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How to design a business card: 10 top tips

In this ever-growing digital era, the business card might seem like a thing of the past. But you'll be surprised to know that these humble little pieces of stationery are still a mainstay in the business world. So if you haven't got one to hand out to prospective clients or collaborators, you could be missing out. 

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 clip art 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 (check out these amazing letterpress business cards for inspiration). Create an effective card, and you can elevate your business above your competitors before the prospective client has ever seen your work. Here are 10 expert tips to help you do just that...

01. Remember basic design principles

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

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/social handles, then work your design around presenting this information in a creative way.

03. Avoid common pitfalls

business cards with a border

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 be sure to check. 

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

business cards with a fret design

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.

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

business cards

Even just rounding the corners of your card can help it stand out (Image credit: Mei Yen Chua)

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 (check out our guides to the best laser cutters and best cricut machines if you want to print your own). 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. 

06. Try out unusual materials

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.

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

business card that can be used to hold your phone

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.

business card that includes a seed

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

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 and a brilliant way of creating the best business card for you.

09. Recycle old cards

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

(Image credit: Jessica Hische)

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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Sam Hampton-Smith

Sam is a designer and illustrator based in Scotland. He splits his time between art and design, motion and video and writing for various creative titles.