Why Every Visual Artist Should Carry Comp Cards and How to Make Your Own

Why Every Visual Artist Should Carry Comp Cards and How to Make Your Own

Last week I was asked to shoot some model polaroids and create a comp card for my friend and a fantastic model, Mallory Mims, for her to take with her when meeting with agencies in LA. Before starting I did some research and gathered some examples so that I could give Mallory the best results and ensure she’d make a great first impression when meeting with potential agents. I got a little nervous during my Google search because I wasn't finding consistent standards or templates very quickly. Since I had such a hard time in my own research I am sharing what I found and a template to make this easier on you guys than it was for me.

After creating Mallory’s I made one for myself and ordered prints of them. Comp cards are a perfect in between marketing material to show off your talent and gain clients, they are definitely something to add to your business. I have learned that portfolios are sometimes too much, and business cards aren't always enough when promoting your work. I get a lot more “wow“ reactions when I handed people a postcard with my images on it instead of a business card they usually have to hold a few inches from their face to really see.

To start I want to tell you that when searching “How to make a model comp card“ on Google, almost the entire first page of results are pretty terrible. This makes it hard for a new and even experienced artist to learn exactly what to do and feel confident about it. In any city, but especially small ones, having clear standards for stuff like this is pretty important to maintaining a strong, progressive artist community. I am sharing this info to not only help you as individuals but to share in your community as well to strengthen your local arts industry. Since photographers and graphic artists are usually the only artists that know Photoshop and other design programs, we have this special ability to help other visual artists succeed and snag opportunities with a single piece of paper.

For this post, I will use modeling as the example but the same techniques can be used for any form of art, photography, painting, video, interior design, acting, dance, writing, etc. So, after scrolling through pages of mediator tutorials and blogs I finally came up with a handful of solid standards to use when making my own, here's what I found.

Both digital and printed composite cards should be double sided and 8.5 x 5.5 inches and contain a total of five images.

Front Side

  • On the front, you'll put your absolute best headshot or portrait and your first and last name. This can be a horizontal or vertical image. Keep in mind the back side should be the same orientation as you choose for the front so your viewers aren't flipping the card around to look at it.
  • Black and white or color is acceptable for this image, just make sure it stands out!
  • The attention grabbing image you choose can cover the entire front side but I found it looks more professional with a white border for your name to go in. If your model or artist is already signed to an agency or working for a notable company you can put this info on the bottom border space.
  • The font is important, there is no certain one you should be using but it can definitely become the difference of being taken seriously or not so don't skimp on this detail.
  • Choose a legible, eye grabbing font that looks good with your main image, one that's not too fancy but not too boring either. The text on this side should be all caps and I'd refrain from using any excessively bold fonts.
  • For models, I found mostly thin serif fonts being used so I chose Chapaza Font, if you like it you can download it for free

Final Composite Card For Model Mallory Mims, Front Side

Back Side 

  • On the back of your comp card, you will place the other four images in an appealing clean grid.
  • The standard is to make one image bigger than the other three, but I saw most people getting creative with the arrangement.
  • I recommend using the same size border as on the front side around your image collage.
  • There are a few ways to add the info on the back with your images. I chose to put it at the bottom in the larger border space as I think it appears the cleanest here. You can also leave a white square or rectangle space somewhere inside the borders of the college and place artist info there.
  • I chose to use the same font on the back for everything to keep it simple and clean. Most cards I came across repeated the artist name on the back of the card in the same font as the front.
  • For models, the text area should contain measurements and sizes. On my own card, I wrote the types of photography offer.
  • Make sure your text area is balanced itself as well as alongside the images you choose. To find balance in Mallory's I took down the opacity of the info text and made the text span the width of the images above.

For this one, I used our polaroids from a single shoot so they flow naturally together on the page. If you are making a card using images from different shoots make sure your photos look good next to each other. This was one of the most common issues I saw when viewing examples online. Images were too often distracting to one another usually in the area of color grading. Of course, you want your absolute best work on these, but if there's one image that just doesn't look right, take it out! 

Once you have a clean balanced card finished you should send a batch to the printer so you can share your mini portfolio with prospective clients!

Final simple Composite Card For Model Mallory Mims.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Gabrielle Colton is a portrait and editorial photographer with a passion for change. She is from Oregon and is currently in Louisville, Kentucky. She focuses on empowering women with her vivid metaphysical portraits. She often uses ordinary everyday places as her backdrop and transforms them into magical spaces to show how beautiful life truly is.

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Thank you so much!

No problem! Good luck with these, let me know if you need any help!

Is the goal of a comp card to hand out with a business card and assume they're immediately going to be trashed when your conversation ends and hope they keep the business card? 8.5 x 5.5 doesn't seem pocketable at all.

Not necessarily, I get a feel for how serious a person is and if I think a card will be tossed I will choose to just hand them a business card. We have to alter our tactics sometimes and put more effort into some prospective clients than others. Part of being a great business owner is being able to appeal to each individual.

I have two lines of business cards. One line is a bunch of inexpensive Overnightprint cards. The other line is a handful of quite expensive (nearly a dollar each) high-end photo business cards. Yes, I do rather evaluate which prospective clients get which line of cards. If I've spent some time talking to a prospect who seems genuinely interested, that person gets three of the expensive cards. If I'm just handin' 'em out, those are the cheaper cards.

I do the same thing, great practices. I have some really thick cloth ones from Moo.com for the prospective "larger or more serious" clients. And then cheep ones for anyone and everyone I meet.
And then a smaller stack of flyers win images on them if I go into a salon or somewhere I can leave a few. Tanning and hair salons, smaller boutiques can always use photographers or the clients that enter thes shops.

Of course, we assume that! what's the problem? Is how it works. Companies don't stop making television ads because a lot of people are going to turn the channel when his add appears. Don't stop handing out flyers because 99 percent are going to end in the can trash.
You make enough composition cards to feel comfortable throwing them away because the one percent that brings you work is worth the effort and the expenses.
Anyway, the important thing is that your method works for you. If isn't pocketable for you, don't do it. This has a lot to do with the price range level of your clients.

And I don't put too much trust in my feelings about how much a client is serious or not in working with me because a lot of times I discovered I was wrong. I prefer to think that everyone is a potential client and treat them equal. Besides, You never know. The universe works funny some times. Perhaps that CC you just give to them and they just left over the bar table is found for your future best client...

i think that 8.5 x 5.5 is too big. i think a 4 x 6 would be better and cheaper to produce. plus you can fold it in half and put it in your pocket.

8.5x5x5 is the industry standard for a Comp Card and has been for nearly 50 years. It is intended for agents and bookers to hold on to for call backs and to be easily fileable, while remaining large enough to see the images on and get a look at the work or facial structure of the subject.

Most photographers hand out cards to prospective clients like brides and moms. Since they don't know what the standard size is, a 4x6 is much easier to keep. The idea is great, we can make comp cards for weddings, portraits etc.

Absolutely agree on the size standard. When agents come to see me (I work as a CD) they usually represent multiple photographers/artists. I get handed cards from many different artists and creative styles… and they're all the same size.

It's actually easier and faster to flip through categorized Comp cards than to do online searches. And I only keep the cards of artists I like…how many of us have cleaned up our browser bookmarks lately?

ok. i'm not in the fashion industry so standard size i guess is the go to size. i come from a club background and the 4 x 6 is our standard size. see we both learned something new today. and 4 x 6's are cheap cheap to print

When I'm referring to standard size, I'm referring to talent agencies, specifically modeling and acting.

BUT the whole reason for the 8.5x5.5 size is it's half a sheet of letter paper, and comp cards until that time were full sheets. Sebastian Sed is who pretty much standardized the size by cutting the letter sized card in half, and marketed them as Sed cards, pronounced ZED. Thus the Zed card was born.

Because it's easy to flip through this size card in a file of existing cards, much easier than full sheets of paper, the industry ran with them.

Other industries may have different standards. But for their own reasons.

Use the size that's standard for your particular industry.

Who do you recommend as a printer for comp cards?

I love Moo.com, prices are a bit higher than other sites but the quality is impressive to clients. So I'd reccoment getting 50-100 of nice ones and then I personally get $500 a time on vistaprint for handing out.

I use printed cards to promote my photography. I always keep a few on me at all times, especially when in an office building doing head shots. I use these for my "elevator pitch". People see my cameras and ask me what I am photographing. I tell them I shoot executive head shots all the time. Then I just hand them my card. Sometimes I will get a booking and sometimes I don't, but the more people I get my name and photographs in front of, the better. I use a 3.5 X 5 accordion card. There are 5 panels on the front and 5 on the back. I can show a good variety of looks and backgrounds with this card.

Aka Sedcard?

Yep! I've seen them called Z cards as well.

For all the Models without Photoshop knowledge that may be a little bit overhelming. I create my comp cards online. there are different very good tools like https://sedcard24.com or modelcards.biz. Sure they are not free but its simple though.