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Artist Trading Cards

Updated on February 3, 2013


Artist cards are made, traded, and collected worldwide. They are known as both ATCs and ACEOs, the only difference being that ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) are traded and never sold and ACEOs (Art Cards, Editions and Originals) can be sold.

Artist trading Cards are 2.5 x 3.5 inches (64 x 89mm), the same size as a playing card or baseball card. There is an intimacy and sense of wonder in this form of miniature art, which is taking the world by storm.

Can Anyone Make Them? Do You Have to be an Artist?

Anyone Can Make Art Trading Cards!

Anyone can make Art Trading Cards! As a hobby, making ATCs & ACEOs are relaxing, inexpensive, and they provide a fun means of exchange with friends & loved ones, plus they are a means of meeting new people. They're small, fun to make, and are very addictive. Collecting ATC and ACEOs provides a way to build an art collection at an affordable price. (And If you decide to frame them and hang them on your walls, they certainly won't take up much room.) :)

For the artist, myself included, ACEOs and ATCs provide the opportunity to get to know other artists and exchange ideas with them. It's also an opportunity to explore art techniques and to stretch ourselves in ways we may not have previously thought of. Lastly, it's a way of spreading our wings and getting our art seen throughout the world, and, if we choose to, we can make a bit of extra money too!

History of Miniature Art, Trading Cards, ATCs & ACEOs

Miniature Art

Miniature art is a style of art that is traditionally very detailed, and can often compete with larger paintings. The people of ancient Greece adorned the wall of their homes with small paintings, and engraved their coins and rings with portraits. The earliest miniatures in existence is a series of colored drawings illustrating the Ambrosian Illiad in the 3rd century. From the 1200s and even earlier, monks throughout Western Europe enhanced handwritten manuscripts with embellishments, detailed borders and intricate miniature illustrations. The image on the top left is from the illuminated Book of Hours manuscript "Master of the Dresden Prayer Book" dated 1490. It depicts St. Fabian holding a book and a sword and St. Sebastian holding arrows and a sceptre and was illuminated was Willem Vrelan of Bruges (Flemish Region of Belgium).

Miniature portraits were fashionable in the 16th Century. Wealthy patrons would pay artists to make miniature paintings of their loved ones so that when they were traveling, they could carry the miniatures with them. Miniature portraits were also often used when marriages were arranged. These were often in the form of portraits and were, in their own way, the first "wallet photos."

Trade Cards

In the 1700s, French and English tradesman began to use illustrated, black and white cards to advertise their services. Some of them also had maps, since no formal street addresses existed at the time. These cards became very popular and, with advent of color printing, businesses began to create more sophisticated designs. Card collecting reached an all time high, particularly in the late 19th century, since magazines and other color photography were not yet widely available.

While this was happening, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and others were enchanting the Parisian art world with their paintings of light and color. They met regularly among themselves and artists from all over Europe would travel to see what was going on and to study with them. The Impressionist artists often made paintings on cards and traded them with other artists in order to study their styles and techniques. These cards, or miniature paintings, were also often traded and sold for food and other supplies.

Trade Card, 1886

Trade Card, 1886
Trade Card, 1886

Baseball cards were introduced in America in the 1880s and tobacco cards and card sets followed. They were marketed with different sized products and it was not until 1960 that a standardized size was established. This is the size used today in Artist Trading Cards: 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

Baseball Cards Prior to 1960

Baseball Cards Prior to 1960
Baseball Cards Prior to 1960

Mail Art & Altered Art

In the 50s, American artist Ray Johnson began sending out collaged, hand-stamped postcards to a large network of people, including Andy Warhol and James Barr of the Museum of Modern Art. Soon a group of postal artists formed, which used the postage system as a medium to exchange ephemera as a personal art form. Mail art and other types of altered art exchanges continued through the 80s and early 90s but eventually things started to quiet down. Then, in 1996, Swiss artist M. Vanci Stirnement made a decision which revitalized all forms of altered art.

ATCs: Artist Trading Cards

The story is this: M. Vanci Stirnemann wanted to make a catalogue to document his activities with other artists, but because of the prohibitive printing costs, he needed to come up with another way of documentation. What he decided to do was to create miniature cards by hand - 1200 of them!

Stirnemann was planning an exhibition of these cards at his Bookstore/Gallery. Having a background as a performance artist, Stirneman decided to make card trading part of the show. It is said that he was inspired to do so after watching the enthusiasm with which sports fans participated in exchanging sports cards, and wanted to apply the idea to his artist cards.

He decided not to sell his art but to instead exchange it: a card for a card. He asked artists and everyone invited to create cards so that on the final day of the exhibit he could exchange cards with them. Visitors were encouraged to make cards a s well, and these were also traded with Stirnemann and the other artists at the closing reception. Canadian artist Chuck Stake (aka Don Mable) was one of the attendees/participants. He was extremely enthusiastic about the ATCs and collaborated with Stirnemann in in 2000 in an exhibition in Calgary, Canada. Eighty artists from around the world participated. These cards were 2.5 x 3.5 inches, which was the standardized size established for trading cards in 1960.

With the help of the internet, the interest in ATCs spread like wildfire. The only hard and fast rules were that the cards were 2.5 x 3.5 inches, were signed in the back, and were not sold for money.

ACEOs: Art Cards, Editions and Originals

In October of 2004, Colorado artist Lisa Luree (aka bone*diva) started the ACEO group on eBay in response to the prohibition with selling that was associated with typical ATCs (Artist Trading Cards), and in part to make these cards available to collectors. She also organized to bring artists together and market the acronym ACEO, which means "Art Cards, Editions and Originals."

Since then, the interest in Artist Trading Cards and other forms of altered art have become an international phenomenon that is growing more and more everyday.

Guidelines for Making ATCs & ACEOs

Pay Attention to the Size and Do Not Infringe on Copyrights

1. Size: The one main rule is that the size must be 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches (64 x 89mm).

2. Copyright: All work should adhere to basic Copyright Law.

3. Information on Back: Typically the card will be signed and dated on the back. It will often have the artists email or snail mail address. If it it is a ACEO, it will also have the title of the artwork, and, if it's part of a limited edition, it will be numbered.

4. Thickness: Generally they should be flat enough to fit in a standard trading card sleeve or envelope. However, some are very thick and may even be in the form of book.

"ATC Travel" by Laineys Repertoire

Some rights reserved

What Materials Are Used In Making Art Trading Cards?

ACEOs and ATCs are made from a wide variety of materials. The artist is limited only by their imagination.

Some of the methods of making ACEOs include transfer methods, rubber stamps, painting, drawing, stitching, collage, etc. Cutouts from newspapers or magazines, fibers, handmade paper, pressed leaves, tiny shells, old postage stamps, sequins or beads can be used as well. Many artists use some type of varnish or fixative upon completion.

"Tower of Love" by Laineys Repertoire

Some rights reserved

Artist Trading Card Demo by Sarah Brighton from - Instructions on Making Artist Trading Cards using Collage and Mixed Media

This is a demonstration of how to make ATCs/ACEOs by Sarah Brighton from Gypsy Soul Creations. Watch the video as she goes through the steps to create an artist trading card. As she says, you can use any material to make an Artist Trading Card. You can use cardboard, cardstock, polymer clay, collage, fabrics, rubber stamps, inks, embellishments, etc. In this video we see Sarah using a variety of collage materials, including a piece of foil. In addition she adds some ink and sequin embellishments. She uses a glue stick to adhere the materials. Sarah narrates the entire process and it's both instructive as well as great fun to see the progression of her Artist Trading Card - from start to finish!


How to Make Acrylic Gel Transfers - Video by Milliande of Creativity Club for Women

Making a acrylic gel medium transfer is a fun and easy way to "transfer" a printed image such as a photocopy, newspaper clipping, etc. to another surface. All you need to begin with is your printed image and the surface where you want to place the transfer, some Gesso Polymer Acrylic Medium, a burnisher, and a brush. Of course you can always add materials. Take a look at how this artist incorporates gel transfers using acrylic Gesso.

Discover Distress Embossing Powders with Tim Holtz of - Heat embossing is an exciting technique used to embellish your artist trading cards.

Learn how to make your own distressed embossed artwork using nonstick craft sheet, your ATC/ACEO blank, a rubber stamp, distressed embossing powders, distressed embossing ink, a heat tool.

ACEO's on Ebay - Check out how much these cards are going for on Ebay

This will give you an idea about how much these cards are going for.

How To Store and Display Your Card Collections

You'll Want to care for Your Cards, as Well as Show Them to Others

You can buy individual mini plastic sleeves or mini vellum envelopes made especially to store your Artist Trading Cards. You can get Pocket Artist Trading Card Binder Pages, which fit any standard 3 ring binder. I've also seen ATC card binders with 8 and 9 cards to a sheet.There's a different kind of storage book called "ATC Queens Court Album" with custom designed pocket pages.You can see it here. You can also buy small frames and put them on the wall, or you can buy small table easels for them. Clear acrylic stands are also available. You can also have them matted or buy a precut mat for them. I've seen mats that come precut and hold one, two, and four cards. Of course you can always have the matboard* cut for you and then have them framed. You can get many of these supplies from hobby shop or from the mail order sources I have listed.

Other suggestions are to place your cards in a basket and put it in a prominent area of your home so that guests can look through them. Purchasing a storage box made for holding small photos is another option. And finally, although this may be hard to find, the company "7 Gypsies" has a revolving holder.

Sherry Venegas (paperfacets) creates "Cordelettes," which are a great method of displaying ATCs/ACEOs. Here's the link to her lens: ACEO Cordelette Hanger for Card Display.

As collecting ATCs and ACEOs are becoming more and more popular, artists are coming up with their own solutions. Collectors and artists alike are coming up with ingenious ways of storing and displaying these miniature jewels.

If you want to make your own storage box out of heavy weight paper, there are three templates for trading card holders on the web that I currently know of:

1. Template from Mirkwoods Designs

2. Template from Stampington & Company

3. Template from Enchanted Learning

Here's a lesson on making your own ATC/ACEO book from artist & "Squid" Monica Moody.

*Always buy archival acid free matboard to preserve your ACETs.

© Charlene Murray Zaloukal

ACEO "Show Me Yours" © 2008 Charlene Murray Zaloukal
You can visit her Squidoo Art Lenses here: CMZ Art and Rustic Goth

All rights reserved by Charlene Murray Zaloukal

Stop by & say Hello! We would love to hear from you!

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    • nelchee profile image


      6 years ago

      Great informative lens!

      I only made a few so far and traded one, but I hope to make more because miniatures are adorable :)

    • Aquavel profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      @Sniff It Out: Thanks for your feedback flighty02. Yes, the prices are rising again. They started going down a few months ago but now they are back. Of course it all depends on the artist and the demand.

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 

      7 years ago

      I really like some of the miniature art on some of the ATC's and ACEO's, I didn't realise that some of the ACEO's went for so much money! I enjoyed reading your lens.

    • Aquavel profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago

      Thanks everyone. I appreciate your input!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      A very informative lens. You did a great job!!

      Take care,

    • Heather426 profile image

      Heather Burns 

      8 years ago from Wexford, Ireland

      I love these! 5*****

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 

      9 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Wow! this is a very good lens on aceo. ATC'S. I still find that many people do not know what theses are when I am set up at craft fairs. They love the work, though. So sorry it took me so long to see this page. I do remember talking to you about it. The flickr collection is awesome. There is a world of top notch artist's doing this format.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Another exciting and informative lens! I truly enjoying reading your work.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      whoops - left out the http.

      sorry -- rated and lensrolled by the way

      YReflekshins ACEOs

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      great lens

      check out my zazzle aceo collection

      Reflekshins ACEOs


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