole situation though– because they’re so easy to send, and cost effective, almost EVERYBODY sends them out. And unlike a portfolio where you have the ability to show a variety of styles or work, postcards have only so much space to share your artwork. So if I can impart anything to you, it’s that you must treat each mailing with care; think of each postcard as a first impression with your potential client. You want to give a clear view of your work, and you want to impress your art director.

– When I make postcards, I typically create new art for the purpose. Part of this is because I don’t often work to the right size of a postcard, but most of it is that it gives me an excuse to work on personal illustrations and really come up with an interesting image for the mailing. (In case you’re curious, I have the last three postcard images here, here, and here; you’ll notice that I’ve been sticking to a vertical layout lately, but obviously you can do a horizontal layout too)

-If you have a piece of strong published work, go for it. Technically, you can put more than one image on a postcard, to give art directors a variety of samples, though I haven’t. Why not? Well, my artwork tends to have a lot going on in the images, so if I were to shrink an image down and add a few more, I think it would just look visually complicated and would lose interest in my illustrations. But look at your illustrations- shrink them down, play with them. Do they look better larger? If they’re a bit less complicated than mine, you’re probably in the clear with using two or more. However, remember that if you’re working more than one image on a front, try and make them complement each other, and design the card so that each piece is showcased and not overpowered.

-Don’t go into it blindly. Do your research and find the company that you want to use, and pay attention to their templates and sizes. Postcards are funny because they’re not ‘quite’ standardized– some places do 4×6 cards, some do 4.25×6, and so on…. But not only that, you need to realize that the cards will have bleed space (extra runoff of the image that will be trimmed when printed), and this is also why I work a new image each time- it gives me the control to figure out what the trim space is, and keep all the vital information within the print area, so it looks just the way it needs to. Granted, I’m more paranoid about my artwork than some, but I want it to look just right.
– Ask your friends for critical comments, or other illustrators. When you think about it, this may be the first time an art director sees your work- so you might want to get the critiques of your compatriots to see what they feel when they see the image. If it looks interesting, they’ll tell you, but if it has problems that’ll help too. Of course, an art director is in a very different position- they are looking at your postcard versus a billion others a day, so they will probably spend much less time looking at it. But if you feel less than confident about designing a card, asking for help is a good idea.

-Don’t forget the back- there’s ample opportunity to show an art director your design sensibility without throwing a whole other image on there. Case in point: my most recent postcard’s back ties in pretty nicely with the front, but isn’t a whole separate illo. Depending on where you order from, you can often get a 4/4 color card (if you’re not in the know: 4/4 means the number of process colors on each side. If there are 4- that means full color. If you see 4/1, that means that the front is full color and the back is black) for not much more than a 4/1. My first postcard was pretty typical; horizontal layout, an alright image, black back, computer fonts with my contact info on it….and it was okay, and just that. Now that I look at it, I don’t hate it, but it’s, as a good friend would term it, ‘pedestrian.’ The color helps, but the more I make these things the more I notice what works better.

– There are rules! They’re all over the place, but the first thing I found was this link on Modern Postcard’s site about regulations. Namely: the post office needs the bottom 5/8″ of the back of a card for barcodes. It can’t be any darker than 7% grayscale. Kind of a pain, I know. Also suspect, although I am dubious of this because I know I’ve sent them out before, are cards with rounded corners. Supposedly the US Postal Service does not cotton to this, but I’ve sent two batches of cards out with rounded corners, so I’m not sure how true this is, but it’s something to think about.

-What should you put on the back of your card? All your pertinent contact info. Name, website, print address, email address, phone number… unless you’re wary about the last one, in which case you can omit it. Still, some art directors prefer the phone, so it might be best to keep it on there. You might also want to put the information about the image on the front- I stopped doing this after postcard one, but some people like to do it.

-How often should you send cards? Well, I try to send three or four out a year; kind of seasonally. You could send out ones for holidays, but I’m not super-into that (though I am tempted to make a Dia de los Muertos card this year); but it’s good to get new clients and remind old ones that you’re still around.

-And most of all, don’t get discouraged. Sometimes you’ll get a bunch of bites, sometimes only one… So far, I have steadily increased in new clients the more I send them out; my first card netted me one job and one rejection postcard, which led to me making a humorous rebuttal to the whole affair. But just keep at it and you’ll get work. As my illustration prof, the ever fantastic C.L Deibler, mentioned to us back in school, illustration is not entirely about talent. There are some mediocre illustrators out there and some excellent ones, but the mediocre ones can still get work if they’re persistent. Persistence will get you work, so just keep at it.

On Thursday I’ll go into some of the companies I’ve used, what I hear’s good, etc. Till then!

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PS: As an unrelated yet shameless plug, Beasts!, the stupendous book curated by Jacob Covey at Fantagraphics is available for purchase on their site now. Tons of awesome talent contributed monsters to the book, and I did as well. I believe Amazon should have it in another week or so? Check it out when you can, you won’t be disappointed.