How to Make Artist Trading Cards

My first ATC

This is the first ATC I ever made. Yes, I'm a bit snarky.
This is the first ATC I ever made. Yes, I'm a bit snarky.

What are Artist Trading Cards?

Artist Trading Cards are a popular arts & crafts item that artists and craftspeople make to trade with each other. In concept, they are derived from the popular Baseball trading cards and are exactly the same size, 2 1/2 inches by 3 1/2 inches.

A variety of websites have sprung up to create trading opportunities and there's now an off-shoot version of them, called ACEO (art card editions and originals), for those who simply prefer to buy and sell cards rather than trading them.

ATC purists who made up the expression "always traded, never sold" (or something like that) get in a huff about that sort of thing, but it's the nature of collectibles that a demand will arise in the marketplace by those who prefer to collect rather than make their own. I personally think it's stupid to give them a different name because all other forms of "trading cards" are also sold as well as traded.

Many ATC artists paint or draw and so there are lots of wonderful hand-drawn or painted artist trading cards. And if you paint or draw, it's easy enough for you to get started by simply cutting down whatever kind of paper you normally do your artwork on to the right size - 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches. I, however, have no such skill and so I make ATCs by doing collage -- either with magazines and scrapbooking supplies or with my own photography.

So my directions for you here are about making collage ATCs. Have fun!

I have another hub with some great crafty ideas too. Would you like to make your own tarot cards?

How to Make Your Own ATCs

If you're already crafty and do some other form of paper crafting such as scrapbooking or card making, you definitely don't need any help from me. So I'm going to assume you're a non-crafter or at least a crafter who doesn't normally work with paper.

In my opinion, the best way to get started making your artist trading cards is to simply get stuck straight into it without worrying about how "good" your own cards are or how trade-able they might be. Make them for yourself first.

If you're not sure where to begin, start with the most basic way to get going -- grab a pack of playing cards from the discount store for a buck, get some glue sticks, and then grab all the magazines lying around your house, stick them in a pile and start flipping through them looking for interesting images.

Keep browsing through your magazines until ONE image pops out at you and begs you to tell a story. That's how it usually works for me. I generally don't have a theme in mind. I just start flipping pages until something pops out at me. For the "Stuck in the 50s" cards featured below I was browsing through some vintage teen magazines from the 50s and 60s that I'd picked up at a flea market. At the back of the magazine was this advertisment for some acne medication, probably Clearasil, and the opening line of the ad, "Weeping won't help" just struck me as really funny.

ATC Set - Stuck in the 50s

There were some additional words beneath "weeping won't help" aimed at selling the acne cream, but I've forgotten what it actually said. "You're still stuck in the 50s" just sort of popped into my head, so I opened up MS Word, typed them up and then printed them out on some scrapbook paper I had lying around.

I scanned the ad image and printed it out on photo paper and then decided I wanted to make two versions of the card -- one in color and one in black and white. I dug through my pile of scrapbooking paper looking for some interesting backgrounds and then glued those to my playing cards. If you don't have scrapbook paper just lying around, use some interesting pattern from a magazine ad. I actually have a bunch of backgrounds that've I've taken from decorating magazine ads for stuff like wallpaper and fabric glued onto playing cards just waiting for me to add something to them.

After printing the new copies of the image, I tore them down to the right size rather than cutting them with a scissors and then I took a sharpy and ran it along the torn edges of each photo. Glued down my new words, glued photo to playing card and we're done!

Sunflower ATC

Polaroid ATC

An ATC I made out of an original polaroid. I pulled the layers apart and scraped off a bunch of the emulsion and just generally futzed around with it and VOILA!
An ATC I made out of an original polaroid. I pulled the layers apart and scraped off a bunch of the emulsion and just generally futzed around with it and VOILA!

Using Your Own Photos for ATCs

I also make ATCs with my own photography. Sometimes it's as simple as doing a nice crop on a photo, like the sunflower at right, and then printing it onto some heavy watercolor paper to give it some texture.

Because I do a lot of work with square images since I shoot medium format and lots of Polaroid, I'll also frequently print out photos in 2x2 size, decorate the card background, mat the photo and then stick it to the card, occasionally adding bits and bobbles or text below it.

Another thing I do is take some of my Polaroids, separate the transparency from the background and just do something rather random like the Polaroid ATC featured here. You probably also do some emulsion lifts and transfers with Polaroids as well.

Or print out some of your digital photos, have them photocopied and do solvent or packing tape transfers to get the image onto the card blank. You could leave them as is, or decorate the image with glitter and other bits and pieces. Or you could decorate the card before you do the transfer.

Basically these are just some of the different ways I play with card creation. Hopefully it will give you some ideas of your own. Just remember to have fun with it.

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Comments 8 comments

Isabella Snow profile image

Isabella Snow 8 years ago

This is really cool! I love the first pic the best!


Geri 8 years ago

What a great piece of work...you are a great guide for people like me who want to get back into making art again after being away for too long! I'm attracted to the art of making ATC's and your write up was clear and right on target. Thanks ever so much. I can't wait to get started. Also after going to a craft store and seeing all the expensive things you "think" you need, I realized I do not need them to enjoy this form of art just the basics...again a BIG THANK YOU!


Marlene_OnTheWall profile image

Marlene_OnTheWall 8 years ago from Singapore

Some great ideas. Thanks! And I love your cards.


sunforged profile image

sunforged 7 years ago from Sunforged.com

Really well written, I linked to your article in my blog about techniques for making money from ones art - hopefully you get some traffic!

I usually paint my ATC's but I think im going to experiment with some of your collage techniques.


waynet profile image

waynet 7 years ago from Hull City United Kingdom

Great hub!

I always wondered what ACEO stood for!

Now I think I'll have some of this ACEO creating fun!


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

Very cool. I've heard of art trading cards but never seen them in person. They look like fun to make.


Reynold Jay profile image

Reynold Jay 5 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

Wanna make some money? Put yourself out there for doing book covers! All of this lends itself to book covers and some of these all set. Use these HUBs as your samples. $200 is the going rate for a cover.


cabmgmnt profile image

cabmgmnt 4 years ago from Northfield, MA

I Love art cards and your hub was very thorough and informative. Thanks. Voted up.

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