art · design · illustration · paper · Uncategorized

Running an Artist Trading Card Exchange

Heard much about these artist trading cards (ATCs)? They are baseball card sized little pieces of art and fun that people create and then exchange. The point is to exchange yours and collect others. Now, how do you become involved? I have to say that I had a hard time finding exchanges to participate in myself–they were few and far in-between, and since I wanted to get involved, I decided to start one myself. Now my exchange has been running for 8+ years, has hundreds of people on the mailing list, and garners between 40-60 participants each exchange. The time has come for me to retire my involvement in the exchange, but there’s hope! Melody Strahan will be taking over the exchange, so stay tuned for more info on that.

2018-04-10 11.19.34

But maybe you want to create your own exchange, or are just curious how someone runs one of these things? Here’s a general guideline for how I did it.

  1. Decide on a deadline. In the beginning I hosted an exchange sort of sporadically, so it was really unpredictable I found it best to pick set deadlines after a while. I ran the exchange 3 times a year, so in the end chose deadlines of March 15, August 15, and November 15. Giving a few months for people to make their cards and send them in, plus planning around holidays. I would also put this on all advertisements and communications so that people knew the deadlines in advance.
  2. Set up a blog or website as a landing page. I created a quick WordPress page in my current blog that had all the info about the exchange. Over the years I fine-tuned this to include common questions or pitfalls, but generally you want to have all the rules for the exchange in detail. I never had a theme so the content was open (although lots of exchange do have a theme, so feel free to do this on your own), but the cards had to be 3.5”x2.5” standard card size, couldn’t be 100% digital (in fairness to those who handmade their entire card, I didn’t want someone to just print out a bunch), sent in a 1-pg plastic card sleeve that holds 9 cards (or they could include $1 to purchase one from me), and needed to be mailed to me by the deadline with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) so I could return their cards to them. If you want “hostess” cards, an extra card that people submit to you so that their full 9 cards can be exchanged with other participants, indicate that as well, although I never did this method.
    • There is also the consideration of international applicants. For Canadian entrants, most of the time they are able to get US dollars or provide US postage, so they can either send US stamps or can send $3 to pay for their postage. However, that doesn’t work for everyone or other countries. It’s worth researching if you want to include international participants, and if so, how they can pay for their postage. Having a PayPal account and including the link in the instructions worked well for me.
  3. Advertise. In addition to the email mailing list I’d acquired of past participants, I also researched a lot of artist websites on the web and found a good listing of places that post art opportunities that would post the ATC exchange for free. I signed up for accounts on all the ones that needed one, and made a list of the places to send the opportunity with some set text that had info about the exchange, such as what ATCs are, that it was a by-mail exchange, free to participate, and the deadline. The details were set up on the blog website, so I’d include the web address to send everyone to for more information. Every time I’d announce a new exchange, I’d also post it to these places to garner some new participants and attention. I would also put out a blog post for followers of the blog (and push it to Facebook and twitter, etc.). The way I see it, the more you get it out there early, the more people find it.
  4. Wait for submissions. Submissions would come in starting right away, but most were chunked up by the deadline. There were always a few latecomers, so I usually gave a few extra days after the deadline before I processed all of them. I never really opened them as they were coming in, just collected them in a pile, to be opened and processed all together after the deadline. During this time you’ll also want to keep tabs on your email so that any questions could be answers, and also because sometimes people sent in a note saying theirs were running late. I had a dedicated email for the exchange so it wasn’t mixed with my personal email.
  5. Make your own cards to exchange. I always thought it nice to give each participant one of my own cards, so I always made more than 9. Since I didn’t know how many people would submit in the end, was sort of a guessing game, but I felt it was important as the host to exchange with everyone.
  6. After the deadline, process the submissions. After waiting a few extra days to make sure any late stragglers had come in, I opened and scanned-in all the cards. Processing for me includes: opening each envelope, scanning in each set of cards, and collecting names of participants. To stay organized, I’d open one envelope at a time, pull out the cards, and scan them in with a black sheet of paper behind it so the cards were highlighted better, and name the file for the participant name. I asked each participant to include a business card or sheet of paper with their info on it, so I’d pull that out and that would go in a stack so that I could add them to the mailing list and keep track of who participated to send receipt emails to. If someone didn’t include one, I had a notepad to add the extra names on to keep with the stack. This is also the time to email anyone who forgot something, like a SASE or something so there’s time to hear back from them before you exchange or mail them back out.
  7. Send out an email of receipt. After scanning all the items in, I’d take my stack of names and send out a group email to all people who sent in cards telling them I’d received them and would be processing them. I’d also add any new participants to the email mailing list. I never kept track of addresses or phone numbers because I felt that too cumbersome, just emails.
  8. Trade the cards. This was probably the most time-consuming part. First I would mark any envelopes that had more than one sheet of cards or any anomalies so that when they were all laid out, I could trade those first or take note as needed. Best to have a very large space for this, because it’s easiest to lay them all out so you can move around the room as you trade. I usually kept the SASE as the base, then put the sleeve with the cards on top and spread them all out so I could see them all easily (with gaps between so I didn’t get confused on which cards went with what envelope).
    1. First I’d trade my card with everyone. Since I was giving each person my card, first I’d go around and pick one of theirs and give them each one of mine. I never included the “hostess” cards in the exchange, so while I never asked for people to send those, if they did I took them myself and didn’t take another of their cards—sometimes this caused an uneven number of cards at the end, but I just gave a few lucky participants an extra card.
    2. Then I’d remove all their cards from their sleeve and put in a stack next to the sleeve/envelope. Once I’d traded with each, I needed to remove all their cards from the sleeve so that the new cards could go in (including mine). I would make a stack of their untraded cards on the top above the sleeve to make it clear they still need to be traded.
    3. Trade! I’d go around the circle and trade cards, making sure not to give someone a card of someone else’s or a double of the same person. I always inserted the traded cards into the plastic sleeve, so I’d know the ones in the sleeve are new traded cards, but the ones still sitting in a stack above the sleeve were the originals that needed to be traded still. Usually I’d just go in one direction, pick up the stack of cards that needed to be traded, start on the card set NEXT to where I picked the cards up from (so I didn’t accidentally give them their own card back), and insert the cards on each new sleeve as I moved around the circle until they were out. Then I’d pick up another stack of cards to be traded and repeat.
      • A note on trading: International and Canadian postage is MUCH MORE if you have a lumpy card or thick, rigid card. I’d actually try to give those participants more flat, paper-based cards to ensure when I went to the post office I wasn’t charged $10 to mail the envelope.
    4. Once someone’s sleeve is full, I’d cover it up. If I’d filled all 9 slots, I’d move it to inside or below their SASE so it wasn’t visible and I knew it was complete. Then I knew that only sleeves that were still visible needed cards still.
    5. When they’re all done, insert each sleeve back into the SASE and separate into stacks by US or Canadian/international postage. Also make sure any that need postage or have special needs get put in a different stack—I would also separate any that might not have enough postage so I could check and add a stamp if needed. Any that were US and had proper postage, I’d seal up and drop in a mail box right away. International/Canadian entries ideally need to be flat and light, otherwise they are charged parcel rates, which can be very expensive—these I usually had to take to the post office and get postage there. Investing in a postage scale or using a cooking scale and looking up prices online at was a lifesaver, as well as having a stock of stamps and global postage on-hand. Also, you’ll find that small, regular sized envelopes can be hard because you have to fold the cards three times to fit, and if there are any lumpy cards, they won’t always close or have enough postage on them. I always stressed to use bigger envelopes for this reason.
  9. Mail out all the cards. Ideally I tried to process, trade, and get them in the mail within two weeks of the deadline.
  10. Post all the photos scanned in on a flickr or other site. Everyone always wants to see the pictures from the exchange, so I felt like this was necessary. I used flickr because it was easy, but could be a FB group or some other source as well!
  11. Email out and advertise for the next exchange!! Sort of a repeat of step 3 to announce the next exchange. ;o)



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