Are you new to ATCs?

8 min read

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ATC-Community's avatar
Hello, there!

If you stumbled upon this group and thought it looked interesting because you have never heard of ATCs before, this is the stop for you! This is pretty much like an FAQ journal.

Table of Contents:

1. What are ATCs?
2. How do I make them?
3. Is there a size requirement?
4. What do I do with the back of the card?
5. I want to do ATCs, but I'm a digital artist!
6. Is there a proper way to ship them?
7. What do I do with my collection?
8. Can I re-trade cards?


1. What are ATCs?

The most straight to the point definition I could find was actually on Wikipedia:

Artist trading cards (or ATCs) are miniature works of art about the same size as modern trading cards baseball cards, or 2 1⁄2 by 3 1⁄2 inches (64 mm × 89 mm), small enough to fit inside standard card-collector pockets, sleeves or sheets. The ATC movement developed out of the mail art movement and has its origins in Switzerland. Cards are produced in various media, including dry media (pencils, pens, markers, etc.), wet media (watercolor, acrylic paints, etc.), paper media (in the form of collage, papercuts, found objects, etc.) or even metals or fiber. The cards are usually traded or exchanged.

So, they're just what they sound like- trading cards made by and for artists! Unlike standard trading cards (Pokemon, sports, Yu Gi Oh, Magik, etc.), just about each and every card is 100% unique and original. I say "just about" because there are some artists who do digital art and/or printmaking, and do limited print editions of cards.
Plus, you can even have cards made custom for you. What other type of trading card does that? Another huge benefit is that you can trade your original art all over the world, and get globally created pieces, as well. If you think about it, it's pretty neat that things you create can travel worldwide, and that you can say "Wow, this thing actually came from [country]!"

2. How do I make them?

Well, however you want! ATCs have no set rules on how they're made. You can use dry media, wet media, fabric, metal, charms, feathers, seeds, etc.! People even do cards that open (ex. windows, doors, etc. open like flaps) or have moving parts (ex. spinning gears, moving limbs, etc.)! The possibilities are essentially endless for these. If you can think it, you can make it!
Ideally, ATCs should be sturdy. Here are some tips on how to ensure your cards are not too flexible, easily bent/creased, or easily damaged otherwise:
:bulletblack: If drawing/painting/collaging cards, your best bet is to use a thick, firm paper for the base. Cardstock, bristol (usually 90lbs. + is good. I prefer 110.), illustration board, acrylic paper, watercolour paper, and other sturdy materials are best. Some people use rubber cement/craft adhesive to double or triple the layers of paper to ensure they won't bend or crease easily. Drawing paper, copy paper, etc. are not recommended, unless you are going to be pasting it to a sturdier material. Some art stores have ATC blanks for sale on racks- ranging from bristol to illustration board!
:bulletblack: If you are doing a fiber, collage/assemblage, metal, etc. card, again, try to make it sturdy. Attach the fabric to something thicker- cardstock, cardboard, plastic, etc. by either gluing, stitching, or other means. I am not too familiar with any of these methods, as I primarily do drawn/painted cards.
:bulletblack: If you intend on doing leather cards, whether it is carving, burning, staining, etc., please use tooling leather, as it is thick and not too pliable.

3. Is there a size requirement?

Yes. By definition, Artist Trading Cards are to be trading card sized. The dimensions should be 2.5"x3.5", or 64mmx89mm.
Some largely varied trading groups, such as the websites ATCs for All and Illustrated ATCs, have sections for trading larger pieces.

4. What do I do with the back of the card?

The back of the card is also important! Many artists write information about the card on the back. It is a VERY good practice to do the following:
:bulletblack: Make sure the back is nice and neat. If you used wet media (markers, paint, inks, etc.) and the colours bled through, it's a good idea to paste another sheet of paper to the back of the card, that way, it looks cleaner.
:bulletblack: The title of the card should be written somewhere on the back.
:bulletblack: Remember to include your name (and username!).
:bulletblack: I whipped up some examples of what to do with the back of the card for you.

5. I want to do ATCs, but I'm a digital artist!

This is 100% fine! There are many people who prefer sticking to digital art. All you would do in this circumstance is make sure that the art you create matches the proper dimensions for creating ATCs, and, when someone would like to trade with you, just print your work out, attach it to a sturdy base paper/cardstock/board, and ship it out! You are free to do limited prints (ex. one time only set of 5, 10, etc.), only print it once, or print as much as you like.

6. Is there a proper way to ship them?

First and foremost, it is required that you ship cards in some sort of plastic protective sleeve for protection. One card per sleeve. The soft "penny sleeves," like I linked to, are the most commonly used. They can often be found in stores like Walmart for $1 per pack of 100. Some people prefer using the hard plastic sleeves.
It is always a good idea to send your ATC taped to one or sandwiched between two sheets of cardstock, folded paper, or even inside a greeting card. This is for two reasons:
:bulletblack: It's always nice to include a little note to your trader, thanking them for trading with you, greeting, or even a mini letter.
:bulletblack: Safety reasons. Sometimes, people can mistake ATCs for gift/debit/credit/ID/etc. cards. This can lead to the envelope getting torn open, stolen, etc. I had actually been commissioned for two cards, forgot to put them inside a greeting card, and the person who received them said that the envelope had been torn open and taped back together! We're assuming that the person who handled it thought there might be some plastic monetary goods in there and decided to investigate, saw that they were drawings, and then taped it shut.

As far as the actual shipping goes, it's entirely up to you. Most people ship in standard stamped envelopes, whereas others prefer adding tracking numbers, delivery confirmation, etc. Some even prefer to send them in the bubble wrap envelopes or small, flat boxes.

7. What do I do with my collection?

This is 100% up to you! Some people prefer keeping them in trading card binders (you know, with the 9-sleeve pages?). I have seen others display groups of cards in frames around their house, make mobiles with them, etc. You can display them as creatively as you choose! Keep them in your room, leave them out around the house for display, wherever you want! Once you get them, they're yours!

8. Can I re-trade cards?

This is an iffy one. Re-trading your ATCs is not that common of a practice. I do not know anyone who has done this, especially regarding custom trades.
If you do, for some reason, want to re-trade your cards, I would personally suggest asking the original artist who created the card if they mind it being re-traded. Not all artists are comfortable with this, so please, be cautious with this procedure.

If you have any other questions, or feel anything should be added to this list, please let me know!
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afke11's avatar

3) I also use the plastic sleeves as size requirement. If it fits in there, it'll fit in my folder, and in anyone else's. It's fun to try out different things with the cards; folding them, cut out extra pieces so it's "see-through", wobly hand-cut them, etc.

4) I always write down my country as well. I once got a card that had the country noted on the back, and I realised it might be fun to know this off all my cards, because it's one of the things I like about the trading, to see where it's from. Have been adding it since.

6) I got a tip from someone to only use plain white envelopes, and not decorate them. She said a lot of those pretty envelopes got lost in the mail, because people knew there'd be original art inside. Plain white won't get attention from any thief.

EvisceratedUnicorn's avatar
3) Yup! I recently switched to illustration board, and it's a snug fit, but it gets in there. I do like to age paper with coffee and a lighter, though, and as long as I can trim it to fit, I'm also good in hat department.

4) I hadn't thought of that! 

6) I don't decorate envelopes. I just send the cards within greeting cards as it is one "bulkier" thing, as opposed to loose floating cards. 
afke11's avatar
I use double greeting cards as well, they're perfect. :)
EvisceratedUnicorn's avatar
Yeah, I am never trusting loose cards in envelopes again.