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A Simple Collaged ATC Tutorial For Beginners

Updated on July 23, 2014

It's Easy To Create Great Looking ATC's / ACEO's Even For A Beginner

Mixed media or collage is a popular technique for creating both artists trading cards. Collages are often created with simply paper, various images and coloured or patterned paper are glued to a suitable substrate. However if other materials are used such as cloth or plastic (buttons are a favourite small item) then it is more often referred to as mixed media collage. Read about mixed media collage in this interesting article.

If you are new to this technique and would like to have a sure fire way of creating interesting, original collaged artist trading cards (atc's) every time, this tutorial will be just what you need. You could find a way of getting there with the help of this page. Learn a few tips on how to approach the art of collage from a seasoned artist.

But first for those of you who don't know, ATC stands for Art Trading Card. It is the size of a standard trading card ( 2.5 X 3.5 inches) and was originally designed by artists to share examples of their work. Sometimes used as a business card or simply to give away or swap with other artists. ACEO (Art Card Editions & Originals) is exactly the same thing but is meant to be sold. Learn a little more about these miniature art works on my lens Making, Collecting and Selling ACEO's.

All photographs, images and charts are the work of the author unless otherwise credited.

I hope to give you a basic but definite route map for the creation of an artist trading card, but leave you lots of room to bring in your own creativity and enough space to add your own stylistic elements and thoughts. I will take you through six easy steps and use the creation of this ATC as an example.

Consider this quote by Leonardo Da Vinci; "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication"

Lots of atc artists create quite busy cards but within a 2.3 X 3.5 inch space it is not really necessary. If you can do it and still create a good looking card then fine, however it is quite possible to create stunning cards by taking note of Leonardo's thought.

I will propose in a few simple steps how you can approach this clean and concise style. You can see more of my ATC's on my blog

Six Easy Steps to a Great ATC.

What Are They?

There is a way to approach creating qn ATC which will almost guarantee a winner every time. The block diagram shows six simple to follow steps, which are explained in the following modules. Most steps are also fully detailed in additional lenses, with examples from my own ATC's. Look out for links to MORE information in each step.

These additional details are meant to serve as a guide and extra reading or lilnks to more web sites will be given where appropriate.

So what are the 6 simple steps? Read on!

Image created by the author for this article

Step 1. The Background.

Find Or Create A Background Image.

This could be :-

*a printed image such as a photograph

*a downloaded digital image,

*a page from a book or magazine,

*a coloured card or piece of wallpaper,

* commercial patterned craft paper

*an off-cut of fabric,

*a painted image,

*a stamped image

*a collage itself

*or anything else which you find interesting.

It can be as simple or as complex as you want, the source or technique you use will often make this choice for you.

I will take you through creating an ATC using the process described in this lens. The image here is a simulated vintage craft paper, which I received free with a craft magazine. I actually cut it larger than the required size This is so that I can "wrap it " around a stiff card backing to make a sturdy ATC. I actually use a double layer of card cut from cereal packets for most of my ATC's. "Wrapping" the background image/paper around the backing card is described in a tutorial right here on Squidoo, well worth a read.

MORE: Although the above sources of backing papers, etc are more than adequate, if you want to be more adventurous try making your own. I discuss a number of techniques in my page Ready Made And Easy ATC Backgrounds .

Step 2. The Main Image For The Collage

Find & Select The Main Image

The main image (or element) will be something that "goes" with the background that you have already selected; or just looks good. It may creates a catchy colour scheme or otherwise something that complements it in some way. This is where your creativity must kick in, and goes a long way to determining a personal style. You may have a theme in mind and select both the background and the main image together.

Now... step one and two are completely interchangeable. So if an image inspires you to create an atc look for a background that complements it. If the background image (or a technique) grabs your fancy, select the main image to match the background. It is a case which comes first - the chicken or the egg. But one way or another you will have a pair i.e. a background and an image which form the basis of your art work. Look at any ATC and see if you can see these two elements.

This image of a "victorian women violinist" seemed to me to complement the vintage patterned paper, and so I decided to use it as my main image. It was actually downloaded from Dover Publications samples, also see below; printed and cut out from the sheet of paper. The negative spaces between the arms and the violin were also cut away as you will see as the ATC takes shape. I like to do this so that the background shows through but it is a personal choice.

Also a personal choice is the way that the image is cut out. I like to cut inside the outline so that any white lines , etc, are removed. Many artists actually prefer to leave an "aura" around the image and you may find that in some places this could be a correct choice for you. Another alternative is to tear the image out. This leaves a soft outline, which may be right for certain images or designs. You will find that you may prefer one or other of these approaches when creating you own artwork.

One way of deciding which is right is to try all three. use an image which you can photocopy or scan and print. Make three copies and then cut/tear it out in all three ways; tear the first to leave a soft edge, cut out the second to leave the "aura" and cut the last copy to the edge of the image to give a clean outline. Make an ATC from all three and decide which effect you like best. Of course, as I indicated above, it may depend on the image and the effect you want to achieve.


Thoughts on the use of the colour wheel to select your images


coming soon, free images on the internet

Learn About Collage Techniques

Collage has been around a long time, under various disguises but became part of fine art in the early part of the 20th century. It is now well entrenched and used by artists from the likes of Picasso and George Braques to modern day practionioners. It is OK to call yourself an artist if you use this amazingly simple technique.

The Collage Workbook: How to Get Started and Stay Inspired
The Collage Workbook: How to Get Started and Stay Inspired

52 inspirational prompts; with step-by-step tutorials covering many styles and techniques and also a library of images to use freely in your own art.

Collage Techniques: A Guide for Artists and Illustrators
Collage Techniques: A Guide for Artists and Illustrators

A little bit of history, learn how the cubists experimented and bought the idea of collage to fine art.

Collage Journeys: A Practical Guide to Creating Personal Artwork
Collage Journeys: A Practical Guide to Creating Personal Artwork

A very practical guide, step-by-step tutorials in how to express your through collage.


Step 3. More Details of the collage elements

Select Potential Images To Enhance The Artwork

Here again, your creativity will guide you in selecting these elements. Choose from paper based images, stamped images, ribbons or threads or even small 3-D embellishments; the range is only limited by your creative imagination.

Anything which helps to bring out a "theme" or "story" which the ATC is trying to convey to the viewer.

Here, I have chosen prints of vintage clock faces which I think may complement the theme I have chosen. Also timing is important to a musician. I have also selected a scrap of patterned paper to add a linear dimension, a selection based on personal experience.

Step 4. (Optional) Select Text / sentiment

To Enhance The Theme Of The ATC

Maybe a quote or famous saying or some philosophical gem.

This could be handwritten on to the face of the ATC or printed using a computer or word processor or simlar. If you are fond of art doodles then this is another possibility.

Your creativity will suggest the font , and the length of the text. If printed, you can cut out using scissors or craft knife or tear the text to give random edges. It is up to you.

I have chosen what may appear at first to be a surprising choice, but the clocks will show spatial recession into the final image because the smaller ones are not clear and lack contrast. It also reminded me of a song.

Step 5. Compose The collage On the ATC

Use The Elements Selected To Design The ATC

Now you have all the graphic elements in place it is time to finalise the design of the card.

How is this done? Play with them. Lay out the background and move the other elements around until you achieve a pleasing appearance. At this stage you may want to consider if the ATC needs something else, more detail images for example. Are there any empty spaces? Or indeed are there too many elements making the design look too busy? Play around with the design until you are satisfied.

For the sake of simplicity here, I have arranged the elements digitally ( which is why the images have white outlines) but of course you can cut out your paper images and arrange them until you are happy with the overall design. You can see in the images here that I have decided to arrange the elements to give a diagonal arrangement. The violinist is on the left because she is facing to the right. You do not want the viewers eyes to be directed out of your design, this is a general principal of composition. The two smaller clock faces are behind the large one and align diagonally as does the text and the lined craft paper strip.

Perhaps at this stage, you should go and have a cup of coffee, or busy yourself with something else for a short while, or even sleep on it overnight before coming back to the ATC and looking the card over with a fresh eye.

Is there any change you would like to make, try it and see how it works before you finalise the design.

Step 6. Time To Get Out The Glue.

Create That Masterpiece.

When you are satisfied with the composition, and only then - get out the glue!

A PVA type glue (white craft glue) is probably best for general purpose use with paper and textiles but there are others which you may use. The best advice is to read the instructions and don't use too much. For sticking down paper elements I most often use the ubiquitous gluestick. I get through many tubes of this useful product.

Whichever you use, try to use a glue which dries clear, so that if an accident happens it will not be too obvious.

Double sided adhesive tape and foam tape also have many uses for paper crafts where heavier elements, plastic or metal need to be bonded.

There are specialist sealants/glazes which can be applied to protect the ATC but these are not absolutely essential and can be tried as you progress in this media.

You can also use mechanical methods of fixing such as brads, eyelets, staples, sewing (usually with textiles), etc.

You can see from the photograph that I decided to change the design, after consideration. It is difficult to be specific about why I did this, it is really personal, artistic preference. Both designs are acceptable and could have been used. there is still a strong diagonal aspect to the ATC but I find the second layout much more satisfying, the violin almost forms one of the hands on the large clock face. It simply seems a much tighter design. On second thoughts, if you look at the image in step 5, you can see that everything seems to be on the same top-left to bottom-right diagonal. In the modified arrangement things seem to be grouped around the clockface, to me this definitely seems a more pleasing composition.

Sign Your Artwork

One More Step To Complete The ATC

It is customary to add a few details on the back of an ATC or ACEO, to complete it.

These are usually:-

*The title

*The date

*The artists name

* Signature

* Contact details (e.g. e-mail, etc)

*media = mixed media plus special items of note

Not all items in the list are necessary, there may be others but the top 5 are probably the minimum. A label I apply to all my ATC's is shown here. It is very easy to create something like this if you have a word processor or other software which allows text on images. Or it is possible to purchase blanks ready made on the internet. Ebay and Etsy are of course possible sites to look, but many craft suppliers will also stock them.

*The swap forum/group, if this applies

As a final touch you may like to use one of the many gels / laquers available to paint a protective layer layer over your art work. I always feel that this is unnecessary however, because I use a transparent PVC pocket / envelope to do this job. Each of my ATC's is fitted into a pocket before it is posted to my swap partner. For this reason I do not use very thick elements in my ATC collages and many people add a rider to the size of an ATC to say that it should fit into a pocket. This is an entirely personal choice however.

Free Images For your Artwork

The Cheapest Way To Find Images

OK, so now you want to have a go. Where do you get the images from to begin collaging? I will be giving a list of my favourite places on the web in due course, but try this lens to find a massive list of places you can visit to download free vintage images

The photo shows a copyright free image offered by Dover Publications, you can register (free) to receive an invite to view samples from its many publications, on a weekly basis. These are available to download.

You can use your own photos, or images from out of copyright books which in a nutshell means books published before 1922 in most countries. It is possible to use magazine photos but this may lead to copyright problems if you publish your art or try to sell it. Unfortunately posting art on the web counts as publishing so use magazine photos with care. many artists use these relying on the fact that they are altering them to side-step issues, and of course the copyright owners would have to bring a suit, and many would not deem it worthwhile but companies will if they feel their rights are being compromised. Disney is always protective of its characters and many household brand names are jealously looked after by their owners.

A useful article on copyright for artists can be found here

useful books on Amazon - everybodies creativity is helped by a good ideas

The more examples of good design and composition you see, the more easily you will find it is to create.

I have copies of the first three books here. The workshop book contains a multitude of fabulous techniques, a must for anybody interested in becoming adept at ATC making. The

The 1000 trading cards book is a wonderful collection of ATC's to give you many ideas and stimulate your creativity. Many are in textile materials but despite this the book is well worth looking out for.

The third book is quite a small book, but has a number of step by step tutorials; would you believe 20. These are all easy but will allow the creation of some great ATC's.

The last book is by an author, Lisa Vollrath, who has several web-sites giving creative help to crafters/artists. She also can be found here on squidoo. I have bought a number of items from this lady and took a monthly magazine which she used to publishes, The Monthly Muse. It was always full of great ideas for all kinds of crafts.

You Tube Show Reels - View More of My ATC Collages

I have become an avid fan of ATC's and have swapped several hundred over the past few years. It is an addictive pastime, making contact with artists from all over the world via the internet. Here you can see some of the ATC's that I have made and swapped.

An Angel's Blessing

This lensblessed by SquidAngels






My thanks to you all

I would love to hear what you think of this set of notes, and hopefully I can improve the lens with your help. - Thanks

You do need to be a member of the Squidoo community to comment, but it is completely free

Any Opinions? - let me know what you thought of this lens

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 

      4 years ago from Fresno CA

      Nice work. I love it.

    • judithcheng lm profile image

      judithcheng lm 

      5 years ago

      great tipsâ¦& so inspiring, thank you

    • VioletteRose LM profile image

      VioletteRose LM 

      5 years ago

      Great tutorial, thanks for sharing :)

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      5 years ago from UK

      @DreyaB: Which came first?

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I didn't even know about ATCs, so I've learnt something today. Reminds me of scrapbooking but on a smaller scale. Thanks so much for the details. :0)

    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      5 years ago

      Beautiful images, and these are projects that most of us could complete.

    • RoadMonkey profile image


      5 years ago

      Useful lens to get someone started on collaging. And at the size of these cards, it is not likely to discourage someone from completing a project.

    • linfcor profile image

      Linda F Correa 

      5 years ago from Spring Hill Florida

      I love ATC cards. Have a few. Looking to get more for my collection. Need to get busy ! Great tips on this lens to inspire

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Very inspiring-I particularly liked the tip about cereal box cardboard. Many thanks!

    • VspaBotanicals profile image


      5 years ago

      Amazing! Love this article!

    • Carol Houle profile image

      Carol Houle 

      5 years ago from Montreal

      Nice. I been wanting to try this medium a long while, but not to trade. And I want them to be larger. Is this not possible? I imagine the layers and the glue might look frumpy and lumpy. I once did a small oil painting on canvas board to which I glued real sea shells. It was nice. I should try to make another. They do have deep frames under glass nowadays which would preserve it longer. I've also done the multi-cut cards and the dried flowers. I will try this method, too. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • delia-delia profile image


      5 years ago

      Lovely cards and ideas! I saved many items to make ATC cards and have yet to try it...too many irons in the fire! I do ACEO cards and paint miniature art as well.

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      5 years ago from Lakewood New York

      You are very creative and talented, Nice work here, Thanks for sharing your konwledge :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is fabulous. I'm trying to use a program to make a collage, but I'm not an artist. You are truly gifted.

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      6 years ago from UK

      @BLouw: Barbara, thanks for the comment and the blessing.

      I am not sure about that link - it works for me. However every time I search for the page, I get a differently numbered URL. Must be looking for a cookie. I have replaced the link with the url of the home page for Dover Publications and you then need to register for weekly samples from their books. Sorry about that.

    • BLouw profile image

      Barbara Walton 

      6 years ago from France

      This is such a helpful, clear lens. I tried to open you link for free images but found it has been taken down. Not permanent I hope.

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 

      6 years ago from USA

      My mom loves to create collage cards. Your step-by-step makes it look easy enough for me to do as well. Thanks, I will share this with her.

    • John Dyhouse profile imageAUTHOR

      John Dyhouse 

      7 years ago from UK

      @anonymous: Hope you get some benefit from this great, no stress art form. Create your composition and when satisfied glue it down. You can't go wrong, LOL

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Since I've joined Squidoo, I've seen many people doing collages ... and I am really starting to fall in love with the potential of this creative art form. I appreciate the steps you outlined here ... it gives me a great starting point to take off from! I'm pinning this too, since I have an art following that will surely appreciate this tutorial!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      An excellent ATC tutorial, I love the nostalgic effect you have that is timeless!...*

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I was "into" ATC / ACEO collage art for a while there...have drifted away from it a bit now but I quite liked it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      These cards are so beautiful, I understand the collectible value in them. Some are just amazing.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for the tutorial, maybe finally I'll be able to do some creative work:D

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you for the tutorial, maybe finally I'll be able to do some creative work:D

    • beckyf profile image


      8 years ago

      You are so right about ATC making being addicting! I enjoyed your lens. :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh, what a wealth of helpful information and suggestions--and so well written, too! Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise.

      For what it's worth, I definitely prefer the composition of the card in Step 6; positioning the clock behind the woman makes it seem like an extension of her, and vice versa--without either one competing with the other! Lovely!

    • kathysart profile image


      8 years ago

      How fun you have made the art of ACEO's! Nice lens!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I am still grabbing techniques and learning I can't do what I normally do on a book page on an ATC--too busy! Simplify! Thanks! I began developing an "eye" and gut feeling through fashion, when I worked at an International Fashion Studio with my son who is a genius graphics artist. But I still have a way to go to find a balance between what will look good, without giving up my own tastes. Thanks for all you do and share! Your work is so varied and appealing!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Quick 

      8 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I love how you broke this down into very manageable steps. My daughter and I have enjoyed making ATCs.

    • BetsiGoutal1 profile image


      8 years ago

      I love your lens. Thanks for making it! <3 (This lens in genius, and should be required reading for every new ATC artist!)

    • justholidays profile image


      8 years ago

      I may give collage a try during the coming weeks, I remember I really enjoyed that when I was a child...

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great directions and images! Thank you for keeping it simple, and fun!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 

      8 years ago from UK

      This looks like a fun and easy way to be creative. Thanks for a great tutorial. I'd like to give it a go!

    • GonnaFly profile image


      8 years ago from Australia

      This looks like something even I could do in a short time. Thanks for the lovely. clear instructions.

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 

      8 years ago

      This is a great way to give people a start in making ATCs. I am often overwhelmed by the possibilities and this really helps focus. I've featured it on my Artist Trading Card Ideas lens.

    • Sniff It Out profile image

      Sniff It Out 

      8 years ago

      Nice lens... it makes me want to give this a go :)

    • WildFacesGallery profile image


      9 years ago from Iowa

      This is really lovely and your example is very cool. I've not done this sort of thing but it looks like great fun.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This a lovely step-by-step lens. I love that you chose a relatively straightforward ATC to illustrate it with. I think I might like to try these myself. Lensrolled to Create a Journal Page and blessed by a Squid angel :-)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice set of instructions John. I really like that you encourage step 2 with the main image. Seems like that would be common sense but really to many it is not. Quite a while ago you left a comment for me on a piece I was unsure about that the piece "worked" because while your eyes roam about the work they still come back to rest on the main focal point and I found that quite helpful.


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