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Artists Trading Cards \ ATCs - By Clare Brown

Artists Trading Cards

By Clare Brown


What is an Artists Trading Card?


Artists trading cards – or ATC’s as they are known – are little pieces of art made to trade. Just like kids have trading cards based on TV shows or computer games, us grown-ups now have our own very own version.



How did it start?


The idea of ATC’s was conceived in 1997 in Zurich by M.Vänçi Stirnemann. The original idea was to meet and trade these miniature works of art in person with other artists. There are many regular trading sessions all over the world where ATC artists meet and trade their latest cards. It has since become more regular to trade cards in the mail – trading with people all over the world, either in direct swaps when you get to select which cards you want in return for some of yours, or in blind swaps where you send in a number of your cards, and have the same number of cards made by different artists returned.



The Rules of ATC


There are a few basic rules to follow when making ATC’s.


  • ATC’s are all the same size – 3.5” x 2.5” which is the size of the original trading cards that inspired the idea.
  • The front of the ATC is your artwork - there are no limits to what you can use/create on an ATC.
  • The back of the ATC should contain the artists information
  • ATC’s are not to be sold or exchanged for anything, only traded for another ATC.

How do I start?


ATC’s can be made from anything, you don’t need any special tools or papers, they don’t need to be acid free, absolutely anything goes. Many traders use regular trading cards - and decorate and cover up the designs on the front with their art, but you don’t even need to use those, any cardstock will do for a base to work on.  Start by cutting yourself some pieces of card 3.5” x 2.5” – these will be your ‘blanks’ and you can you can start building up your artwork on the card. It doesn’t have to be white card, any colour will do!  It’s up to you how you decorate the front of the card. Use collage, paints, inks, stamping, foils, beads, metal, pens, chalks, pencils, embellishments, stitching, transparencies, found items, magazine clippings, book pages, embossing – in fact – any technique or product you can think of can be used in miniature on an ATC.


Cards can be individual one offs or in limited edition series. It’s normal for ATC artists to create a series of cards along a theme. They can be all the same design, or vary from card to card.



Once you are happy with the design on the front of the card, turn it over. It’s time to add the details and information about you. The simplest way to do this is to use a pen and write the info on! You will need

  • your name
  • your location
  • your email address if you wish
  • the title of the card
  • its series number
  • the date

If it’s a ‘one off ‘card, the series number will be 1 of 1 (or 1/1). If you have made 3 cards all on a similar theme, then they will be numbered 1/ 3, 2 / 3 etc.


You can create and print ‘labels’ for your ATC’s that have all your personal information pre-printed, and spaces to add the title and series number in by hand. A simple sheet of copier paper with the ‘label’ design repeated, cut up and glued to the back is effective and easy to do. There are also many designs of rubber stamp available to stamp on the backs of your ATC. Some are decorative, some very simple, some just business like, they give your card backs a neat uniform look and take some of the chore out of writing out all the details. Many regular ATC artists have a unique stamp custom made for the backs of their ATC’s which adds another personal element to the card.


If you have chosen a dark coloured base card to work on, use a pen or stamping ink that will show up! A metallic gel pen or pigment ink works well even on black card. If you do use old trading cards as your base, add a piece of paper to the back to cover it and give a surface to add your information.


How do I start trading?


To trade your ATC’s you need to find other ATC artists near you or online. Look in your local craft shops for news of any trading sessions locally, or think about going to some of the regular big trade sessions held around the UK. www.ukscrappers.co.uk  has a thriving trading community and it’s a good place to start you off if you can’t find anyone local. You can either post photos of your cards and wait till someone asks to trade, or look at what’s on offer for trade by others and offer one of your cards up as a swap. There are always ‘swaps’ running where you make a set number of cards, send them all in and the same number back in exchange from all different artists – look out for the ‘newbie’ swaps to break you in gently.  These swaps are a great way to start building up your collection. Simply Stamping magazine runs a nationwide ATC trade, each issue has a new theme, and you can send is as many as you like and get the same number in return (see magazine for details).  There are many other trading groups on the internet, based all over the world – and all the trading is done via the mail.



Storing and protecting my ATC’s


There are albums and folders manufactured specifically for ATC’s.  However, because ATC’s are the same size as regular trading cards there’s a whole ready-made system for storing and protecting your cards out there and very reasonably priced! Any good store that sells a large selection of cards will have sleeves, pocket sheets and binders. If you can’t find them local, try online. A simple A4 ring binder with 9 pocket clear inserts is the easiest and most cost effective way to store your cards, especially if you have a lot! They have the advantage of protecting the cards from handling too, as you can see the artwork on the front of the card, and then flip the page to see the artists details on the back, without having to take the card out of the sheet. If you want it to look different you can cover your file to suit your taste. There are also box systems with dividers to store your cards, rather like index card systems but sized perfectly to fit your ATC’s. The specialist albums are good to take to meets and show off your favourites from your collection to their best advantage.


When sending through the post, it is advisable (but not compulsory!) to pop your ATC into a plastic sleeve. These are thin, flat, ATC sized poly ‘bags’. They protect from dust, excessive handling and the rain on days when the post gets damp! If you want to use a box system to store your collection of cards rather than a folder or album, each ATC will needs its own sleeve to protect the artwork when being handled.


Digital ATC’s?


There are a growing number of digital artists who produce their cards on a computer screen rather that in paper form. These are then printed onto card to trade. If you wish to trade cards that are created digitally it should be made clear that the cards have not been created in paper but printed. Because of the nature of ATC and the fact they are pieces of dimensional ‘art’ a digital ATC is not usually accepted as a fair trade for a hand made ATC and the 2 mediums are considered separate. There are however many people who trade digital ATC’s like for like and it’s becoming a thriving trading culture all on its own.


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