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7 Postcard Design Fundamentals

May 12, 2014

7 Postcard Design Fundamentals

Running a small business means that you wear quite a few hats - employee, manager, and all-in-one marketing department are just a few examples. So, when you want to set up a fast postcard direct mailing to announce a new product or service, all the work will fall on your own shoulders, from the idea stage to the design to dropping the direct mail advertising postcards in the mailbox. While the first and last may be easy, the design stage will often be the most difficult.

A professional graphic designer has probably spent more time than they would like to admit in school studying everything from color theory to spatial concepts in advertising. Even though you don't have the knowledge or experience of a professional, there's no reason why you can't come up with your own ideas for some custom postcards. As you'll be having someone else do the printing, use the following fundamentals to avoid embarrassment when it's time to print.


From the very beginning, you should know what size postcards you want to create. From place to place, the exact limits of a postcard's size may differ slightly, but a good rule of thumb is to use the standard 4.25" x 5.5" or jumbo 5.5" X 8.5" unless you have specific postcard ideas for marketing that will only work with other sizes, such as panoramic.


The basic universal standard for creating images and print materials is the Adobe Creative Suite, with PhotoShop and Illustrator being the most common programs. If you're going to use other software, make sure that your printer will be able to work with the type of file you'll be producing. Regardless of the program you're using, make sure that your canvas size matches the actual dimensions of the postcard.

Proper Format

Part of digital postcard design is understanding the basics of printing. Designers and printers use what are called bleed lines and safe areas to produce a higher-quality postcard that is fully covered by an image. Take ten minutes to research these guidelines to get rid of any unwanted white borders.

Monitor Calibration

So you've got your postcard size and Adobe program ready to go, but when you upload your first image, it looks all wrong. What's going on? Before you try to adjust the colors yourself, realize that it could just be your monitor. Changing the colors could degrade the picture quality and make it unsuitable for print - just wait until you see a test copy at the printer.


Speaking of colors, it helps to know the difference between RGB and CMYK. A design for print is not the same as the image you see on your computer screen. By using the right color palettes, your printed postcards will be much closer to your original idea. Again, take a few minutes to figure out which color palette you'll need (Hint: it's probably CMYK).


Sure, your first impulse may be to use Comic Sans or another common font for the text on your postcard, but you should hold that temptation back. Nothing screams amateur like Comic Sans. Go with Helvetica instead and you'll be able to escape hearing giggles when the printer loads up your art. Some other basic typography guidelines can be found here. You’ll also want to make sure any printed collateral adheres to your company’s brand guidelines.

Check Your Spelling

Last but never least, check your spelling. And then check it again. Nothing is worse than receiving an order of 1,000 postcards and realizing that they can't be distributed because of a misspelled word or two. The spell check function on your computer exists for a reason and can save a decent bit of heartache.

Obviously, you're not going to produce postcards at the same level as a professional designer, but if you're on a bootstrap budget, then the difference in cost may demand a DIY approach. Practice the fundamentals and both your printer and customers will be pleased with the results.