DIY Business Cards – design and printing

Before heading off on a one month residency to the USA I realised I needed some new business cards. The old ones, although I like them, do not have this website listed and are a bit dated in relation to my current practice.

I wanted something that would encompass the full range of what I do in one card – the idea of having one card for bookbinding, one for visual art and so on just seemed ridiculous. One me: one card! For definite I wanted to print them using a letterpress. As I do not have sufficient quantities of type they would have to be photopolymer plates. On the plus side this would allow for imagery and for me to design the lettering from scratch.


My initial thoughts involved using several colours, perhaps with a tree motif. This would fit symbolically with many of the projects I am working on – ‘Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?’, ‘The UL towpath,’ my love of nature, also as a symbol for collected knowledge, growth, and so on. Eventually my mind settled on the thought of the old apple tree which grow in the garden in the house where I grew up. The tree is over 150 years old and forms the heart of the garden, carrying the essential qualities and spirit of the place. In a way is part of me. I made some sketches and photographs of it. I put together an A4 size pamphlet with some cartridge paper, lined it out and began to draw the letters of my name in different typefaces.


I gave considerable thought to the paper type. The paper is the most vital component in my opinion. Its character dictates the feel and appearance of the business card. I first encountered the range of papers made by Gmund using beer must while I was looking through paper samples for the Limerick Printmakers business cards. The look and feel of my favourite of these was perfect – smooth, bright and vibrant but not too over the top. I also really like the ethic of using a waste by-product from another industry to create something beautiful. My heart was set, no other samples I looked at were doing it for me at all!


By this time I realised that there was no way I would manage to complete a multi-plate business card on time. The design needed to be refined, pared back. The imagery was too much – the text should be able to convey everything I wanted to say without the need for anything extra. The card would definitely have to be one sided as well. So I thought ‘Why not make the bulk of the plate black and have the lettering look like it was cut out?’ Using the colour of the paper to ‘write’ the text would make the most use of it. It would simultaneously make the front and back of the card quite different, getting away with the single side.


While developing the plate I was quite worried that the small print (hand written originally and laboriously adjusted with Illustrator) was not going to be at all visible. Thankfully the first proofs were surprisingly good! In order to get a really flat black it was necessary to pack out the card quite a lot with 3 sheets of 160gsm proofing paper behind it on the drum. The very shallow grooves of the small lettering meant that they filled in quite fast – about 30 sheets. As I only require a very short run for this trip it doesn’t matter too much but I could have prolonged the run by intermittently running a sheet of absorbent blotting type paper through the press to uptake the excess ink and keep the letters clear.

I’m delighted to have been able to pull these business cards myself at relatively short notice, without having to resort to using some online printing facility or even existing fonts!

Lessons Learned

  1. Simple is best: it took quite a while of working through more complex designs to pare it back to this.
  2. Kerning: for letterpress printing you need to have as much space between and within the letters as possible
  3. Ink: in this case I probably should have used solvent based ink rather than rubber based. Rubber based ink dries by absorption only and as this was a coated paper it did not work quickly enough.
  4. Cutting: although my accuracy with the guillotine is getting better it still leaves a lot to be desired

Initial drawing scan. The style of the letters is based on old ‘circus’ type fonts, inspired by looking at examples of typefaces available from type foundries.

Second drawing scan. Lettering refined









The final design, ready to be printed as onto transparency in a an A4 sized group.