Talking ’bout Sketch Cards!


Hey kids! Today, I want to talk to you about sketch cards and show you how you can make your own custom cards that will, hopefully, help you stand out from the convention crowd.

Sketch cards have recently taken off in popularity the last couple of years – and, as you might guess, there are all kinds of styles when it comes to creating sketch cards. Some people only draw super-heroes. Other people only draw popular TV show characters. And some people draw full bodies while other people only draw heads. There are even people – like myself – that will draw caricatures of people on a sketch card. In fact, my caricature sketch cards can sometimes be my biggest sales item on my table!

So, I thought it might be fun to show you all how I make my own cards. I’m also going to be including a link to my own sketch card template so you can download it and modify it so you can make your own customized cards.

A big thanks to Ralph Contreras…

Speaking of templates, a really big thank you needs to go out to Ralph Contreras, as Ralph is the one who created the original sketch card template. Ralph has an excellent website you should check out Comic Book Graphic Design where he offers lots of free stuff he has created over the years. In fact, you can still find his original sketch card template (as well as some other awesome stuff too) on this page:

As I mentioned before, I downloaded Ralph’s PDF template, imported it into Adobe Illustrator and modified it to suit my purposes. To see the changes I made for myself, you can download my own template. Here is what the two templates look like side by side:


As you can see from the two images, the first thing I did was modify each card so they all had my URL clearly visible at the bottom. You don’t need to do anything to the top – I simply added my URL to my sample so you could easily tell the two templates apart. Both of these templates can easily be printed from a standard inkjet printer. I have a large tabloid size printer so in my particular case, I duplicated my template on to an 11×17″ layout. My printer can also print on bristol board. Because if that, I buy 11×17″ bristol board tablets and will then print a couple of copies of the two templates side by side instead of the single template one at a time.

Although it’s possible to purchase already made sketch cards from art stores or Blue Line Pro, I don’t care for the rough (vellum) bristol board those pre-printed cards are produced with. Instead, I prefer a smooth bristol board sheet and, fortunately, Strathmore sells a 300 series 11×17″ smooth bristol tablet and that’s what I put in my printer when printing my sketch card template.

Cutting the cards…

One of my first jobs out of college was working at a local printer as a paste-up artist. Because of that experience, I got real good with an Xacto knife and a ruler so it’s not really much for me to spend a night before a big con cutting up sheets of sketch card templates for an hour or two.

When making your own cards, the three most important tools you need are:

  1. A metal ruler (preferably one longer than 12 inches)
  2. A good size cutting mat
  3. A package of sharp #11 Xacto blades

Many people will try to go cheap with the last item by trying to get as much use out of a work blade as possible but the secret to making your own cards is don’t try to skimp out on blades. If one feels like it is getting dull, replace it. That way, your cuts will be easier, cleaner and will look more professional or polished. Also, don’t try to rush through the cuts either. Try to have a “slow and steady wins the race” attitude.

Here is also a handy guide for where to make the cuts on the template as well:

template cut lines
If you take your time and line your ruler up with each cut line – and you keep on using fresh, sharp blades, you should be able to cut a series of sheets in no time.

Now let’s put the final kick in our cards…

Sometimes, you can get some really great ideas from your fellow artists. For example, I had been making my own cards for some time without putting anything special on the back of them. And then my buddies at Iconographics out of Richmond, Virginia. They gave me the idea to put stickers on the back of my sketch cards so I came up with this:

Sketch Card Back Sticker
But I had to find a POD service that would be able to print the stickers at the size I needed (2×3.5″). Fortunately, I found such a place at So now, after cutting all the cards from my template, I spend another hour or so adding the stickers to the back of each card.

It takes some practice getting the edges of the cards to line up but you can get the hang of it pretty darn quick. The most important thing you need to pay attention to is making sure you are putting the sticker on in the correct direction. There have been a couple of times when I have flipped the card over only to discover I put the sticker on upside down – but fortunately, that has happened only three times – and, for as many cards as I make by hand, that’s an extremely low number.

And then, for the final touch…

Every card I sell at a convention comes with a free, hard protective case. The correct terminology for this is a “top loader” and they look something like this:

You don’t have to get them from Ultra-Pro. I find mine at the local Wal-mart where I work and can get a package of 35 for under $5.00. I have some friends that search for sketch card top loader specials on eBay and will order them in bunches when they find a good bargain, so you can go that option as well.

I just think that offering the top loader as a freebie is extra incentive for the purchaser to consider getting your card.

The other thing you might consider purchasing is some kind of display for all of your sketch cards. It can be as simple as a notebook filled with sketch card sleeves. If you’re not sure where you might get any of these items, you can try you local hobby shop as sketch cards also happen to be the same size as most gaming cards so any album that holds D&D cards or anything like that will also hold sketch cards.

You could also check out this link as well – it’s just one of many I found on Google:

One last tip…

Since my caricature cards have become such a big hit, one thing I invested in was a magnetic wipe board. I also purchased a small package of magnetic strips the size of a business card. These magnetic strips have a sticky back and I put them on the back of a dozen or so sketch card top loaders and then placed some of my best caricature card sample in them and stuck them to the magnetic wipe board.

This makes for easy traveling and is a big eye catcher at conventions. here’s a picture of the magnetic board on my table:


So… what are you waiting for? Start making your OWN sketch cards!

I think you’ll find it’s a lot of fun once you do…


Posted in Business, Conventions, Drawing, Featured News, Helpful Hints, Site News, Tutorials and tagged , , , , , .


    • Ahhhhh… makes sense. Of course, those of us that have a distorted cartoony style never pay attention to “rules” so it’s no wonder I’ve always ignored them.


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  2. I’m going to my first con with a table next month and I decided to sell sketch cards as well! I ordered a bunch of custom sketch cards from ReadyComics ( They are a local print shop to where I live but they do ship stuff. I ordered 360 of them for .15 cents a piece (so the total came to about $60). The ones I got were double sided printed so they have my name and a boarder on the front and a print on the back. They also let me have multiple designs on the backs (I got 3 different ones) at no extra cost. I got different designs based on what kind of art they will have, webcomic based or orginal so they’d be easy to tell apart. They’re awesome! πŸ˜€ Just another option I wanted to share if anyone wanted to do it too but don’t want to make them themselves. lol

    • Hey Laura,
      Thanks so much for that link! I have already bookmarked that site. I’m going to check them out some more.

      This might actually save me a lot of time (and maybe some money too) as the back of my cards are glossy stickers that I have to spends a lot of time putting together. Those prices are very reasonable.

      How do you like the quality of the paper of the cards though? I prefer smooth bristol board for drawing – that’s why I make my own but if I could spend $60 to save all the time it takes me to do these cards, that’s well worth it!

      Thanks again!

      • They have 2 different kinds of paper that you can get them printed on but I went with the thinner Carolina C1S stock they have listed because the back is glossy and I prefer thinner paper to work on. I don’t really know much about paper but the drawing side is pretty smooth in my opinion; just like a normal piece of printer paper. The cards are thinner than most sketchcards I have seen (about the thickness of 4 sheets of basic printer paper). I’ve used sharpies on them and they didn’t bleed through or anything. They do offer thicker paper if that’s what you like.

        They work well for what I wanted and I already sent out about 26 of them to backers of my recent Kickstarter campaign and they seemed to really like them. I dunno if this helps but here’s a photo of one of the designs I got made: I also really like them because they threw in a bunch of extra cards in case some of them had imperfections, so in the end I got about 75 extras. πŸ˜€ Woo!

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