Creating a line of greeting cards

By Lisa Densmore

greeting-cardsIt’s that joyous time of the year when greeting cards fill our mailboxes, many from friends who stay in touch just once per year. In the modern age, when few put pen to paper, receiving a greeting card, whatever the occasion, is a powerful way to say “I’m thinking of you.” Though the greeting card market has shrunk with the advent of e-mail, e-cards and text messaging, there are still racks of them in grocery stores, museum gift shops, even gas stations. If you are a photographer looking for new outlets for your images, chances are you’ve thought about cards. If you’re considering launching a greeting card line, here are some of the basics to help you make money at it:


If you’ve been shooting for awhile, the most difficult part of creating a greeting card line is picking the photographs. Greeting card retailers rarely take an entire line. They may only buy a dozen designs, but you still have to offer a broad enough selection. The card industry considers a line to have minimum of 48 different cards. If you want to recruit a distributor or card reps, aim for 48 photos as starting point. Why such a weird number? Because 48 is easily divisible by 6, 8 and 12, which is the size of display racks or a section of a rack. It’s also the perfect size for a sub-line. For example, my greeting cards are divided into 10 sub-lines, with names like “Colorado Country,” “Colorful New England” and “Bold Floral.” This is also how I group my cards into boxed sets, with eight cards in a box.

Next, decide on the overall look of your line. Will your photos bleed to the edge of the card or have a border (usually white) around them? A border is cheaper, but a full-bleed makes a nice photo really pop.

Will they be matte or glossy? The trend changes from year to year. Pick what makes your photos look the best. Then your cards will be timeless.

For the actual images, select what you do best. If you shoot spectacular scenics, consider a portion of your line to have scenic photographs that look great in a 5- by 7-inch size. Are you an exceptional wildlife photographer? Animals sell. Be wary of putting people on cards unless the image transcends the person. Have a sense of humor? It’s tough to appeal to a broad audience but if you have a half-dozen funny pictures, you could dedicate part of your line to humor, an excellent niche because few card manufacturers are successful at humor. And to be blunt, macro shots of flowers, animals and scenics are a dime a dozen.

Be sure to offer at least one sub-line of regional images. Most likely you will sell the bulk of your cards in your surrounding area because that’s the market you already know (and that knows you). In addition, people buy cards that relate to where they live or where they have visited.

Below is an example of one of Lisa’s regional collections. Click on the image to visit her site.



The next decision is whether to offer blank cards (nothing inside) or “greeted cards.” Most photographers start with blank cards believing they are more versatile. Some people buy blank cards because they can use them for many occasions, and some gift shops only sell blank cards, though just as many others will only sell greeted cards. While blank cards are cheaper because the printing is only on one side, make both. I started with blank cards, which still work best for nature centers, museum gift shops, galleries and boxed sets. However, I quickly learned that card stores and many bookstores want greetings inside. “Happy Birthday” is more than half the market. The trick is to make the words compliment the picture. A little wit goes a long way, but keep it brief. People send greeted cards because they don’t want to write original words, but like to jot a few things down. Stick to the big categories, certainly birthday, but themes like belated birthday, sympathy, romance, and congratulations have a year-round market.

What about seasonal cards like Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, graduation, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah? There are so many seasonal cards, and the window for selling them is so brief, that unless you are Hallmark, you’re better off avoiding the hassle and the returns. If you have a great Christmas image, sell it to your local bank as a custom order.


You have two choices when it comes to printing your cards: using a commercial printer and an offset printing process or making them yourself. For the latter, you buy “blanks” into which you slide a photograph or onto which you glue it. Many photographers use this option, then package the card with an envelope in a clear bag. Though some like this handcrafted look, it’s a labor-intensive approach that raises your price and limits your quantity.

Hundreds of Web sites offer card printing. You upload your images, create the layout on the Web site’s template and then pay for it. These cards are typically at retail prices to you and have the Web site’s logo on the back of the card. If you really want to be in the card business and have your cards look professional, get bids from a few commercial printers. Be sure to get samples of their cards to make sure they can reproduce photographs to your standards.


Making money in the greeting card business is a quantity game. Greeting cards have high margins but high margins don’t mean much if you sell only 100 cards per year at $1.25 per card. (At this price, your cards will retail for $2.50 each.) That means you need to manufacture your cards at less than $1.25 each, ideally half that. If your cards are going into a boxed set, count the cost of the box and the label in your calculations. In general, your cards should retail for somewhere between $2.50 and $4 per card. Higher, and you probably won’t sell many.

Creating a greeting card line is a commitment both financially and time-wise. Talk to the stores where you would like to sell your cards. Get lots of feedback. Bottom line, you should make what they want to sell, at a price that works for both of you. And like self-publishing a book, be aware that you are the warehouse and your best salesperson. ◊

A member of the OWAA Board, Lisa Densmore is an award-winning writer, photographer and television producer/host from Hanover, NH. In 2005, she introduced her greeting card line, Densmore Designs, and currently stocks about 10,000 cards.



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