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Tips and Tricks: Card Designer Checklist

January 8, 2013

Let’s face it, creating a gorgeous, wonderful, perfect card design is only half the battle. The other half is making sure you’ve done everything possible on your end to ensure no unnecessary delays during the card review process. Please don’t rely on the review team to point out your mistakes. That causes reviews to take longer and longer, and also leads to frustrating returns and declines.

Here’s a checklist of what you should be doing BEFORE you submit your cards for review.

Common Errors In Copyright

  • If using third party elements, have you checked the terms of use? Is commercial use clearly permitted? Are there any restrictions on usage by commercial parties? If you’re not sure, don’t use it.
  • If you believe an element is in the public domain, have you checked to be sure this is correct? Just because something is on-line, that doesn’t mean it’s free to use as you please.
  • Are you using a copyrighted character (for example, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman) anywhere on your card, or in the keywords, card title, or Artist’s Notes? If so, your card will be declined.
  • Are you using a quote or work such as a poem written by someone else? Do you have permission? If you believe the work  is in the public domain, have you double checked that it isn’t trademarked or under copyright?
  • Are you using song lyrics in the title, keywords, inside verse, or keywords? That’s clear copyright violation unless you are the author of the song or have permission from the song’s creator.
  • Have you taken photographs of a building, monument, structure, artwork, or statue? Have you checked to be sure the structure/art hasn’t been copyrighted or trademarked? For example, the Eiffel Tower can be photographed during the day without a problem, but once the structure is lit at night, it is trademarked by the City of Paris.
  • Does your design  include copyrighted/trademarked elements that are clearly identifiable (such as football team logo, make/model of automobile, corporate logo)? If so, your card will be declined.

Tip: Bottom line – if you didn’t create it yourself, double and triple check that it’s okay for you to use commercially. If there’s even the slightest doubt, don’t use it! See the section on Notes to Reviewers.

Spelling and Grammar

  • Are all words spelled correctly and used properly? Beware of homonyms – words that sound the same but are spelled differently and may have different meanings.
  • Is punctuation correct?
  • Is grammar correct?
  • Is holiday spelled/punctuated correctly? For example, Mother’s Day, not Mothers Day. Some holidays use the apostrophe, some don’t. Check the category at GCU to find out the preferred spelling.

Common Errors:

Your – Possession, as in “your baseball card collection.”
You’re – You are.

Its – Possession, as in “its baseball collection.”
It’s – It is.

Their – Possession, as in “their baseball collection.”
They’re – They are.
There – Location, as in “over there.”

Correct: “It’s your birthday today!”
Incorrect: “Its you’re birthday today!”

Tip: Read a contraction out loud. In the last example, if you read aloud, “Its you are birthday today,” you’d know immediately it was incorrect. If you read aloud the first example, “It is your birthday today,” you’d know it was right.

Card Design and Composition

  • Are all elements and typography on the card within the safety margin?
  • Does the font/typography suit the design and purpose of the card?
  • Do design elements fit the purpose of the card?
  • Is the composition balanced and pleasing to the eye?
  • Does your design follow GCU’s submission guidelines?
  • Is the photograph in focus? How’s the depth of field? Any distracting elements? How’s the lighting? Does it have the look of a professional photograph or a casual snapshot? See the submission guidelines!
  • Have you included third party credits in the design? Are they unobtrusive and subtle? If you aren’t sure how to do this or when you should, read Doreen Erhardt’s Credit Where Credit Is Due.

Common Errors:

If elements are supposed to be centered, make sure they are actually in the center of the card.

Don’t confuse “cutting edge” design with plain old mistakes. Before you can break the rules of design, you have to have a basic understanding of those rules, and you also need plenty of experience as a greeting card designer.

Unprofessional looking photographs and snapshots – blurry, out of focus, red eye, etc. – should not be submitted at all.

Overly manipulated images are never acceptable. Use a light hand.

Tip: If you don’t think you need to read the submission guidelines, think again.

Card Title

  • Are all words spelled correctly?
  • Does card title address the purpose of the card? For example,  “Happy Birthday Sister.”
  • Does card title include some other unique description? If your birthday card features a pink flower, the title would be “Happy Birthday – Pink Flower.” Keep it concise but descriptive.
  • Have you just used a string of words separated by commas as a card title? If so, that won’t do. Give your card a proper title or it may be returned.

Tip: If you were a shopper, would you find the card title attractive enough to click on it in a search so you can find out more? The card title plays a big role when it comes to being indexed by search engines and it’s the first thing shoppers see. If you want sales, you need to ensure your cards are looked at by shoppers, so give each card a good title.


  • Do all keywords reflect the card’s actual purpose? Like “happy birthday to my sister.”
  • Have you included keywords describing the elements on your card? Like colors, patterns (stripes, polka dots, chevrons, etc), themes (old fashioned, contemporary, playful, etc).
  • Have you included your name in the keywords? This is important for branding.

Tip: Use keyword phrases when possible, as search engines give a little more weight to unique keyword phrases. Example, instead of a string of words such as happy, birthday, sister – use happy birthday to my sister.


  • Have you chosen a category that fits your card literally and exactly? For example, if your card says, “Happy birthday, sister,” you’ll want to choose Birthday – Relationship Specific – Sister. If your card simply says, “Happy birthday,” you cannot put it in a specific relationship category.
  • Is there a second category that fits your card literally and exactly?
  • If there is not an exact match, have you posted in the Forum under Category Help or sent an e-mail to the review team and asked for a new category to be created? Do this BEFORE you submit the card!

Tip: Categorize your card only by what it actually is, not what what it could be. GCU accepts only very literal categorization. An image of a flower does not automatically mean the card can go into Mother’s Day and Birthday for Sister. If you’re designing a card and want to put it in Birthday – Relationship Specific  Sister, your design must mention birthday AND sister somewhere on the card (inside or out) for it to go in that category.

Tip #2: Always design cards to suit a category, not the other way around.

Artist’s Notes

  • Have you included a good product description that will entice shoppers to purchase your card?
  • Does your product description include descriptive words and phrases that are unique to the card?
  • Have you included third party credits as required by terms of use or licensing agreements  (such as, “Photograph courtesy of Bob Jones.”)? Never include links to outside websites!
  • If the card is in a foreign language, have you included an English translation in the Artist’s Notes?

Common Errors:

Never include links to other websites or stores, even if they’re your own. Never, never, never. If you want to promote your other POD shops, put those links in your store module – nowhere else.

Tip: Want to learn how to write product descriptions? Read this Nuts and Bolts article.

Notes to Reviewers

  • Have you included all image source information such as  links to the sources/terms of use or licensing agreements for all elements?
  • If using elements – illustrations, photographs, poems, quotes, clip art – you believe are in the public domain, have you included proof of public domain status for the reviewers? Such as a link to a website stating the elements are public domain and free to use commercially. Be careful, as not everything old is fair game. For example, some translations of the Bible are trademarked.
  • Do you have permission from the trademark/copyright holder to use their work? If so, state it here.
  • If  a person’s face is visible in a photograph, do you have a model release? Or the person’s permission (if it’s a relative or someone you know personally)? Include this information to avoid card returns.
  • If elements are your own photographs/original illustrations, have you stated this fact? It’s especially important if, for example, you license your art with another company or your work is on-line elsewhere under a different name.
  • When submitting a series of cards, has a card in this same series already been approved? Such as, you submitted a test card to find out if the design would be acceptable. If so, include the PID# of the approved card in your Notes to Reviewers to expedite reviews of the rest of the series.

Tip: Is there anything else you could explain that would help the reviewer expedite the card’s review?  The more a reviewer has to research to find information on elements in your design, the longer the review will take.

The best overall tip I can give you is … READ THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (the GCU Wiki). Also read the various articles that have appeared on this blog on topic like those above. You’ll find lots and lots of tips here.

Armed with this checklist, you should be able to submit your cards with a much lighter heart, knowing you’ve done everything possible to ensure your designs go through the review process more smoothly and with less chance of returns and declines.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013 12:32 pm

    Good points, although I had to learn the hard way. Got a card rejected once due to placing a link back to the public domain image I used in my artist’s notes, and had to go back and place just the creator’s name. Also, just yesterday I got an image turned down at a stock agency due to the fact that the special stitching in cowboy and cowgirl boots can be trademarked. How about that one? Still learning.

  2. January 17, 2013 2:50 pm

    Thank you for posting this. It’s very helpful and informative- especially for new card designers (like me).

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