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Blast From the Past: Front of Card Text

May 28, 2013


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.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 29, 2013 9:24 am

    Thank you! Again, very helpful advise. I’m relatively inexperienced in designing an using fonts – so this all is very useful to me. Only – what in the eyes of the Great Bird of the Galaxy is wrong with Comic Sans? LOL – must be a newbee question, I realize LOL , but… [cough] I love that font o_O [giggle]

    • May 29, 2013 9:40 am

      Comic Sans may have been designed with good intentions, but it’s overuse and misuse over the years have caused it to become a symbol of unprofessionalism in design. Use at your own risk. 🙂


  2. Ginger permalink
    May 30, 2013 3:05 pm

    Excellent article. Thank you very much.

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