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Nuts and Bolts: Front of Card Text

June 7, 2011


Armed with your favorite graphic editing software, a show stopping illustration or photograph, a plethora of fonts, and a really great sentiment, how could you go wrong when you’re ready to design your greeting card?

Well…creating a good greeting card (by good, I mean commercial quality – marketable – a card that retail shoppers will find attractive and buy) is more than just slapping your text on the front and thinking you’re done. The placement of text on the front of a card is as vital as the illustration or photograph that accompanies it. This will make or break your design.

Here are some basic guidelines to text that will help you make cards that are so professional looking, they can stand up to the big boys *cough*Hallmark*cough* and win.

  • Never use more than 3 fonts on a single design. Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. Look at this card of mine as an example. I can get away with it because despite the several fonts, the text is ordered so the eye is never confused. However, for the most part, you won’t need to violate this rule.

  • Follow the baseline. What’s that? The baseline is an imaginary line on which your text will rest, and it should always be present in your design. For example, I’ll show you another card of mine. Because the end of the vine is curly, I can curve my text around it. Had the vine stuck straight out, doing curved text would have looked odd because it didn’t follow an existing baseline. How do you find the baseline? Look at your image. In most of your designs, the baseline will be straightforward (that is, straight across). Don’t gild the lily unless the design supports it.

  • If you can’t read your font when you type out a block of text, it isn’t a good font. I’m aware there are a lot of decorative fonts out there that are fancy, funny or otherwise blinged out, but if the shopper can’t read what you wrote, all the pretty letters won’t matter. Make your text legible. Investing in a few good, legible, basic fonts (for the love of the Great Bird of the Galaxy, not Comic Sans) that are okay for commercial use will stand you in very good stead, and give you an excellent foundation to build on. Choose a font that compliments your design and is relevant to the subject. Don’t pick one because you think it’s cute. A whimsical curly font, for example, may be okay for a birthday card, but absolutely not on a sympathy card.
  • Do not warp, twist, bend, wave or otherwise mess around with your text. If you want to curve your text like I showed you in my second example card (the baby shower invitation), then you need to learn Adobe Illustrator. Text effects may look okay on a website banner, but you will not attract shoppers when you put that scrunched, higgledy-piggledy, warped and waved text on a greeting card. It doesn’t look professional. Don’t do it.
  • Always do a layout in your graphics editing program with your picture and text in layers so you can adjust as necessary. If you have multiple lines of text, you can play with the sizes and placements as long as you don’t forget that alignment is the most important thing. Here’s an example where I’ve been creative with the placement of each line, used a different font for emphasis, and manually adjusted the leading (that’s the space between lines), but the alignment of each line to the others and to the rest of the elements as well as to the card’s margins is what makes this a successful design. Repeat after me: the layout grid is my best friend.

  • This may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure you use a font color that can actually be read against the background image. A good rule of thumb is: white or black, with color or bold for emphasis as needed (see my card here for an example).  If white looks washed out, while black is too strong, consider using a color already present but at its lightest or darkest setting, such as navy blue text on a light blue background.
An experienced artist/designer can take these guidelines and turn them on their head to create something that stands out, but 99% of the time these rules are what make the difference between a design that shoppers want to buy, and a design that may get clicks but no sales. You can be creative within the boundaries – professional greeting card designers do it all the time.  Learn the fundamentals, view your designs with a critical eye, and you’ll be taking a step on the road to success.
19 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2011 7:17 am

    Great info, Corrie (I second the cringe at Comic Sans!) – another hint is to see if a mild drop shadow or hint of embossing helps make the text pop or compliment the image. Maybe just a thin stroke is all it needs. And yep, sometimes just the text can stand on its own as well! This article is another “hit” in the advice department!

    • June 7, 2011 7:36 am

      Absolutely, Peggy… I’d add just be careful when adding shadow to text because it can print slightly pixilated on the card. If you aren’t sure and want to test a design before offering it to the public, just create your card, pop it into your private gallery, and order it from there.


  2. June 7, 2011 9:40 am

    Excellent advice as always.



  3. June 7, 2011 12:27 pm

    This is what I have been looking for. For me, this is always the hardest part of the card and I soak up any info on text and font design. Do more. Can’t hurt. Thanx

  4. Cathy Gangwer permalink
    June 7, 2011 12:28 pm

    Thank You! Very informative!

  5. June 7, 2011 3:11 pm

    When creating a new card..which comes first for you…font or design? I’m so use to painting, font is still the last thing I think about.

    • June 7, 2011 3:21 pm

      Personally, I don’t consider the font until the design is done and I know what I want to say on the front of the card. Then I choose a font that compliments the design.


  6. June 7, 2011 3:30 pm

    Terrific advice Corrie! I’m still going back when I can to the cards I created when I first started to improve how the text looks on the cards. It’s something that seems simple, but can make or break the overall design and marketability of a card.

  7. June 7, 2011 3:52 pm

    Corrie, this is a wonderful & very timely article for me…as I’ve been having font issues lately. 🙂 I hope you are going to turn your collection of Nuts & Bolts articles into a book. I’m pretty sure it would be a best-seller. 🙂

    But I have an important question that I have to ask. What the heck is wrong with Comic Sans?! Seems like a fairly readable font to me. It’s important to me that you answer this question, because I’ve been using Comic Sans on a lot of my cards lately…partly because I know it’s a font that will match the inside of my cards. 🙂

    So here’s you’re opportunity to give a critique (anyone else is invited to, too) of a newbie’s card. 🙂 I may have been more proud of this card than any other that I’ve made, that is, until I found out one of the critical features of it (the font) is causing cringes. 😦 Obviously, I’m not going to sell cards THAT way. lol! So help a newbie out. What’s wrong with Comic Sans? What font SHOULD be used with this kind of card? (You’re welcome to use my card to point out any other ‘newbie’ mistakes, too…because I really want to know). Thanks!! 🙂 And I’ll keep an eye out for the book. 😀


    • June 7, 2011 4:08 pm

      Cindy, Comic Sans is like the #1 song on the charts that is played over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over *deep breath* and over and over and over and over again, every single hour of every single day for weeks or months on end, so that even if you liked it the first time you heard it, it’s now become like fingernails on a chalkboard. Comic Sans is, in a nutshell, way overused in everything. I can’t think of a single retail card company that uses Comic Sans on their cards.

      I can’t tell you what font to use on this particular card. I would perhaps look into some of the handwriting fonts (not the formal script, but the more casual ones). You can check the handwritten fonts at DaFont; just be sure that any fonts you download are OK for commercial use.


      • June 8, 2011 5:11 am

        I see. Comic Sans’ own popularity did itself in. Gotcha. I had no idea. Thanks for taking the time to elaborate, Corrie, and also thanks for the link.


  8. Michelle Dokos permalink
    June 7, 2011 7:56 pm

    Thanks so much for all these helpful tips! Definitely things I’ll keep in mind when creating future cards! Michelle

  9. June 8, 2011 12:12 am

    OK I get it but I don’t get it… maybe if someone looks at a few of mine to point me to the path of enlightenment… PID 821156, 817537, 758412. I’ve tried to choose fonts that go with the expression I am trying to make – bold for bold statements, scripts for something more elegant, etc… I’ve also gone with what I think are complimentary colors. Should I avoid that?

    I’m going to re-read this and try to look at other examples and see where I’m going wrong… I can’t pin down if it’s something as simple as the choice of fonts, placement/alignment or the sentiments inside…

    • June 8, 2011 6:12 am

      Donna, I looked at #821156. I’m going to take your word that you really want a critique and give you my thoughts. I’m not the be-all, end-all authority in these matters. This is my opinion.

      The picture’s sharp and in focus – that’s good. The subject works for the purpose – To My Twin Sister.

      The text..doesn’t really work so much for me. The font isn’t right. I find the very formal script doesn’t exactly go with an image of two cute kitties. A more casual handwritten font choice might be better (see my reply to Cindy below). I realize that some artists like metallic look textures, but to me, they look kind of fake considering GCU doesn’t print with metallic inks. The outer glow make the text seem cluttered. And you haven’t followed the baseline – the curving text crushes the word “sister” and leads the eye to nowhere.

      Keep in mind that the font you choose should be legible, fit the purpose as well as the picture you’re using, and should not be curled, curved, twisted or otherwise warped unless you have a definite baseline to follow (see my example of the baby shower invitation in the article). You will rarely need to deviate from straight lines in card design, and when you do, some element present in the design must inform the shopper’s eye.

      I hope this helps.


      • June 8, 2011 10:50 am

        Hi Corrie, I wouldn’t have posted if I didn’t want your honest critique even if it’s a hard one. I’m trying to get better educated, and words of advice are appreciated. If I can learn, and my bad can be made an example for others to also learn from, then we all benefit. I’ll see about adjusting the text on that particular one and adjust any other cards with similar issues. Yes, I’m getting the clicks but no sales… so maybe this is a major problem I have.

        I wish us “newbies” had a place to offer up additional works for critiques. I don’t mind using mine at all if we all can learn from it in the end.

      • June 8, 2011 5:54 pm

        Starting this Friday, I’ll be hosting a Critique Clinic here on the Community blog. I’ll post the rules then, but you can get a sneak peek at what will happen by checking my Forum post here:


    • June 9, 2011 1:25 am

      Donna – I’ll chime in too on the other two cards … since you asked : )- The Independence Day card is hard on my eyes … if I were to offer anything, it would be to find a different flag image to use … the wrinkles in the flag and the large shadow on the left really fight with the text .. if I were to use that image, then I’d maybe use it to fill in the text on a solid white background – but I’d have to try to do something about the shadow. For your kitty valentine, I’d try one thing and I bet it would really turn the cute card into a great card (but I’ve been wrong before – LOL!) … I’d suggest getting rid of the bottom part of the cat – so it would look more like she was popping out from your cute heart cut-out. I like your concepts – looks like you are starting with a good eye and a good batch of ideas!

  10. June 8, 2011 1:15 am

    Excellent advice!! Now if I can just remember all of that the next time I work on a card. At my age, short term memory just isn’t what it used to be.

  11. June 8, 2011 8:52 am

    Thank You Corrie, As always, great information to keep in mind.

    Cindy…the triplets card is adorable!

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