ATCs: The Modern Day Calling Card

DIYPlanner Greetings CardsToday we're going to explore Artist Trading Cards or ATCs. I'll tell you what they are and how to make them; and then give you some ideas on how to use and share your cards with others that go beyond simple refrigerator display and collecting. I first discovered ATCs a few years ago when I was just getting into altered art and bookbinding. I found that quite a few people in the online art communities were making these cards to share and trade with others. I'm not sure when the first use of an ATC came about but the goal behind them is simple: help spread the love of art across the globe.

It's fun to make ATCs that express and exercise your creative side. An ATC is a tiny, one-of-a-kind, work of original art that you freely trade with another. They are always exchanged and never sold. Roughly the size of a standard baseball trading card: 2.5" x 3.5". Artists then abuse these mini-canvases by painting, decorating, or drawing their creativity all over them. They're then traded freely with partners or in a group swap and collected. They're a great way to promote your art and gain global exposure.

Anyone can make an ATC. All you need is the willingness to attempt something new and your imagination. I made my first one in 2003 and have been enjoying making these small pieces of art ever since. I've even helped organize a kid-friendly ATC swap where kids between 5-9 scribbled, drew and expressed themselves on these small cards. It's amazing to see what they came up when their imaginations were thrown against a small sheet of paper.

Select sheets of mid-weight card stock paper or watercolor paper for the canvas. You can use normal paper, but if you're going to be painting or glueing things to your canvas you'll want something that will hold up to the weight. Other than this recommendation, anything goes. Use pens, pencils, watercolors, crayons, scraps of paper, glue, collage materials, etc. to express yourself. Sometimes artists cut holes or sew strings into their cards. I've even seen images of fabric ATCs where knitters or quilters have made small works of art out of layering small scraps of fabric on one another. You can opt to design a single art card or make a "series" of cards that are based on a theme.

Quck and Dirty Instructions

  1. Cut up a A4 size (8.5 x 11") mid-weight card stock paper into 2.5 x 3.5" blocks.
  2. Get messy on one side of the card. Paint, draw, collage, glue sheets, doodle, sew all over the card. Explore your personality. Paste images of yourself or the house onto them. Point is, be creative and have fun.
  3. Sign the card and add personal details on the back. Name, email, phone number, a love letter (kidding), or whatever else you want to share with someone. If you created a series of cards, you might want to note which number out of the total series that card is from (for example, 3/5).
  4. Find someone to trade your art with and collect art from other artists.

New Uses for Your ATCs
DIYPlanner Greetings CardsNow that you've created a whole sheet of these cards, and decorated them with your imagination, what do you do with them? Traditionally, artists who swap cards with one another keep these mementos in a binder or stacked up somewhere in their home. The ATCs I've received sit in a box up in my studio space only to be taken out and admired on occasion. However, your ATCs need not waste away on the shelf.

The point of these cards is to give small art away to other artists. This sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it? In the business world, people give business and/or calling cards to one another when they want to network. Sounds like a perfect thing to use your ATCs for. Next time you need to exchange information with someone else, why not give your contacts and friends a card they'll remember. Something carefully designed by your own hand. Give them one of your handmade ATCs. It may not be "business slick" but the personal touch marks the occasion with meaning. People will remember you and your creativity.

Use the backs of your ATCs as miniature greeting cards. Design and tailor cards to fit various occasions and then mail them out using a small envelope. Send random acts of happiness through the mail to friends and family, letting them know you care and want to say hello. Instead of using tags for christmas presents, use your ATCs by developing a holiday theme set.

Collage or glue several of your ATCs together to create an interesting cover piece for your hPDA or planner. Measure out the cover of your planner and then glue down as many ATCs as you can fit on the new template. Paste them into interesting shapes or designs (you don't have to just line them all up one after another in neat rows). If you use the Levenger Micro PDA, smurf a single ATC and snap it under the plastic cover, giving your PDA a personalized look.

Of course, I'm game for a good old fashioned ATC swap. Contact me using my profile form and we'll discuss swapping terms. Or post a picture or scan of your ATC to our Flickr group. Remember, there's no wrong way to make an ATC. Art is everywhere and in everyone!

Here are a few websites you can visit for templates, ideas and more information to get you going. Book resources and links to are below.

Mirkwood Designs ATC Template Mirkwood's template shows you how to take a standard A4 sized paper and cut out 10 cards from a single sheet.

Eliza Metz's Downloadable PDF Introduction to ATCs Eliza wrote this PDF about ATCs a long time ago. It shares with you a few of her scanned in ATCs, more tips and tricks on making your own as well as a few more reference websites.

innowen's ATC art gallery This is my personal ATC gallery of all the cards I've made for various swaps. There's not a whole lot on here, as I have to scan a few more of the swaps I've done.

CedarSeed's Guide to ATCs Another site that provides good ideas and tips to making ATCs, includes using digital and fabric techniques.

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ATC's as journaling

For those who want to try swapping, there are some yahoo groups that host great swaps. Some open-themed, some themed. I have received some fabulous art this way.

I have also used ATC's as a journaling technique. When I'm going on a trip I take some precut ATC blanks and a shoebox of art supplies - glue, markers, pencils, scissors, several small ink pads of various colors, etc. Each day I make an ATC reflecting somthing about that day. It doesn't have to be something spectacular, just something memorable about the day. These can be easy to do; if we have had a memorable meal I'll collage a part of their menu/ad/brochure onto an direct to paper inked background, add some journaling, maybe draw some of the ingredients.... basic mixed media stuff. I pick up paper stuff everywhere. Tickets, brochures, menus, receipts... it's all fodder for collaging. Dd loves to get into the swing as well journaling/atc'ing from her own perspective. Once you start seeing all paper as potential collage material it's hard not to end up with a suitcase of great stuff. At the end of the trip you can put the atc's into a 3-ring card holder page (find them in the baseball card collector section at many stores) and you'll have a notebook of your atc journaling.

How would I go about mailing

How would I go about mailing my ATC's to someone? I just started getting involved and I don't know who to mail it to. I don't think I'm ready to join any online groups yet.

Asian Letter ATC

I really like your 'Asian Letter' ATC.
hm...I would trade you something for it but I have to make something up!
Let me know if you want to trade something.
Duc Ly

would like to trade


Unfortunately I've already traded that one away in an old trade. However, I'll make another asian ATC specially for you. ;)

Let me know if this is okay.


I have noticed that the photolab can do wallet size photos and they are curiously the same dimensions as the ATC

2.5 x 3.5

This would be a good way to start with a basic background and then add any embelishments to the print

I have that....what is it?

The asian container in the top picture...does anyone know what exactly it is for. I have the same exact one and have no clue what its purpose is aside from collecting dust and taking up space. It is pretty though.

From what I know, the asian

I took the asian pot image from an old copy of the Pyramid Catalog. They call it a wishkeeper jar.

This is what they have to say about it:

Go ahead: Wishkeepers are inspired by the ancient Asian custom of storing wishes in small covered bowls. Write your wish, dream, or desire on a small scroll of paper (included), and place it inside the reed-handled stopper of the glazed ceramic bowl-there's even a chart of Chinese characters for happiness, love, health, good luck, and other fond wishes for you to copy by hand. Gift boxed for presentation. 6 1/2" high.


Thanks! That makes sense.

I always wondered why there was a rolled up paper inside and it is attached to the lid. Interesting, thanks for the info.