Greeting Card Design Tips

It can seem so simple to design a greeting card, but then, when faced with a blank piece of paper, we can often freeze. How will we know if this is what the publishers will want? What sells? What are they looking for? What makes for a good card design?

Get Inspired

I’ll get to those topics in a bit. But first, let’s talk about inspiration.  I find it very useful to walk by displays of greeting cards and see what catches my attention. I also like to look for color combinations that are popular as well as styles that appeal to me.  In the end, when I get home, I only have a vague recollection of what I saw, but the “discoveries” I made will no doubt influence my work in some way.

During those “research” trips, I also like to familiarize myself with the types of cards that my favorite companies carry.  Do they use humor? Are the designs simple? What seems to be trending in terms of color, typography, and characters?

Be You

Companies are looking for unique designs.  What can be more unique than YOU? While it is tempting to chase trends, it is important to maintain your brand. Do what you do best. That probably gives your card  the biggest chance to stand out as a unique design.

I’ve been told often that submissions should contain a range of consistent designs, somewhere between 5 and 12 to start. If you catch someone’s attention with your design, art directors will often want to see more of your portfolio.

Design Tips

  1. Most card displays show the top 1/3 to 1/2 of the card. That means this portion of the design needs to be eye catching enough that someone wants to pick up that card to see the rest.
  2.  Select a color palette that will make the card pop in the racks. People scan through the displays very quickly. There isn’t much time to catch their attention. Strong color palettes can help with that!
  3.  The purpose of the card should be immediately obvious.
  4.  Most cards are 5×7″. Remember to include bleed in your design.
  5. Card copy should feel personal, yet appeal to a large audience.
  6.  Include a caption or allow space for one to be added.
  7.  When including people in the cards, do so in a way that is somewhat generic (vintage styles, funny illustrations that don’t focus on ethnicity or specific looks). People tend to think of the person on the card as the person they are sending it to. If they are different, that can significantly limit the audience it will appeal to.
  8. An alternative to including people in the design is to use animals. Animals have wide appeal across gender and age. They are particularly effective for children’s cards.
  9.  When in doubt, keep it simple.


Trends are… well…. temporary. However, there are a few design trends that seem to be sticking around.

  1.  Hand made is still popular. Hand drawn, not perfect illustrations are still going strong. Hand lettering can be incredible for cards. If you are good at it, by all means use it!
  2.  Many cards also have design elements on the inside of the card. Some of the interior designs are pretty substantial in size, sometimes taking about 30-50% of the interior real estate. Do leave space for people to write their own personalized messages.
  3.  Humor. You know who you are. If you are funny, show it!


Some of the most popular themes for cards are birthdays, thinking of you/sympathy/get well, wedding, holidays, and congratulations.  

  • Birthdays: Think of who the cards will go to – your best friend, your mom or dad, your daughter or son, etc. 
  • Congratulations: There are many occasions to congratulate someone! Here are a few: wedding, anniversary, graduation, baby, new home.
  • Mark your calendars! Some events happen EVERY year. You know which they are: Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving/Fall, St. Patrick’s Day. Don’t forget the many holidays for the various religious groups. 

Events to look forward to

Noted 2020 Greeting Card Expo will be held in early May 2020 in San Francisco. If you want to know more, here is their website:

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