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ON THIS PAGE   Going Postal   Essential Postal Info   Essential Exhibition Information   Typesetting Rules   The Rules of Association

   Printed On Only One Side     Show Title     Postal Rates, Requirements & Layout Specifications

SEE ALSO   How to Photograph Your Art  &  How to Start Showing Your Art

How to Design An Invitational Postcard

A detailed, practical & philosophical guide
to designing & distributing invitational postcards
that expand your fan base by linking your name and your art
in the minds of people who see your invitations,
even if they don't go to your show or buy any of your art
— yet.

by somebody who's been doing these things for more than 40 years

ou want people to see and buy your work.

You make invitations so people will know when and where. Once you get people and your art in close proximity in a quality setting where they feel comfortable, maybe they'll also buy some art. Naturally, you think that's your first order of business with this postcard thingy.

Unfortunately most of the people who see your invitation will not attend your opening or your show, and darned few of them will buy any of your work.

So how can you make the best use of all those invitations, even if you don't know yet who will or won't buy or go or even look at them twice?

Well, let's think for a moment. What are your most important products — that you can do anything about with a postcard?


Oh, and if you haven't made sure your name is distinctly different than anyone else's name in about a hundred-mile radius, you should. Even if your art is completely different than the other guy with your same name, people will always confuse the two, and confused persons are a lot less likely to become patrons.

We'll get into other ways to spread your name around in future articles. One needs to be about publicity. Others might go a little more philosophical and be about how to best express you, whoever you might be. This series could go on forever...

Your Name and Your Art should be directly associated and immediately and easily seen by the most casual observer — people who don't even know they are looking for art. People whom we can safely say aren't even thinking about buying art. Yet.

The easiest way to accomplish that connection is to keep your name and your art in close physical proximity on your postcard.

Terry Allen at Holly Johnson

Terry Allen's show at Holly Johnson in June/July, 2005 — Intriguing, inviting, involving the reader into the art. And there's that name. Most of the illegibility of the text in the postcard examples on this page is due to the fact they've smaller here.

If your art is on one side of a postcard, and your name on the other, there's little connection. Darned few of us will turn the card over. So whatever connection could have happened may be lost.

Paper is the most expensive item in any printing job, so it's not fully half as expensive to print on just one side, but it is cheaper.

It is aesthetically nicer to have plenty of room for all the postal bits on the side that doesn't have art and artists' name(s).

Artists on a budget can blow their money on a nice art side, then write out the postal side and stick a stamp there by hand.

First Class stamps cost 37 cents

Since we're going to talk about them over and over in this story, let's delineate exactly which bits of exhibition information and postal information is important not to forget.

Postal information includes but is not limited to:

return address — The post office does not return postcards with postcard rate stamps when the address is bad. But it's good to let people know where your art will be exhibited, and the Return Address corner (upper left) is one of those places people automatically look for such things, so it can serve double duty.

stamp or imprimatur (if you have a permit, you can just say that and you don't have to lick and stick stamps). Of course, permits are more complicated. And many people miss the obvious opportunity of using colorful and art-related postage stamps on their invitations. Most of the pretty ones are first-class stamps.

postmark — Postcards are usully cancelled by a machine, but sometimes you'll get lucky and have yours cancelled by a deranged postal worker with his first ballpoint pen or magic marker.

Automatic postal machines often attach sticky barcode strips along the bottom side (usually, but not always, on the postal side — I've seen them stuck all over the picture side, sometimes right across the face of the art and covering the return address), so it's probably best to let the PO have its space where it expects to have it.

It should be noted that the Post Office does not necessarily observe their own rules.
See Postal Requirements (below).

sender address — either hand-scrawled or on a printed label

Sometimes the post office will also rip, cut, bend, spindle, slash, stretch or scrape invitational postcards — at no extra charge. I have actually received invitational postcards in pieces inside plastic postal body bags.


Here might be a good place to talk briefly about what whole fat books have been written about.

The general rule is

Simpler is better.

  Mighty Fine Arts postcard - Great Type Design

Beautiful, clean typography, design and printing — Three type sizes, one typeface throughout, lots of white space and plenty of space for the postal code strips at the bottom, where of course, the idiot Post Office runs amuck and splatters the whole card — even though they left room for the Post Office's use.


Simple Typesetting Rules


Exhibition Information

Artist's name(s) — you'd be astounded how many invitations I see that do not even mention the names of the artists in the show.

Especially faculty or gallery group shows, where you'd think schools or galleries would be eager to show off who's teaching or showing there, but 90% of the notices I receive for those list no names at all, as if the bozos running the schools and/or galleries don't know who is on their own faculty or group — or that who is teaching or showing there is one of their most important selling points.

Curators' names, however, are almost never left off. Go figure.

Show Title

Name and Address of exhibition space

Phone number, too

Opening — or closing — reception time, month, date, year

Weekly open times — when the space is open

Through date — the last day of the show (especially important for DallasArtsRevue; our calendar lists events chronologically by end date).

The Artist's URL — fail to include this and it's another easy opportunity to let people know less about you and your art

The Space's URL — URLs should be expressed in small type, centered near the bottom of whatever text block has some space left over at the bottom of, without transgressing into the post office's splatter space.

This presupposes that the gallery keeps their site up to date, which is a major presupposition. If your URL spells something, make it clear by using upper and lower case letters — i.e., www.DallasArtsRevue.com, and don't forget the www. You'd think, by now, you wouldn't need that silly www, but you'd be wrong.

Map — Is the place difficult to find, off the beaten track, hidden at the wrong end of a one-way street, or in an area — like our beloved Fair Park — that frightens most citizens? A clear, simple map with a couple big, well-known nearby roads and a couple very close sidestreets may help allay fears.


I am holding in my hand a City-sponsored postcard that has nine (9) different typefaces set in eight different sizes on its combined postal / information side. Because of the indifference of this designer, individual information is difficult to focus on, let alone read. The spacing is awkward and the display is a mess.

It also lists no artists' names, and the name of the artist whose work fills the other side is set in type so tiny it's difficult to see or read. That artist was named because she had the sense to Copyright her image. It wasn't her fault her name was so tiny, but why are none of the other artists even mentioned?

The messy postcard does, however, name the curator, obviously the most important person involved (irony intended). Certainly the only person who had a say in the listing.

Danny Williams - Mercuriim

Danny Williams' Mercuriim — no name, just color and hand-made style. Nice, textured paper, too, I stil remember. Color and distinctive personal style sometimes trumps information.

Even if your art is utterly wonderful and incredibly commercial, if your name is not directly associated with it, you lose. Your card's viewers probably (but not necessarily) recognize that rectangular blob of a reproduction as art, but they don't know who belongs to it.

They may not care. Now. But by creating this significant, early association, which can be expanded later (with other postcards, publicity, stories in the media, etc. as you become a better and better-known artist), you have begun to create a potential fan base.

If they like the art you have carefully selected to represent all your art, but they cannot easily (read: utterly simply) find it, they actually begin to develop an antipathy toward [the unknown] you and your art. Better to start them out with easily accessible information that's right there.


Even if people don't like something,

the more they know about it, and

the more they see it,

the more they will like it.


Even if people like something,

The more difficult and time-consuming it is

to learn more about,

the more they will dislike it.

Make sure your name is next to or under (where most people expect to find it) your art. Every time. Even if it means putting your name on both sides of the postcard (gasp!).

Often, what people expect to find is all they ever do find.

Remember, they're not looking for anything when you hand them that card, or they get it in the mail. They're clueless and expectationless until they start tuning in, if they ever do.

Make sure that your name is large enough to see when all someone does is glance at your card. Many of your precious cards will be lucky if they get as much as a second glance.

If that happens, you've succeeded as darned few postcard invitationers ever do. And that is a giant (albeit early) step in a long, extended, slow process. But it's an important first step.

Simply adding your name, the title of the art, the medium, size and year date under your picture in small type

Adding (the extremely rarely used) year date (to either the art caption, or more importantly, to the exhibition information, gives anyone who keeps that card for years (It could happen.) a point in time to remember and compare — your work, your show, to their big toothache that year, their second child, or whatever happens to them then.

    1. It hardly matters with what the comparison actually is. The fact that they extend their thinking into your work and your progress (however tangentially) means they're thinking about it, and anything you can do to make them think about it more or more easily, means you've set their minds to work on your future.
    2. If they think about you at all — ever — they will remember you and your name, longer than if they make no association, at all.
    3. Any association whatsoever may lead to further thinking, visiting, seeing, buying...

In the information area, your name should be large enough to be noticed — even by people who aren't really paying attention (That's most of them, no matter what they tell you.).

That way, both the people who do pay attention to your invitation, and those who don't, get your message — your name and your art, forever entwined into their mind.

Maybe. If they like your art. If they can read the postcard. If they don't dump it in the trash the very next moment. If they don't already have so many things racing around in their minds there's no room for futures and art.

Delinquent Boys at Plush

Great show title and an excellent illustration of simple type use by Randall Garrett of Plush Gallery

A show title

If used properly, a title can add to your message by helping explain what kind of art you are making (and trying to sell) or what your unique subject matter is. Never have a show without a title.

“Recent Work” is useless ink. Pretty much everything shown anywhere ever is at least recent or new to somebody. Retrospective at least says something, but an intelligently witty, very short phrase is probably best.

What you need is a pithy or memorable title, one that actually says something about your work. One that you will probably have to think and think and think about, back-burner for awhile, blow off entirely for another while. Let go, then let it come to you — or ask one or many of your trusted creative friends, and she'll blurt out just the right one.

You are way too close to the subject.

You'll be inclined to use whatever the hell title you've birthed, because at least it is your very own and besides, you've put all that work into it. But if you're wise, eventually you'll have just enough time to use the blurt-out title, because it's shorter, more succinct and takes up less ink, so it can be bigger and bolder, and nobody ever has to know you didn't come up with it yourself, anyway.

Then take your blurting friend out to dinner somewhere nice.


Your friends probably already know who you are, what you do and what you're trying to accomplish. The trick is to get people who don't know — or who don't care (yet) — to associate who you are with what you do.

Even if they don't care, the more people know about you, the more interested they will be in you and your art. Though perhaps not immediately.

This process isn't quick. We're doing long-term planning here.

The easiest way to accomplish this association is to have the best possible reproduction of your best possible art — that one special piece that looks best reproduced however you can best afford it on your invitation — I've seen gorgeous color Xeroxes and dismal 4-color-process cards. Get the best you can afford.

It also needs to be able to be easily “read” printed tiny in pitiful dotty grayscale so-called Black & White in the newspaper and maybe even smaller and lower resolutioned in DallasArtsRevue, although at least I'll use the color.

Photographs by Van Ditthavong

Very effective use of several small images disproving my rule but, alas, no artist's name. Photographs by Van Ditthavong for his show at Soza Salon through September 3, 2005

As you can perhaps see in this image, getting the tonal range reproduced well for one image is problem enough. Getting it right for six is somewhat more difficult and unlikely. Whoever did these did a fair job, although the shadows seem to blob over the images on the left.

One large image is more immediately communicative than several small ones on an invitational postcard. Large is more visible and memorable, although hard and fast rules don't always adhere in these slippery situations.

The key is using the best process and design you can afford and the best art you can make available to the process.

If you're not sure — How could you be? — ask a lot of other visual people. Listen to their rationales, and choose one.

Color is usually more eye-catching than black and white, but black & white can be very effective, if it's not mostly gray. Straight-forward photographic technique is almost always better than something fancier and more expensive.

Be avant in your art, not on your invitations.

Spend your money on art supplies, not postcard invitations.

Kinko's should give me money for saying this, but they are awfully good to work with, especially with quick turnarounds, tiny budgets and inexperienced “designers.” I have worked with other printers over the years, but I keep going back to Kinko's for their prices, speed and ease of use.

There are more printers in Dallas than anywhere in the free world. Wherever they are, those people have to be finessed carefully, talked with extensively and paid promptly with checks that don't bounce. But they can become your friend forever, saving you plenty on paper they have left over and ink they didn't use all of on a bigger, better paying job.

Subtly textured and colored paper (stock) is better than the plain, boring stuff. Gentle colors of paper (ivory or beige — tan probably just looks ugly, and brown is too dark) is sometimes better than white. Anything subtly visual and/or textured adds to the sensual experience of your invitation, but if the printer says they need coated stock, buy 'em the slickest stuff you can afford.

Vivid or dark colors cheapen and create legibility issues. Those medium reds, blues and pinks we already see too much of in flyers are dreadful, and your art will look tawdry printed on them. Yellow probably won't help all that much, either. Ask your printer what she recommends, then follow his advice.

Stick to black ink unless you've done this a couple dozen times already.

Odd-sized postcards are a sure sign of inexperience. They confuse viewers — and piss off the post office.

Bigger postcards require more expensive stamps. Right now (August 2005), you can send a standard postcard for 23 cents. Bigger ones (First Class) cost 37 cents — 60% more. Doesn't seem all that much — till you add up all the postcards.

Mail-order and online-ordered postcards (Find them in the backs of computer and design magazines) can be significantly less expensive (no tax saves 8.25% already) — if you plan well ahead and check them out thoroughly. Galleries and artists who've done this before know some good, inexpensive, quick and honest ones. Ask.

First-class stamps can help you weed out bad addresses, since the post office will return them to you, if you are careful to include a postally approved return address and any necessary phrases. Not so helpful this time, maybe, but next time you send out postcards, it'll save you a buncha stamps and time, too. Although that might be awhile, and by then a lot of those folks will have moved. Use smaller postcards and cheaper stamps, and you'll never be bothered, but you will probably be sending precious postcards to the mail dump.

Unless you are a large institution with hundreds and hundreds of settled mailing list recipients, avoid Bulk Mail Permits like the plague. They're slow, which means you have to plan way ahead. And you have to be really really nice to the snots at the post office, or they'll dump your invites in a hole until a week after the reception.


Wayward Girls at Plush

Since I put in Delinquent Boys, I felt obligated to include this, too. At the top it says, "a startling tale of juvenile delinquency; in the middle, the originally JPEGged type states: "complete and unabridged."


An invitation with just names is only half an invitation. But it may be all you can get.

Schools and other mindless institutions are notorious for listing art shows without mentioning the artists who make it possible. You can't do much about those bozos, but you can create your own, personal invitations, even if there's an official invitation already being done by the official bozo(s).


Alternatives to postcard mailing

Hand them out



Capital A Artists and those others

Like most of the images on this page, this comes from a recent invitational postcard. Don't you just love the distinction between capital A Artists and all those others? I chose this portion of this card, because though it heralds a gallery's anniversary, it does not mention any of either the "Artists" or "new artists," except those pictured on the other side.

Typical really.


Radio & TV

Some radio stations have community event PSAs (Public Service Announcements). They'll read yours, too — even some Country & Western stations will — if you make it easy for them.

You never know who is listening or whether they will be part of your eventual fan base. Don't rule anyone out based on your own tastes in music, radio or TV stations. This is the scattershoot part.

Actually tune into those stations and listen to how they phrase their PSAs, so your submitted text matches their usual style, or they'll leave out something important.

People tend to remember best what they heard last on the radio. Quickly perk their interest, state the who, what, when, why, where of it. Then stop. And don't be offended if some DJ or radio station worker edits your copy.

Some of us art lovers actually like C&W and art, although I suspect darned few people actually watch Public Service Cable TV.

Years ago, when I did a show on Community Radio, people used to recognize me on the street and in galleries. Later, when I had a show on Community TV, nobody ever did.

Mailing Lists

There are alternatives, but you'll probably have to mail some of your postcards.

A good, well maintained postal mailing list is worth its weight in — oh, something. But it takes work, and it's not very likely that someone else who has been carefully nurturing their mailing list for years and years will share it with you. It's their bread and butter.

Ask people for their mailing information. Have a sign-in sheet at your opening and during the space's open times. Use that information. Those are people who've shown they're interested enough to write down their information for you. They want your information. Be sure to give it to them; that connection will keep on connecting.



Going Postal with your Postcard


You hope your postcard is safely and quickly delivered to all your addressees.

You want people to recognize your postcard as an invitation — something worth perusing, worth pondering — something different from all the other junk mail they get.

Then you want to draw them in to the various levels of information.

Eventually you want them to plan to attend your opening or go by the gallery later and look at your work, maybe even buy some.



You have to understand that the post office has many undocumented features that can render your postcard less than effective.

This poorly designed postcard illustrates several of the ways the post office can interfere with your intended message. It also illustrates ways the designer can interfere with your message. In fact, this little postcard is a classic of messages gone awry.

It is reproduced full size, so you can help find the show title, address and other information anyone who wishes to attend might hope for.

Note the rips and scathes along the bottom right edges caused by scraping through postal sorting machines. At least none of those interfere with the text, though sometimes such rips can.

The show title is lost in the postmark. Which the designer probably should have anticipated, since most stamps get stamped that way and in that proximity.

The zip added at the bottom left, and the bar code along the central bottom of the card, obliterate the gallery's address and open hours, both of which occupy the space the PO recommends we leave blank.

The USPS has postcard requirements, which this — and too many other invitational postcards — ignore.

To read it, I had to use a magnifier I keep handy for such occasions — not something that endears us to your project.

I know where the gallery is and how to get there. But the map — though informative — is more legible than anything else, and its style fails to match the style of the other information.

I have puzzled over the oddly scrawled logo at the top left, but it still baffles me. Somebody apparently thought it was really important to place it at the top on the left — although it might be helpful to know that normal people start looking at a printed piece somewhere in the upper, left-side quadrant, read down and to the right, then back to the top to finish it off.

A physical, postal return address might have been more useful. Especially if it were up in the top right corner, where we (and the post office) expect to find such things.

The Fierce Invitation - Copyright 2008 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission.

Since I wrote this page about How to Design one, when it came time for me to do just that for the Fierce show, I felt obligated to follow my own rules, which I hope this does. Sad that I could not put art by all the artists on it, too. I only got one name wrong, but at least none of them are split. Doing that much was a real puzzle.

I'm not posting the other side, of which I was particularly proud — until the gallery owner got of it and altered certain aspects, just so she could assert her supposed superiority, even though that Dufus' changes contradicted Postal Recommendations and caused postal difficulties.


Postal Recommendations

USPS Domestic Postal Rates and Fees

WARNING: The Post Office reserves some spaces on every piece of mail that goes through their system for their own use. If you put something in those spaces, they are likely to obliterate your data with theirs.

The following specifications shows what parts of your mailed items you can use and which parts the Post Office reserves for their use.

USPS Postcard Design Requirements

Postcard Specifications and Layout from ExpressCopy.com

Standard Size Postcard: Layout - bleed and Layout nonbleed

Jumbo Size Postcard: Layout non-bleed and Layout - bleed

The Winter Show Invitation

I forgot about the post office's space along the bottom (left here), then had to add it later, so this design looks a little skewed, and I think actually better than the original, but it precisely follows USPS specifications.

  How to Photograph Your Art  &  How to Start Showing Your Art 
Cameras and Lenses for Photographing Art


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