PROMO: The art of making a postcard, part 1.

January 23, 2007

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!


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.


17 Responses to “PROMO: The art of making a postcard, part 1.”

  1. Alexis said

    You have no idea how much time I’ve spent googling “illustrator promo postcard how to” or some variation of that, and finding nothing…This is amazing! Thanks so much for putting time and effort into helping fellow artists and illustrators!

  2. Great post, can’t wait for Thursday/part 2!

  3. beth said

    Awesome post! Thanks again for reeally good info. Hoping to find a good printer that does smaller runs than 500, any ideas? ( Didn’t like Vista Print)

  4. This is so helpful, Meg. I am a big fan of your work and I only just realized you were based in Chandler. I live in Mesa so that makes us neighbors!

  5. meg said

    Well hello neighbor! I haven’t actually met any arty/illustration types around here yet, perhaps you might know any? The lack of art friends so far kind of is daunting since I moved to Chandler from CT…

  6. ariel said

    Great info Meg.. I agree, persistence is the key.
    I sent out one batch a while ago(because i’m in animation, not illustration) and i got a call that i was put on a short list. I didnt get a job, but i felt comfortable doing the process. Now i’m willing to do this full time.

    keep up the good work!


  7. Kenn said

    Meg, you rule

  8. helloillo said

    I’m curious now, what did the rejection postcard say?

  9. Maya said

    Wow, this is amazing. Thanks. I think I posted a thanks post on here when you started this blog but I can’t recall. I myself live in Surprise, AZ, so there’s another neighbor for you. 😛

    Now to get my toes dunked into the pool of self promotion already…

  10. I know it’s 2010, but would like to say this is still very usefull! Glad it’s still online 🙂

  11. Easily the best I ever received was a rejection POSTCARD from a wanna-be SLAC. The card said, Dear (Fill In Name Here): We regret to inform you that you will not be offered a position at Wanna-Be SLAC because:”

    * ____Your application was incomplete
    * ____Your qualifications did not meet our current needs
    * ____Your degree is not in the field in which we are searching

    And several other items–someone from the SC put checks next to all of the reason I had been rejected. I am sure my department secretary got quite a chuckle out of it…

  12. You won’t make any money mailing postcards. You can
    make money when a recipient of a postcard responds to your offer.

    Some postcard marketing “systems” going around…. all Fax broadcasting systems… you should be skeptical because as far as I can tell most of these are just geared to selling the same system to saturation point… you can actually learn a lot about Postcard marketing from sources like Dan Kennedy’s Magnetic Marketing System – not expensive
    and will kick-butt over most other offline marketing material you will run across, because it is “System” oriented.

    You can lose a lot of money with direct mail if you don’t know how it works. Be cautious and prepare well. Good direct mail marketers may produce 100 ideas for products to market and only follow-through with 1 or 2 – demonstrating how discerning the real pros are.

    I would not easily buy anybody’s claim of a “proven system” – again, such things are peddled-off because they are either recycled and derivative of older direct marketing material or they are just starting to not make money anymore so the promoter is milking the product by licensing it out to network marketing people.

    This may seem cynical, but I’ve been around and I’ve
    done direct mail on and off for years. 95% of biz-op
    direct mail stuff is smoke and mirrors and will have you losing money.

    If you want the real wisdom get “The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches” – most DM bizop stuff is just a ripoff of the sales-letter for it. Ben Suarez’s book “7 Steps to Freedom 2” is also a way to understand how it really works. Learn from the best and you’ll be way ahead of the curve and probably not throw your money away on dumb stuff.

  13. Well, I don’t know what everyone else experiences are, or what opportunity the author of this thread is referring to, but I’m enjoying and making money with postcard marketing and its concept.

    Combining offline marketing (direct mail) with online marketing makes a ton of sense. Anyone saying otherwise, is just not up to par on full scale marketing strategies.

    Let me put it this way. Everyone of you are still, in this internet age, getting direct mail from companies marketing their goods and services, etc. WHY! Because it works. To some degree it works better to drive traffic than online marketing.

    Now the problem, just like with internet marketing, or really any business, people think they can just get in something and instantly make good money. It happens, but it’s about applying a consistent marketing game plan for success. Most that do this find away to succeed, but most don’t do that they walk away trying to place blame elsewhere but themselves.

    21 years, as an entrepreneur, has taught me that there are more failures in biz opportunities, marketing emotional based products like juice and vitamins, than there are in marketing educational “how to” type products, with more challenging marketing strategies for people to be successful. (Sad part is I didn’t know this the past 21 years, or I’d likely be very well off financially).

    So to the extent someone can say postcard marketing doesn’t work is the same as people that come on this forum crying about how internet marketing does not work. We know that’s a lie, but is everyone succeeding at internet marketing of their products (affiliate products) no, does everyone have the potential? To some degree yes.

    They both work, people, self-included, are making money doing it, but most don’t understand the dynamics of what it takes to be successful and it is instant gratification (notwithstanding poor marketing education and desperation) that is failing people.

    Postcard marketing offers the simplest, and easiest marketing system for anyone to do to build a successful business. And in many cases it is way cheaper than paid online marketing. But more so, there’s no learning curve of significance, and those that follow in the business don’t have to worry about not having a marketing game plan that they can follow, and those they introduce can follow, to have a legitimate opportunity to be successful.

    There are other things about postcard marketing that are essential for success with it, but don’t be foolish to think that direct mail marketing doesn’t work when corporate America is still fully engaged in it, along with their online marketing strategies.

  14. katerina brunot said

    Dear Meg, thank you for the info I`m very much a beginner in illustration business. I`m as about to make/send out my 1st set of promo cards .Can you please tell me do I use an envelope for promo cards? Thanks, Katerina

  15. Directory said

    When I first read the business model, I got a bit hesitant and I wanted to return it but I got bored doing nothing at home and started mailing postcards. I got some response the first week, so I got motivated to do more. I mailed some more, and the week after that my earnings started. It was small at first, just some coins to cover the money I spend mailing postcards, and then as weeks went by, I earned more and more. Now it’s been almost a year since that day when I got bored and mailed my first few investments, and I’m already earning good fulltime income mailing postcards. It won’t make you filthy rich at all, but at least I get to earn without working too hard. I don’t even mail much anymore. I just mail whenever I feel like it! I highly recommend trying out this business model. I’m sure you’ll be surprised with the returns!

  16. […] this as I’ve never actually done a proper, full-on mailshot before, but I’ve heard from other blogs and a couple of books that I’ve read that they can help raise awareness of what […]

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