The Papemelroti Guide to Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards

Artist Trading Cards (ATCs) are small pieces of original artwork which anyone (children, beginners, hobbyists and professionals) can make.

Any theme, medium, material, method and technique can be used to make ATCs.

The one rule that must be followed is that an ATC must measure 2.5 x 3.5 inches or 6.4 X 8.9 cm and it must be sturdy enough.

ATCs are meant to be traded. They are not sold. The idea is for artists and crafters to get exposed to different styles by trading and collecting cards. They can trade at organized “swap” events, either in person or online.


In 1997, Zurich artist M. Vänçi Stirnemann created an exhibit of 1,200 handmade artist trading cards. He invited anyone who wanted a card to create their own ATC. After the exhibit, on May 31, 1997, they had the first Artist Trading Cards session in Zürich, Switzerland. Since then, thousands of cards have been traded internationally. 

Why make ATCs?

  1. It is easy to start making Artist Trading Cards. You don’t need any special materials or equipment and you probably already have everything you need to start. All you need to do is sit down and start making them! Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, you may be surprised to find out what you can make once you start.

  2. Creating and trading ATCs encourages you to keep making art. Trading cards is a great motivation to keep making art. It encourages creativity and improves skills.

  3. The small size of the card encourages you to try new styles and techniques. Since the “canvas” is so small, you don’t have to be afraid about what to make. If it gets ruined, it doesn’t matter. You can just go on to the next card. You can experiment with new materials, methods, subjects and techniques without worrying about how it will turn out.

  4. It is great to get mail! Nowadays, we don’t usually get mail that we can get excited about. But when you start trading ATCs, it is a delight to find the returns of the swap you joined or a surprise ATC in your mailbox.

  5. You get to “meet” people around the world through the trades you make. Getting to know different artists and their varying styles is a valuable experience to help you develop your own style. They provide inspiration to try something new and friendships can be formed through art and art exchanges.

  6. Making ATCs can lead to other opportunities. When you develop your confidence in your art, you will be open to other opportunities such as making bigger pieces, scrapbooking or exhibiting in art shows. These opportunities are fulfilling both personally, artistically and sometimes, even financially.


How to make ATCs

  1. Choose a sturdy card backing for your ATC. You can buy ready-made cards that measure 2.5 x 3.5 inches or you can cut your own out of whatever sturdy board is available such as cereal boxes, or old greeting cards and invitations. Some artists use playing cards for backing but not all playing cards have the correct size. Do not use flimsy cardstock or paper for your card.

  2. If you are going to cut your own cards, make sure you measure them well using a soft pencil and cut them neatly using a cutter and a ruler. Since an ATC must measure 2.5 x 3.5 inches, if your cards are too far off from the prescribed size, they won’t be considered ATCs. Usually the cards should be relatively flat to fit into a regular sports card binder or sheet protector sleeve.

  3. In decorating your card, anything goes! Be creative and try out different materials, styles and techniques such as pencil, charcoal, watercolors, poster paints, acrylics, markers, color pencils, gel pens, pastel, crayons, inks, spray paint, mixed media, folk art, cartooning, collage, photography, rubber stamping, calligraphy, fabric, quilting, embroidery, crayon resist, weaving, paper/textile cut-outs, printmaking, stenciling, sewing, and others. If at first you aren’t happy with how your cards turn out, keep PRACTICING!

  4. Get inspiration from the internet. Even looking at the images for the keywords “artist trading cards” can give you many great ideas to try out.

  5. ATCs are usually one-of-a-kind originals, but you can also make sets of identical cards in limited editions (they are numbered in the back to show how many were made), or a number of cards in a series, with a particular theme or subject. It’s all up to you.

  6. On the back of your card, put the title of your ATC, your name, your contact information (such as an email address), and the date. You can either sign your card in front or on the back. Some artists also add their city/state and country. If you are trading the card in an online group, you can also include your username and the trading site.

  7. If your card is for an online swap, you may want to include the swap name in the information in the back of your card. Some swap hosts also specify other information to be included, so make sure you follow those guidelines.


How to start trading ATCs

  1. When you have made a number of tradable cards, you can decide on where you will start trading them. You may want to scan or photograph each card so that you will have a copy after you trade them.

  2. You can trade ATCs personally if there are swaps in your area or you can find online swaps. An online search using the keywords “artist trading cards” will help you find sites like
    ATCs for All (for all levels of skill and artistry)
    Yahoo groups: Artist Trading Cards
    Illustrated ATCs (for professional artists and hobbyists)

  3. Even if you aren’t ready to trade cards, joining these groups can inspire and help you. Registering is free and you can find more information about ATCs that can help you.

  4. After you register in sites like ATCs for All , you can post images of your cards in your gallery. If you invite another member for a personal trade, they can pick a card from your gallery for you to send in exchange for the card you are interested in trading for.

  5. You can also join online swaps in these sites. Some swaps specify the theme and some specify the medium or technique to be used. Be sure to follow all the swap guidelines carefully if you decide to join a swap. Don’t join too many at the same time. You want to be able to finish your cards on time.

  6. When you are ready to send your cards, pack them well, with a plastic card sleeve or mini envelope and a card or piece of cereal box for protection.

For inquiries, call Patsy at (632)3751069 or e-mail us at

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