Artist Trading Cards

ARTIST TRADING CARDS (ATCs) are miniature works of art created on 2.5x3.5 inches (64x 89mm) of cardstock.

They are originals and self-produced. Anybody can produce them. The idea is that you trade them with other people who produce cards.

The Basics

As their name indicates, ATCs are collectibles. Artist Trading Cards are a brilliant idea born of the older sports-themed trading cards.

The most basic rule of an ATC is that the dimensions of the ATC must be 2.5"x3.5". There are also some guidelines about making and trading of ATCs. First, an ATC can not be sold; only exchanged. The whole essence of these tiny works of art is about artists meeting, by correspondence or online, and exchanging their works, thus meeting many artists and getting exposed to many personal styles. Second, on the back of each ATC the artist writes all of the following information: name, contact information (city, state, and country), title of the ATC and number (1/8, 2/8...) of an edition or series.

By definition, artist trading cards are made in limited numbers, often no more than one of a kind.
-- Unique ATCs are called originals.
-- Sets of identical ATCs are called editions and are numbered.
-- Sets of ATCs that are based on one theme but that are different are called series.

Don't be intimidated by the concept of small editions or originals. What most collectors really want are cards that are made with care.

The above is all you need to know to start making your own ATCs.

Common sense dictates that they should be sturdy enough to survive mailing and of reasonable thickness.

The Format

There are three ways to get the correct format.
1. Cut the background/cardstock/support to the right size before you start creating.
2. After you have worked on a large surface, you can cut the ATCs from it.
3. Use commercial trading cards or playing cards as ready-made canvasses.

I personally use the first method a lot, especially when I get paper scraps that have the potential for the right size. Many times after scrapbooking, I will cut my scraps and papers to the right size and save them for later.

I've also seen lovely ATCs that had been made in series by drawing the motif along a long horizontal strip that was then cut to obtain a bunch of similar but not identical cards.

The Design

Think of the scale of the card and don't go into techniques that are only suitable for larger projects. Think of what great techniques and mediums would work with the small size and what the small size allows you to do that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. An example of a subject that would be wasted on a small size is the group picture that becomes so uninteresting since it was scaled down too much that you can't even see the faces anymore.

The Techniques and Materials

Almost all traditional media can be used to create a miniature canvas of an ATC, either alone or in combination with others: calligraphy, cartoon, charcoal, collage, color pencils, crayons, dotting, inks, markers, pastels, photography, sketches, and watercolors.

Other materials and techniques that can be used... acetate, band-aids, beads, collage, crepe paper, cut-outs, drawing, fabric, feathers, foil, glitter, incense paper, melted crayons, mesh, metal, mica, negatives (two negative strips side by side is the exact width needed to make an ATC), nail polish, origami paper, painting, perfume (for scented cards), Plexiglas, poetry, polymer clay, postage stamps, punching, quotes, receipts, salt, spray paint, stamping, stitching, tickets, tissue paper, transfer, vellum, weaving, wire, wrapping paper, yarn, and the list goes on. The possibilities are endless!

A great idea is to recycle all your paper scraps and make them part of new ATCs. Since ATCs are so small, insignificant bits of paper (scraps, envelopes, greeting cards) are often just the right size.

The Extras

ATC Envelopes

A great alternative to the transparent sleeves when sending several cards is to create an ATC envelope. Check the resources below for a template.

ID Tag

Instead of the usual boring identification tag you wear around the office, slip an ATC into the plastic sleeve turning your ID tag into a one-of-a-kind tag.


A popular solution to storing ATCs is the transparent sheets with 9 pockets that are available for commercial cards. Another fun way to collect ATCs is to place the cards in picture frames to display in your home or studio. Many collectors make special handmade books to display their ATCs. The sky's the limit!

Signature Cards

Many ATC artists create a "business card" ATC that features a self-portrait on the front and a fact sheet about themselves on the back. These are sent along with your ATCs when trading. This is a great idea that allows artists to get to know each other better.

The Resources

Artist Trading Cards
Wikipedia provides a definition and description of ATCs.

Artist Trading Cards
A source for international trading of ATCs. Galleries and other information are also available.
Forum for Artist trading cards.

ATC Quarterly
A magazine dedicated solely to artist trading cards.

Autumn Sunflower’s ATC Gallery
Autumn’s private ATC gallery.

Bella’s Paper Craft Site
Various links to galleries and how-to’s.

Bmuse Products
Galleries, message board, and a store are available at Bmuse.

Craft Ideas
This site provides instructions so you can make your own ATCs (and other craft projects).

Denton Artist Trading Cards
Hundreds of ATCs located here to peruse.

Digital Artist Trading Cards by Roberto Luigi
Rob’s private ATC gallery.

Ed’s Artist Trading Cards
Ed’s private ATC gallery. Links are also available.

The topic of Artist Trading Cards is discussed on this radio show.
Neil Sorenson’s private ATC gallery.

Mirkwood Designs
Template for artist trading card envelope.

Mirkwood Designs
Cutting diagram for ATCs. Get 10 ATCs from one sheet of 8.5x11” sheet of cardstock.

Mirli Mirli Artworks
Llewena Newell’s private art and ATC gallery.

Stray Cards
You can donate your own ATC and join an ongoing collection traveling through the communities of Australia.

Artist Trading Cards are art for the sake of art. ATCs are a precious reminder to amateurs and professionals alike of what creativity is all about – the pleasure of working with beauty and the excitement of being surprised by experimental techniques.

Enjoy making your own ATCs!

Originally written April 2007.

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