Posted in Ideas and inspiration, Resources

ATC Ideas: Improbable Maps

Already know how to make ATCs but stuck on ideas?

Artist trading cards are fun to make, but artist’s block is a legit thing. It’s not always easy to magically be inspired to make stuff.

So today I bring you an idea that I hope will inspire you! I actually don’t know that “improbable maps” is an accurate way to describe them… but that’s how I think of them! I’ve recently been making these abstract “maps” on a ton of cards.

For example, here is the simplest variety:

A black-and-white artist trading card with simple shapes

As you can see, these improbable maps are really just a lot of shapes drawn so that the spaces in between, or the “roads,” are approximately the same width between all the shapes on the card. The shapes themselves are pretty random, but drawn carefully in a bold pen to keep the edges looking clean and straight.

What you’ll need

  • ATC blanks, standard 2.5 x 3.5″ size (thick, sturdy paper like watercolor paper works best)
  • Something to draw with (I used a Sakura Pigma Micron pen, size 08, but this is really up to you and your favorite drawing tools)
  • Patience! Go slow to keep your lines as clean as possible.


This is the fun part–deciding how to vary up this concept to make a unique design. I find that something that feels limited like this simple idea is actually very freeing for creativity.

For example, you can try:

  • Different colors
  • Different pen thicknesses
  • Different shapes (e.g., all straight edges, including curves or not, only triangles or only rectangles, etc.)
  • Selectively coloring some parts but not others, for emphasis
  • Different simple patterns to fill the spaces
  • Cleaner or messier lines, depending on how many times you trace over them
  • Different sizes of shapes or “roads”
  • Structuring the map as a logical grid versus centered around a point or random
  • Looking at real (probable) maps for inspiration!

My examples: photo dump time

I hope that my ATC examples sparked some inspiration for your own art! Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you soon!

Posted in How-to

How to Make Artist Trading Cards (and Why!)

Artist Trading Cards (or ATCs) are cute little pieces of art meant to be traded with other artists. What are ATCs used for? Collecting! That’s it.

I mean, I guess you could argue people use artist trading cards for inspiration… either for more ATCs or other forms of art. But really, it’s just a lot of fun to trade your art away and get someone else’s in return. Especially in such a small, collectible format.

Okay, so… how do you make an ATC?

One of the coolest things about ATCs is that there are very few rules. All you really need to do is make sure you’ve got something (thin cardboard or watercolor paper, ideally) that measures 2.5 x 3.5″, which is the same size as a typical poker playing card or trading card.

(You can optionally round the corners off like a playing card. This is super easy with a corner punch and I do it literally every time because I just like the way it looks. I’ve never seen it required for a swap, though.)

Got it? Now make art! 🙂 Just decorate one side of the card however you’d like. Collaging, painting, drawing, sewing… anything goes, really.

When you’re satisfied, it’s a good idea to seal the card with Mod Podge or the like. I alternate between matte and glossy Mod Podge because the glossy stuff looks cooler but takes a lot longer to cure (so it might be sticky even if you don’t realize it).

The final step is labelling your ATC with your information. How much you provide is totally up to you, but personally I include the following:

  • My full name, username, email, city and state, and country
  • The title of the card
  • The date I made the ATC
  • What kind of exchange it’s for (Swap/trade/mingle/RAK [Random Act of Kindness])
  • The theme of the exchange it’s for

At first, I just handwrote this info in Sharpie on the back of each ATC. Now, though, I print premade ATC backs and glue them to the back, filling in the blanks with a Sharpie.

Do you have a template I can use for the back?

Sure. Here’s an artist trading card template I made with Canva.

How do you find people to trade ATCs with?

I mostly use Swap-bot and ATCs For All, personally. Those links are my direct profiles, so feel free to reach out and say hi. 🙂

Swap-bot has a lot more to it than specifically ATC swaps, but they’re all swaps–meaning you send a card(s) to someone and they send to someone else. It’s a lot easier to get involved in ATC swaps on Swap-bot once you’re in a mail art-specific group.

On ATCs For All (or AFA), you can also find trades. So you might message someone if you see a cool ATC in their online gallery, they respond with what they like of yours, etc. You directly exchange in a trade.

A swap on AFA means that every player sends cards to the host, who then redistributes them among all the players (sometimes randomly, sometimes thoughtfully).

In some private groups, there are “mingles,” which mean the same as swaps do on Swap-bot (so you send to one person, who sends theirs to someone else).

RAKs (Random Acts of Kindness) can take place anywhere, basically. If someone feels like sending you their cards out of nowhere, with no expectation of a trade or swap, that’s a RAK.

I’m stuck at the “make art” part. Where can I find ideas for ATCs?

The good news here is that usually you’ll have a theme to work with for whatever kind of exchange you choose. Limiting your options can help you get creative!

Otherwise, honestly, Pinterest is great. Here’s my ATC inspiration board.

If you join ATCs For All, they have a huge gallery of cards, too. You could always just browse for inspiration for your own ATCs.

Well, those are the basics of all you need to know about making artist trading cards. I hope this was helpful!

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you soon! 🙂