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How To Make Easy ATC Backgrounds

Updated on January 15, 2015

What Is An ATC Background?

An ATC background is a little piece of art which is the basis and forms the background element for an Artist Trading Card (ATC and ACEO).

And an Artist Trading Card (ATC)? This is a small artwork specifically measuring 2.5 x 3.5 inches which is a format that has been adopted by a growing band of artists as a means of swapping art with other artists from around the world via the internet or at local swap meets. It is a growing phenomenon, and is described fully in an article in Wikipaedia. An ACEO (art card editions and originals) is exactly the same but is sold rather than being traded.

This lens describes a number of techniques which can be used to create unique backgrounds for your ATC or indeed any other craft projects, without any cost. Free, gratis.

More information on making ATC's is given in my lens Simple Collaged ATC's For Beginners.

The photo here shows an ATC which consists essentially an image of a statue (a medieval knight in armour), on a background of newsprint which has been coloured ,and a border constructed from aluminium duct tape. It is one of my own creations and the photo is my own work.

The Typo Generator

An Easy Background To Begin With

The background image here has been created with the use of a web-based tool called Typo Generator. Why not try it for yourself? You can enter a word or phrase and click on go and the software will provide a pattern based on that text. Size and colour of text is fairly random but you can hold either one or more of the background colour / text colour and text pattern, just as if you were playing a one-armed bandit, until you get a combination you like.

This is a collaged ATC I made using a distressed photo and a background generated from The Typo Generator.

Find A Photograph Or Image For Your Background.

Creating ATC Backgrounds (1)

It is important to consider the copyright of an image you would like to use if you are going to publish it, and that includes posting on the web. Make sure that it is either in the public domain or that you have the copyright owners permission. Even if you are not going to sell the artwork. Some myths are debunked if you follow this link.

There are several places on the web where you can find public domain images or images with artists permission for their use.

One useful place to start is the Flickr collage group . You may need to register but it is free and the site is a great place for sharing and finding images. I have included several examples of backgrounds in the Flickr module, below.

A second place to try is a new community site started by Kim Newberg, Paper Digital Art & Images or PDA. which again you will need to register on to use.

The photograph shown here is one of my own, showing a knot in a park bench - in the right hands this could make a suitable background image for an ATC. An example of an atc using this background is shown here:-

Heavenly Duet

This ATC was created digitally, using images downloaded from the Flickr collage group mentioned above using a free to download photo editing software - Photoplus.

I have now published a number of free images for use as atc backgrounds on my Flickr photostream . I shall be adding to this fairly regularly. Use them as you see fit, but please respect the copyright of images which do not specifically state they are free to use.

Paint Your Own Background

Creating ATC Backgrounds (2)

This first image is a wet-into-wet watercolour, unfortunately the painting did not really work for me. So what better use than to crop and recycle it as a background for an ATC. But nothing stops you painting a background to a required color scheme

Painting with a credit card by Lisa Vollrath is a great way of producing backgrounds for your atc's. This technique, suitable for acrylic paints this time, is to use a palette knife or old credit card to drag the paint across the surface of the paper. This can provide wonderful abstract patterns. The use of 2 or 3 paints is probably best but it is up to you, how many and what colours you use.

Examples of this technique can be seen in the set referred to above on my Flicker photostream

Another option ( as against painting) is to use a stained paper (use coffee, tea, food colouring,etc) layered onto your card. By coincidence, there is a very good tutorial right here on Squidoo if you want to check this technique out. Lots of paper for very little outlay - if you are careful about the mess!

Make A Background By Collaging.

Creating ATC Backgrounds (3)

This photo is an ATC background created by collaging scraps and off-cuts and then cropping to ATC size. Let your creative juices flow!

I have created backgrounds from coloured tissue paper in a very similar way from which I created a number of ATC's which are shown on my blog.

an example of marbled paper using the shaving foam method
an example of marbled paper using the shaving foam method

Make A Background by Using Marbled Paper

Creating ATC Backgrounds (4)

This is an example of marbled paper made using shaving foam. There are many sites on the internet describing the use of various techniques to create marbled paper, an easy and handy technique is to use shaving foam and vegetable dyes (food coloring) or acrylic inks/paints. This type of paper was used in the past for the end-papers of books and even covering books. But why not use the patterns produced as backgrounds. Create your own craft papers. Use any colours which come to hand or select 2 or 3 to give well tried color schemes.

Warm colors, cool colours, contrasting colors or colors which harmonise. Why not try it out and see what effects you can create.

1. Here's one tutorial

2 And here is another"

3. and finally, one I have posted right here on Hubpages

Here is an example of an atc created using a marbled background

Stamp Your Own Backgrounds

Creating ATC Backgrounds (5)

Most crafters/artists using mixed media for projects will have a collection of stamps and some of these may be specifically for backgrounds or could be used that way. But there is nothing to stop you using a little creativity.

Make your own stamps

use sliced vegetables

what about wine bottle corks

or leaves

rough textiles, etc

you could make your own list, I am sure!

The first image is a background paper I created with a home made stamp, carved from an eraser using a lino-cutting tool. I have stamped several ines across the paper to complete an overall pattern. And here is an ATC I have created using this pattern

Once again you can find more examples on my Flickr photostream

Another trick is to stamp using bleach rather than ink. BUT BE CAREFUL not to splash into eyes or onto your skin. This leaves a white shape on a colored ground

use of printed matter for atc background
use of printed matter for atc background

Make A Background From Printed Matter

One way which musn't be forgotten is the use of Any form of printed matter. Favourites are vintage texts in foreign languages especially lettering such as german, russian, chinese or japanese. Others are:-

  • Dictionaries (select a defintion of a word that matches your theme)
  • Sheet music
  • Newpapers, adverts or articles
  • Old advertisements
  • Any vintage ephemera, prescriptions, receipts, bills, letters, shopping lists, clock-in cards, bingo cards, etc
  • a collage of stamps
  • vintage maps
  • and don't forget wallpaper

This is obviously not a complete listing but only an example and I am sure that you can add many more examples.

The printed matter can be copied or scanned if you do not wish to loose the original, In fact you can find all sorts of images of printed ephemera for use as atc backgrounds on Flickr, or for sale on Ebay or Etsy and many craft suppliers may be able to supply. Do use the printed matter creatively. For example in the ATC example given here the text is at an angle for effect. You can also use mixed media techniques to increase the artistic appeal. use ink pads, tea or coffee, or any colouring media that you have to hand to age or edge the background before adding the main elements.

Make A Background Digitally

Creating ATC Backgrounds (6)

With the cornucopia of tools available in most photo manipulation or painting software, it is so easy to create unique and interesting backgrounds. You should never again be at a loss for ideas. This is one I made recently. I don't intend to show any more examples, if you have this sort of software you will know how easy it is to produce patterns by adding effects one on top of the other.

If you are new to this sort of software, try an on-line version such as Sumo paint, it is free to try it out.

paris atc couple in love
paris atc couple in love

Selecting ATC Backgrounds From A Photograph

A Useful Technique

The ATC here is quite a simple collage on a vintage photograph of a famous landmark in Paris.

From a large photograph, it is sometimes difficult to see which small ATC sized area will be suitable for an ATC background. A tutorial at B-muse shows how to use a cropping template to find just the area which will make your ATC Zing.

Take the template and move it across any photo (a copy maybe) or ephemera to see exactly what the background will look like without all the extraneous matter around it. THis is a very simple and useful tool to keep handy in your crafting toolbox.

Don't Forget

You can use whatever takes your fancy!

using a crumpled chocolate wrapping foil as a background
using a crumpled chocolate wrapping foil as a background

Creating original ATC backgrounds

use your imagination

By now you may be getting one or two ideas. Why not use whatever comes to hand. For this altered jigsaw puzzle piece I used a sweet wrapper. crumpled and bonded to the piece it made a unique background. I am sure that you can think of other handy papers and what about printed tissue papers.

This was actually made for a challenge on PDA ( Paper Digital Art & Images by Kim Newberg), lots of great images for your backgrounds.

Issue 11 of Art Trader ( free e-magazine) has an article on ATC backgrounds which discusses a number of ways of creating exciting colourful backgrounds for your art work.

Some more examples from my own artwork:-

use vintage book pages

or vintage sheet music

printed textiles, etc

craft papers of course

or what about an old playing card

so much choice, that's the trouble!

I would love to grow this list of ways of producing backgrounds, I know there are as many as there are people creating ATC's, what's your favourite? Or do you have any additional comments to add from your own experience, I would love to hear from you.

Have You Tried Any Of These Backgrounds? - Or Do You Have Any Other Suggestions?

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    • delia-delia profile image


      5 years ago

      The creations and designs are awesome! They're inspiring me!

    • RadaFrancis LM profile image

      RadaFrancis LM 

      6 years ago

      Wow! A lot of great ideas! *blessed*

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Great backgrounds. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      Great backgrounds. Happy Thanksgiving!

    • floppypoppygift1 profile image


      7 years ago

      I love watercolor! I like sprinkling salt over wet watercolor for the crackly speckled effect it makes. Super fun! Cheers~cb

    • ItayaLightbourne profile image

      Itaya Lightbourne 

      7 years ago from Topeka, KS

      Great ideas and resources here! Thank you for putting it all in one place. :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Beautiful lens and nery useful, too! Thanks for sharing!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Really useful lens. Thank you.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Very interesting topic. I love the marbeled paper.

    • Brandi Bush profile image


      7 years ago from Maryland

      These are really cool! I've never heard ot ATC's before, but I think my favorite is the use of vintage book pages. I've used them in journaling and they look amazing. Awesome work! :) SquidAngel Blessed!

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      7 years ago from France

      I've never heard of Artist's trading cards - shows how very commercially minded I am! Good information. I'd love to get back into selling my work, so I'm going to keep this in mind.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I like how you show a background and then give an example of what you put on top of it.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image


      7 years ago

      I haven't created one before, but I love your work here. Blessed!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 

      7 years ago from Vermont

      I love to create collages, either the traditional mixed media method or digitally and frequently find myself making backgrounds from old artwork and photos in my own collections. Helpful tips here for novices and I appreciate the notes about copyright.

    • Wbisbill LM profile image

      Barbara Isbill 

      7 years ago from New Market Tn 37820

      Very useful site. Liked your backgrounds. Have made a few on my own. Thumbs up!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I would love some free time to practice this....amazingly done with your usual expertise, and blessed!

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      7 years ago from UK

      @tdogart1: After seeing some of your art, I am flattered - thank you

    • tdogart1 profile image


      7 years ago

      Love this lens, I learned a lot today. Have an art show this week. Will be using these techniques. Thanks!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great tips. I never though of using bleach for rubber stamping. I'm going to try that. I'm also going to try using Sumo Paint. Looks cool.

    • JoyfulPamela2 profile image


      7 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I really want to learn more about this and to try it! Thanks for sharing your knowledge! *SquidAngel Blessed! =D

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      8 years ago from Scotland

      Fantastic, I really enjoyed this, and was impressed by the quirky results! some of those backgrounds are really cool love the use of the music manuscripts, etc. Blessed by a passing Angel

    • Warrenpeace21 profile image


      8 years ago

      Great card ideas. Excellent concept and interesting nuggets of information!

    • mannasugar profile image


      8 years ago

      Very Artsy...

    • beckyf profile image


      8 years ago

      Very nice lens. :)

      When I'm doing old school cut and paste, I like using the acrylic paint and credit card method the best. While the paint is still wet, I might add bits of torn newspaper or sheet music, add texture by dragging or stamping something through it, and sometimes by dropping little bits of glitter glue into it.

      I work mainly digitally now, so I get all the great background effects without the mess of paint and glue. ;-)

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 

      9 years ago

      I was going to ask that same question. I'd never heard of an ATC before. Anyway there are some interesting ideas for creating backgrounds that could be used for many purposes I think.

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      9 years ago from UK

      @religions7: An atc is a 3.5 x 2.5 inch artwork. It is commonly created in mixed media by using ready prepared backgrounds

    • religions7 profile image


      10 years ago

      ... what IS an ATC background?


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