How to design your own great-looking business cards

business men passing card thinkstock
Credit: Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock

Few design projects are as nerve-wracking—and important—as designing your own business card. Just like the clothes you wear, your business card tells the recipient if you’re professional, artistic, or a big ol’ ball of cheese. Aside from the aesthetic message, you’ve also got to pack a ton of info into a tiny-teeny space and keep it readable. To put your best business card forward, try following these essential design tips.

Pick a printer

The first step in designing your own business cards is to pick a printer. There are online resources aplenty, including VistaPrint, Overnight Prints, Moo, and Zazzle. If you’re a reseller, try 4over. Most of these services have web-based design widgets, though you can upload your own designs, too.

Poke around the printer’s website for document specifications such as size, resolution, color mode, and which file format to submit (vector-based PDFs keep your text nice and crisp). Better yet, see if they’re got a Photoshop, InDesign, or Illustrator template that you can download and customize.

Use imagery

A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes, and that’s true for business cards, too. If you’re promoting a service that you perform—think attorneys, consultants, therapists—include your photo on the front of the card, just like a savvy real estate agent would. If you create a product, use a photo of that. If you’re a photographer, place your best photo on the front of the card and your second best on the back. If you’re a travel agent, use photos of the locations you book. For more on designing with imagery, see this column.

business card replacement

Notice how friendly the new design is (bottom), versus the old design (top). If the photo extends to the right edge of the card, be sure there’s a calm spot for text. In this example, the right edge of the photo was faded out using a layer mask in Photoshop.

Alignment

When many folks read, our eyes enter the piece at the top left, they move rightward to the edge of the piece, and then they move down. Try placing a photo or logo on the left and your contact info on the right. Since the line width of your contact info will vary, opt for right alignment near the right edge of the card.

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In this before (top) and after (bottom) version, notice how placing a photo at left and contact info at right vastly improve the look and feel of this card.

Use an email address that includes your URL

Unless you’re designing a personal or couples’ card for friends and family, use an email address that includes your website domain. Nothing screams “startup” as loudly as an email address that ends in hotmail.com, yahoo.com, or even gmail.com. Besides, if your email address includes your URL, you don’t have to include it elsewhere in the design!

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Here’s a before (top) and after (bottom) version of a friend’s business card. Notice how adding imagery, as well as a professional email address, improves this card.

Spacing

Adjust the spacing between lines of text so that related items are closer together than unrelated items. For example, instead of putting equal space between each piece of contact info, put less space between your name and title, less space between the lines of your address, less space between phone numbers, and so on. Rather than using blank lines to control space, use your app’s line spacing, leading, or space before and space after paragraph controls.

If necessary, adjust the spacing between individual letters by using your app’s character spacing or kerning controls. Pay special attention to numbers—they often have ugly spacing!

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Spacing text according to how its related is an important design technique, and makes the text on this business card easier to read.

Use colored text

While it’s important to keep text readable, it doesn’t have to be black. If you’re designing on a white or light-colored background, try using charcoal gray. Even better, snatch a fairly dark color from the logo or photo you’re using—this trick creates consistency by utilizing colors that are already in your design.

If you’re designing on a dark-colored background, use a very light color instead of pure white to keep contrast down. Colorizing certain bits of text is also a great way to draw attention to them. For example, if you prefer to be contacted by phone rather than email (!), colorize your phone number (you can see the reverse of this at play in the previous image).

For more on choosing colors that go well together, see this column. For more on typography, read this column.

Dangerous dangling

While it’s fine for a photo or other artistic background element to “bleed” off a card’s edges, your logo and contact info need breathing room, else they look like they’re about to fall off the card. To avoid this, incorporate an equal amount of space between each element and the card’s edges (say, a quarter of an inch).

Picking the right font

Sans-serif fonts such as Frutiger, Myriad, Arial, and Helvetica are easier to read at small sizes because they lack the “feet” of serif fonts like Times, Minion, and Garamond. If you’re placing light-colored text atop a dark background, it’s crucial to use a sans-serif font, else the dark ink spreads into the letterforms and renders them unreadable. You can also add contrast to your card’s text by using different font styles within the same font family (say, Myriad Bold with Myriad Light).

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Matte vs. glossy

People write on business cards all the time. For example, you might jot down a price quote, where you met the person, the document you’re supposed to email them, and so on. While glossy business cards look slick, they’re impossible to write on. Instead, opt for a matte finish.

By following these tips, your business cards will always look their best. Until next time, may the creative force be with you all.

PhotoLesa.com founder Lesa Snider is the author of the best-selling a Photoshop CC: The Missing Manual books, coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, author of The Skinny Book ebook series, a founding creativeLIVE instructor, and regular columnist for Photoshop User and Photo Elements Techniques magazines.

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