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Going Postal

Going postal

Q: What should I consider when designing a postcard promo?

On top of the usual interoffice related emails they receive, an art director can get an average of three to twenty unsolicited emails a day from various creative people. I personally love sending emails because it’s a quick way to put your work in front of an art director who will bookmark your website for later or who is looking for a specific illustrator and just stumbled upon your email. The problem with email is that sometimes they may see an inbox full of unrecognized names, and without seeing an image right away they may feel an impulse to delete them all without even opening them. At least that’s how I feel about emails I get from Etsy, Fab, Glit and other websites I have subscribed to.

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In my opinion postcards are the long game. If you’ve ever done a portfolio review, you’ll know that a lot of art directors have spaces (some large, some small) where they like to hang postcards they received from prospecting freelancers. It’s a visual reminder for them while they are working that you exist. A problem that illustrators in particular face is that many of us are not trained designers and don’t have a good grasp on how to create a brand that extends from our websites to our postcards. So, what are a few things you should think about when designing your next post card?

I took a good amount of time to ponder how to talk about designing postcards for this blog post. Instead of being condescending and showing examples or mock ups of the bad and the ugly, I thought I would share several examples of what a good postcard looks like and explain why. All of the examples I chose were photographed to look as if it was mail day and the card just landed on your desk.

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Katie Turner’s work has a naïve illustration vibe that is charming and light to the touch. The back of her postcard has a hand lettered logo to go along with a thin type writer like font. The address column is divided by a painted water color frame with hints of ornamentation. It really creates a nice separation of information for when you hand write all of the addresses of potential clients. It gives the postcard a nice personal touch, ties into the front of the card, and helps to build the artist’s identity.

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This is a post card from Victo Ngai. The theme is very seasonal and is a fantastical narrative of a creature that creates what we think is snow, when really it is dandruff. Gross!!! The back of the card is very densely populated with images, which makes the reader want to look at every detail that is drawn. It really conveys the fact that Victo loves to create illustrations that are energetic and fun. She also leaves enough space so that she can write a nice little personal note to everyone she wants to send cards too.

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Chi Birmingham makes very clean vector imagery and chose a fun image he did for a magazine to put on his postcard. The back of the postcard is as clean as his illustration work is so it made sense for him to use a san serif like type face similar to Helvetica or News Trade Gothic to accompany his illustration. In this case, hand lettering would actually work against his illustration, not in harmony. Notice how the left justification completes the clean, organized feel of the card. Chi also provides just enough information at the bottom to let the receiver know what the illustration on the front is about, and who it was for.

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Natalie Andrewson’s work is dense, whimsical and fun. She chose to have the back of her card hand lettered, clean and black on white. This creates a nice contrast to the front illustration while still preserving the character and personality that exists as an identity for her as a brand. The white space below her contact information leaves enough room for her to add a personal note if she so chooses.

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There is a really organic flow to Elizabeth Baddeley’s work — no pun intended. The natural feeling which her work evokes is reflected in the way she letters the back of her card. Also, the decorative elements she used here really help to frame the important information. Like Katie Turner’s postcard, Elizabeth uses ornamental fragments of a bee hive to decorate the corners of the card, and she created lines using tree vines to tie into the illustration on the front.

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There are of course no hard and fast rules to creating a memorable postcard. Sometimes you don’t want to send a traditional postcard that has the address on one side and an image on the other. Sometimes you want to have two images on both sides. Maybe you even want to send more than one card. In Scott Bakal’s case, he wanted to send a personal and unique holiday card out to potential clients as well as to a bunch of friends. He hand wrote a note on each of the cards, and then took it a step further by numbering each one making them “limited edition.” Knowing that I have number 55 out of 100 makes the card much more valuable to me. 

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The parallel to an art director seeing a bunch of emails in an inbox is him seeing a desk filled with 4”x6” cards from artists. One way to stand out from the pile is to produce an oversized post card like Jensine Eckwall did here. They may initially cost a bit more to mail out, but seeing a huge card come to you in the mail is worth its weight in gold just for the sake of presentation. Her elegantly painted ethereal illustration paired with a talking taxidermied deer head on the back of the card and her hand lettered logo makes for a postcard that anyone would love getting in the mail.

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Last but not least, I want to share with you Nick Iluzada’s card. Let’s say you don’t want to go with an oversized card yet you still want to showcase a bunch of your work because either you don’t want to be tied to one image or you want to make a big impression. In this case a trifold postcard could be your best option. Again, this is a more expensive option to print and ship, but if done properly it can fold out to be a really beautiful presentation which any art director would love to hang on their wall. Nick’s clean illustration work here ties in really nicely with the San Serif type face he’s chosen. He went with a hot pink color for his contact information that really blasts off the surface of the white post card. He also took the time to write out who he has worked for, some award’s he’s won, and also briefly talk about what he does specifically. This serves to legitimize him beyond simply writing “Nick Iluzada: Illustrator.” It’s a nice way to introduce yourself to someone you would like to work with. He is really smart about repeating his contact information on the inside of the fold out so that if an art director hangs his beautiful card folded out, they know how to get in touch.

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So after seeing all of these examples, you hopefully have a better grasp on what you would like to do to make a better postcard and potentially a better brand for your creative business. If you have learned anything from this blog post, remember to always make the design match the feeling of the artwork you create, and also justify your lettering to the left when appropriate. The better gauge of whether your postcard works is one part your gut and another part your taste. If you have good taste, and you’re unsure about the design, keep working on it! When it feels right for you, it will be right.

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