Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets – Part 2

Guest blogger Don Ruge continues his series on the greeting card business based on many years of experience in the industry.


Don Ruge

Don Ruge


I have worked as a Creative Director and Art Director for several greeting card companies. My responsibilities have varied based on the size of the company, but some “basics” remain the same: determine the design direction for each new card (based on sales, line balance, and trend analysis), decide how the design should be executed (i.e., assign art to a freelance or in-house artist, select and purchase stock photography, or reformat existing art), provide lettering direction, approve color separations, and OK final print runs. These responsibilities pertain to individual “counter cards” as well as to cards in a collection or promotion that have to maintain a common design look and/or theme.

I advocate a common sense approach to creativity. One of the wonderful things about creativity is that it is almost infinite in terms of possibilities!  But getting a product to market involves a lot of things that are much more “finite” – things like budget restrictions, production schedules, printing and manufacturing guidelines, etc.

All of these “real world” things have to be taken into account before your brush even hits the canvas (or your finger clicks the shutter release, or you pick up the mouse – well, you get the idea!). A common sense approach to creativity means you take the time to find out about the things over which you have no control, so all your creative decisions can be informed creative decisions.

For instance, I’ve seen many talented illustrators use colors that the scanner just can’t read. Do you really want that bright red poinsettia to come out brown? Of course not! But even the most up-to-date scanner cannot register every single color the human eye can see. And many paints have a Day-Glo content that the scanner (a finite piece of machinery) can’t interpret. So it’s just common sense to check with the printer (or the company you’re designing for) to find out if they have a list of paints and colors to avoid (many of them do have such a list).

Another example is the importance of allowing for lettering space. On the surface it may seem simple enough but I have known many an artist to design a beautiful piece of art but leave no room for a caption at the top. (Hint: cards with lettering at the top usually sell better because the caption can be seen behind other cards in the rack.)

A common sense approach to creativity means you know this isn’t just about the art itself but it’s about the final product, a greeting card, which means it consists of both art AND lettering. If you’re developing your own line of cards then you have the unique advantage of knowing what the editorial is going to be and you can plan your design accordingly.

If you want to be successful as a greeting card artist it’s also important to know as much as you can about the production side of things, and that includes understanding prepress as well (prepress is the process of preparing digital files for printing). Before computers and graphic software, artists had to do most of the work themselves, which meant they were responsible for painting flat backgrounds and precise borders. But if you take the time to do those things today, it can mean even more work for the company who’ll be manufacturing your design.

The steadiest hand can’t rival a computer when it comes to flat backgrounds and parallel borders (believe me, I’ve tried!), and there may be parts of your work that not only can be done on the computer but should be done on the computer. So it’s common sense – and a real time saver! – to ask the Art Director what part of your design will be handled digitally. I usually instruct the artist to suggest colors and indicate borders on an overlay and then I let the in-house staff take it from there. With a little communication, it becomes a win-win situation for both the artist and the Art Director.

Don’t Miss the rest of this series: Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets Part 1 and Greeting Card Biz Insider Secrets Part 3


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  1. Don,

    What great insight, very basic and common sense, but until you hit the print button, you just don’t think about what could go wrong. Would love to hear more insights from you.

  2. Thanks, Marsha…it’s always nice to get positive feedback!

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