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Critique Clinic – March 29-31, 2013

March 29, 2013

How does it work? For three days a week (Friday-Sunday midnight), I will open the clinic to any artist who wants an honest peer review and critique of a card which gets plenty of clicks but no sales, so something’s probably not quite right, or you’ve got a new design you want to test drive, or you’re unsure about the marketability of a card. Or perhaps you’re a newbie who isn’t sure if a card is up to a marketable standard. Anyone is welcome to participate. In fact, I encourage everyone to at least look at the cards in question and read the critique comments – you may learn something. The purpose of the clinic is to help artists improve the commercial appeal and marketability of their cards.


  • ONE card per artist only.
  • Card must be intended for sale at Greeting Card Universe.
  • To submit a card for critique, post a link to the card at GCU in the comments section of this clinic post. Allowances will be made if you’ve had a card declined, or made a new design you’d like advice on before submission. Give us the link where we can see the card, such as your private gallery, Flickr, Tinypic, etc. If you do give a private gallery link, be sure your private module gallery is ON. Please do not post links to your Manage Cards section – do you really want strangers tinkering with your cards? And please don’t ask us to critique a card that’s pending review – we can’t see it until it’s approved.
  • Any artist is free to comment and/or give a critique of a submitted card. HOWEVER, post-and-run comments like “great card” or “you suck” will not be tolerated, nor will abuse. Criticism should be constructive, not destructive. Play nice or you will be banned.
  • I also won’t tolerate temper tantrums if you decide your “artistic integrity” is being stepped on because you asked for a critique, and someone told you the photo you’re using isn’t in focus. If you can’t take honest criticism, don’t submit. Once gets you a warning; twice and you’re banned from submitting in the future.
  • Artists who critique may do so by giving their opinion, posting an example of another card, or pointing the submitter to a video, on-line article, or other helpful suggestion.
  • Don’t forget that artists who are giving you tips and helpful advice are volunteering their time and trouble. Be nice. A link back to their store on your website or blog is appreciated (but not mandatory).
  • You are free not to take any advice offered. There’s no guarantee any card will be a bestseller, so don’t come into the clinic with unrealistic expectations.
  • Rules may change as we go along and we see how things turn out, okay?

So without any further ado, I declare this week’s Critique Clinic open!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2013 3:44 pm

    Was wondering if this card is good enough as it is, or if there are any tweaks I should make to it? Thank you!

    • March 29, 2013 3:54 pm

      If you have the art big enough to fit the full front of the card (full bleed), I’d suggest doing that instead of using a frame. If not, that’s okay. You may want to tweak the “Happy Birthday” to make it a little more visible, perhaps choose a different font if possible – the one used is serviceable, however there’s no “pop.” The right handwriting or Victorian style font might work.

      Nice painting, btw. 🙂


      • March 29, 2013 4:06 pm

        I will take a look to see if it works without the frame. I agree about the font. I don’t have a lot of fonts at this point (fairly new to this), but I need to see what I can find. Thank you for your feedback, Corrie (and I’m so glad you like my painting)!

    • March 29, 2013 10:11 pm

      I second the text on the front as well. Needs to be bigger and with some “pop” and if you use a border, I’d make it a little less wide. Love the color in your artwork and the animation of Alice with the cards spilling around her! The inside verse is perfect!

      • March 30, 2013 7:45 am

        Hi Randy, It is a bit to dark. Maybe lighten up some of the black and make more contrast in the flower. Push more pink and yellow.

  2. March 29, 2013 4:10 pm

    Have a look at – lots of free commercial use fonts over there. You might find something suitable. Also, check the Fonts category on the blog here – I often post links to free and/or low cost commercial use fonts of various kinds. And Doreen has highlighted fonts in her Dash of Inspiration posts.


  3. Donna permalink
    March 29, 2013 5:26 pm

    Here’s a design that has seen no sales at all. I’d like to freshen it up if at all possible.

    • March 29, 2013 10:04 pm

      My favorite attraction at Sea World is the Penguin Encounter especially the outside exhibit where you can reach down and touch or pet them. It’s a Southern California penguin! LOL Actually, I don’t mind the grass so much as it seems that this is more of a kid’s card with the “Come to My Party” on the front. I would change that to “It’s My Birthday!” or a big “Yipee!” It’d probably even be nice with no text on the front. Now thinking about it, snow or ice would fit better for a penguin too. Ice can be simple as some some blue hash marks instead of the grass.

    • March 30, 2013 3:10 pm

      I don’t have a problem with the penguin walking on the grass. Kids don’t care. What might look good is get different balloons as Doreen mentioned. In would have them on a longer string so the balloon touched to top margin where the “P” is in Party. In the black area above right wing, put your wording with a fun font. Maybe ” Party Time”, “Birthday Time” or what ever is cleaver. Just a thought but maybe thicken the black line on the right side of his right wing near the tip.

      Good luck with the little guy. Ginger

  4. March 29, 2013 5:33 pm

    A penguin skipping around on the grass seems a bit odd. Penguins are usually associated with ice and glaciers and snow. You could tweak the front of card text to something more relevant like – The Coolest Party in Town! – and do a little work on the inside text, changing it to something like – You’re invited to celebrate my birthday, so stay frosty! This is assuming you change the background of the card, of course. The thing to keep in mind is that by using a penguin, you’re creating an assumption of winter, cold, ice, frost in the shopper’s mind, so when you give them grass and blue sky, it’s a bit jarring.


    • Donna permalink
      March 29, 2013 10:04 pm

      thank you. I guess I didn’t think that critically about needing to keep the habitat of the penguin figuring it was for a child. Sounds like I need to put on my biologist hat when designing and the verse ideas are “cool”! Thank you.

    • March 29, 2013 11:54 pm

      Hi Donna,

      Cute idea 🙂 In addition to Corrie’s suggestions, I would suggest you consider using balloons from one of the free CU clip art places … it would make the balloons more realistic which might draw the customer’s eye a bit more?

      Just a thought 🙂 Here’s a link to grab from:


  5. March 29, 2013 9:48 pm

    Ok! Here’s a design which I really like the light and the flower, a fortenight lily, but was delined out of my store. It ‘s had sales of 40, 40 and then some individual sales maybe three, but, Mindy said that the two sales of 40 each was the same buyer and that doesn’t warrant them keeping this card in my store. I put it in my Private gallery to see if I could work out the bugs, but not sure where to start or whether it’s best to start over. I was actually thinking of flipping the image so the flower faces where you open the card. I think the issue was the highlights, can’t remember now, but that’s the sentiment or concept of this image, bathing the flower in light. Subduing the highlighted areas would take away the feel or look I was trying to create. Any suggestions?

    • March 30, 2013 5:19 am

      I’ll defer technical questions to someone more experienced in photography. To my layman’s eye, the whole card is just gray on gray on gray – not much contrast between the flower, which doesn’t look very sharp, and the soft background.


    • gingcard designs permalink
      March 30, 2013 7:56 am

      Hi Randy,Sorry, I put my reply to your card in the wrong place. I am new to this. Great that you where able to sell a few cards before it retired.

      I think it is a bit to dark. Maybe lighten up some of the black and make more contrast in the flower. Push more pink and yellow in the flower.

    • March 30, 2013 3:13 pm

      Hi Randy, It does have a lack of sharpness rather than ‘softness’ and a lack of saturation. In general it’s one of those images that sit in our photographer’s files because though it has a nice ‘feel’ and reasonable composition, the overall poor quality of the image keeps it from becoming an image we can use. With the right software, you might be able to improve the contrast and saturation without washing out those highlights any further, but you really can’t improve the lack of sharpness without causing noticeable artifacts. So, I’m guessing it’s a start from scratch rather than save.

      • Donna permalink
        March 30, 2013 3:20 pm

        not to argue it, but for case of learning, why is this image one to toss if it’s “poor quality” gives it a certain feel? Do all “marketable images” need to be extremely sharp if we are shooting for a certain “feeling”? Not arguing – just trying to grasp why this is otherwise not a good image. Inexperience talking here – but with a boost in contrast I think I’d like it with the unsaturated colors. But that’s just me and not having your experience to guide me.

      • March 30, 2013 3:59 pm

        Hi Donna – good question. I guess the best way to explain it is this; editorial photographs need only to capture a feeling and a moment in time, however commercial use photographs, especially those selling on products need to have more. They need good technical qualities such as lighting, contrast, clarity/sharpness, color balance, composition and so on.

        Now, if this image of Randy’s had a) either sharpness on the entire floral/stem or 2) added special focus techniques then the tonal values with just a small pop would undoubtedly make this a fine commercial use image. The problem really lies in the photograph being overall out of focus rather than an image created with focusing techniques applied. That tends to make the rest of the small issues contrast/saturation stand out more.

        Does that help at all? You might find this helpful, at least it shows some examples.


    • April 1, 2013 5:04 pm

      Thank you guys for your input! The actual image does have more color although i subdued a lot of that in this, dropping the saturation to give it a more b&w look or muted color. It was the effedt I was striving for, but didn’t impress the reviewers. But looking closer can see that my focus could have been a lot better. It’s a difficult shot to focus properly as I was shooting into the sun through the leaves and whith a slight breeze the flower was swaying back and forth, however there were things I could have done and I’ve learned a couple of tricks recently, having been a photographer pretty much since I was just old enough to read the manual, which you’d think I’d of known all these years.
      Part of the blame is bad eyes which aren’t getting any better as I get older and focusing sharply doesn’t come easy, especially looking through a viewfinder. Auto focus isn’t perfect either even when your adept at using your focusing points which becomes even more critical when you’re doing closeup and macro photography like in this photo.
      I’ve been using the Canon 40D now for close to six years, but only a couple weeks ago learned one very valuable tool for focus in critical situations like this and where you have a subject which stands relatively still like a flower. Raher than using the viewfinder, switch the camera to the lcd screen view with the autofucus turned off on your lens. Focus as closely as you can at full view then use the zoom feature on your camera for view(live view in this case) zooming in tight on the part of the image you want in perfect focus, the edge of a petal or leaf, eyes if the subject is a person or animal, and adjust your focus on the lens for sharpness in the camera view zoom mode. Zoom back to normal view and capture. Other things that help are using a remote shutter or shutter cable or you can use the timer on your camera with the camera mounted on a tripod or sitting on a a solid surface.
      It’s a fantastic tool and feature that most semi-pro and pro digital cameras have which I wish I’d known about long ago. Would have greatly improved many of my images.
      So back to this image and back to the flower garden for me! LOL
      Thanks again!

      • Donna permalink
        April 1, 2013 11:15 pm

        That’s a big help, Doreen. Randy, I feel your pain with the focusing issues. I do have a new tripod on my list – my Tiffen with Manfrotto head has seen better days and is starting to wear out (leg locks are not working so well). I do hope to get a shutter release as well and learned of using “back focus” on the camera to help with live view focusing.

  6. March 30, 2013 2:55 am

    Hi Everyone.

    This is my first time doing this. I have a Bridesmaid card I would like you to critique. It was declined for the rose being blurry. Might have been unprofessional as well, not sure. I didn’t think the rose was blurry. I thought it was soft which is what I wanted. I am thinking the leaves need to be softer as well. Thank you, Ginger

    • March 30, 2013 3:21 am

      Hi Ginger … well I see what the blurry issue was in this image. There is a big difference between a blurry photograph and one that has soft focus added to it, my bet is the reviewers are trained to see the difference. Also, keep in mind that rose photographs are everywhere on GCU, so the competition is fierce and the standards high.

      Otherwise, this is a lovely design, so my suggestion is two-fold. One, work on getting a nice sharply focused rose photograph so you can get your lovely design approved. Secondly, this article and examples of focus techniques might help you see what the reviewers see.

      Hope that helps and good luck!

      • gingcard designs permalink
        March 30, 2013 3:33 am

        Thank you Doreen, Yes, you are always so helpful. I will read the link.

        I think I will treat myself on Mother’s day with a new camera and learn to use a tripod. Thank you for liking the design. Yes, there are a great deal of roses on GCU.

        Enjoy the weekend,

      • gingcard designs permalink
        March 30, 2013 3:48 am

        What a great site. I love the soft focus picture is beautiful


      • March 30, 2013 3:15 pm

        Glad you found it helpful and that would be a well deserved treat … a New Camera! Woohoo!

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