How to design a business card: 10 top tips

Although we’re working in paperless offices more and more, the business card is still a mainstay of business. If you haven’t got a card that you can hand out to prospective clients or collaborators, you’re missing out on a key marketing opportunity.

Not all business cards are created equal, however. We live in a world where the average small business can design their own cards and order them from well-known online printers for the price of a dinner. But these cards tend to be of an inferior weight, and typically use twee clipart to relate themselves to the business being advertised.

What this means is that there are a lot of poorly designed business cards out there. This is both a challenge and an opportunity: to stand out you need to create a design that looks fantastic, and helps you differentiate yourself. 

If you can make it tactile and feel pleasant in the hand, you’ll be well on your way. Create an effective card and you can elevate your business above your competitors before the prospective client has ever seen your website.

So, with all that in mind we’ve brought together 10 of our top tips for creating effective, innovative business cards.

01. Remember basic design principles

The basic principles of paper-based design apply to business cards

It might seem obvious but it’s worth reiterating that a business card is a piece of printed material like any other. Because of this, the basic principles of paper-based design apply to business cards:

  • Keep all your key copy at least 5mm from the trim edge
  • Work at 300dpi for best image reproduction
  • Ensure you maintain a minimum size for your typography to maintain legibility
  • Design in CMYK unless you’re working exclusively with spot colours

Many designers also find it helps to use a grid to lay out their cards, as this can help you to achieve the right hierarchy of information as well as ensure your alignment is sound (if you need a reminder, take a look at our guide to grid theory).

02. Get creative within the constraints

Marine Laurent's cards use a portrait orientation to keep things fresh

There are a couple of 'standard' sizes for business cards, depending on where you are in the world (perhaps because wallet sizes also vary slightly from country to country). One typical business card size is 55 x 85mm, although you'll see many other sizes quoted on the web.

Even though you only have a tiny canvas, you can still get creative with the space. Start by considering the key information you want to include, which will typically be a name, phone number and email address, then work your design around presenting this information in a creative way.

03. Avoid common pitfalls

Beware: a border like this one will show up any printing misalignments

There are some common pitfalls to designing business cards that it helps to be aware of. The first and most obvious is to ensure you provide a bleed as specified by your printer. This is commonly 3mm, but can be 5mm, so check! For more information on bleeds and other printing needs, read our 5 things every creative needs to know about print design article for some tips.

Just as important is to avoid using a straightforward border around the entire of the card, as this will show up any misalignment in the trim if the card isn't perfectly cut.

04. Use special finishes

This guitar tutor’s card features a UV spot to highlight fret positions

An instant way to add impact to your business card is to use a special finish. Special finishes include the likes of foil blocking, spot-UV and metallic inks, and can add significant cost to your print. What they offer, however, is the opportunity to make your card more tactile, visually impressive and memorable. If you're not sure how to approach this, take a look at our guide to creating special print finishes in InDesign.

Different printers offer different options for finishes, so speak to them to find out what they can do for you, and don’t be afraid to go to a specialist if your usual printer only offers straight four-colour print.

05. Cut into your card

Even just rounding the corners of your card can help it stand out

A great way to make your card unique is to use a die-cut process to remove elements from the card stock, leaving a void. You can either use a die to change the shape of your card (by rounding the corners, for example), or you can cut shapes out of the centre.

Dies are expensive to create the first time, although increasingly printers are offering laser-cut options that make it economical to create a die-cut look on shorter print-runs. There are some amazingly creative examples on the web, like this die-cut letterpress stationery, and when combined with creasing you can use the process to create architectural features in your card design. 

Also, don't overlook letterpress as an option.

06. Try out unusual materials

This cheese company's business card doubles as a grater

Most business cards are printed on card stock. This is the most cost-effective option for printing your cards. If you’re willing to get a little more creative, you can print onto all sorts of different materials including transparent plastics, metals, wood and even slate.

Here dog treats have been used as a business card material, allowing the card to serve two purposes simultaneously

Keep in mind that cards need to be portable, and easy to file away in a pocket or briefcase, but get creative with your choice of stock material and you'll instantly stand out from everyday business cards.

07. Make it useful

This business card designed by Emily Berry converts into a chair for your phone

One of the problems with paper is that it’s everywhere. Some people hold on to every bit of paper they receive, amassing a paper mountain, while others are far more ruthless and recycle things at the first opportunity. To avoid the risk of being recycled, make your business card work as more than simply a calling card.

This card, by Jamie Wieck, includes a seed that sprouts after a few days of soaking

Some of the most memorable designs incorporate function as well as form, ensuring they survive longer than most business cards. Examples include business card that act as a holder for hair clips or turn into a miniature armchair for your phone.

08. Make your own

Design studio Lo Siento uses a stencil to create unique business cards

If you’re feeling creative, why not make your own business cards? You can find letterpress kits on eBay at reasonable prices, allowing you to convert any card stock into your own business card with ease. Or you could use one of these beautiful free business card templates

Making your own is a time-consuming but very satisfying way of expressing yourself in a card.

09. Recycle old cards

These cards were made by hand out of birthday cards, Christmas cards and screenprints that went wrong

Old business cards, postcards or packaging can be repurposed and given a new life as your business card. Recycling is both environmentally sound and can allow you to express your creativity in new and exciting ways. 

There are some fantastic examples on the web like the one above, to get your creative juices flowing. The process can be as simple as getting some stickers printed, or as complex as hand-illustrating over the top of each old card to suit the recipient.

10. Double-check your artwork

If your card has words, make sure they're spelled correctly

This tip applies to every bit of print work you do, but it’s so crucial that it’s worth repeating for business card design. When sending your artwork off to the print shop, make sure you’ve double-checked every single detail. 

There’s nothing worse than getting back your cards and discovering a typo in the email address or name. Check twice, print once is a well learnt adage!

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