Designing a Greeting Card Collection


A behind-the-scenes look at my process for creating a cohesive line of 36 hand-lettered designs with Cardthartic.


Last summer I got an interesting inquiry in my inbox.

The greeting card company Cardthartic had stumbled onto my work and was interested in commissioning 36 hand-lettered designs for a new line they were developing called “Pretty Words”. They had been looking for a letterer to bring their vision to life for years, but hadn’t found the right artist to do it quite yet. How flattering that they wanted to entrust me with the task!

I got back to them right away, and things developed really fast from there. Within a day, we were ironing out details via Skype, and within a week or so, I was heading to Miami Beach to meet the sweet ladies behind the brand.

My mission was to put a fresh, hand-lettered spin on some of Cardthartic’s best-selling messages from previous card collections. They wanted the designs to feel warm and comforting, and they stressed the need for cohesion, as all the cards would need to look good together on display racks. Luckily, I’d actually finished creating a collection of cards for my own online shop earlier in the year, so I had some experience with creating complementary designs.

We officially kicked off the project in Miami by spending a day together going over copy options and honing in on the lines that would be best suited for Pretty Words. It was great to be involved in this part of the process, as I could help steer towards messages that would work well in a hand-lettered format. I was especially interested in lines that were shorter in length and without extraordinarily long words that might look off-balance in a layout. I also got to weigh in on the messaging that inspired me most as a designer, which is always a major plus!

Initial color palette exploration

Initial color palette exploration

While I was there with the team in person, I also shared some initial color palette ideas that I’d put together before I arrived.

In our earlier discussions, they mentioned they’d love the final cards to look like they could fit in an Anthropologie (which just so happens to be my favorite store!), so I actually went through one of Anthro’s furniture catalogs and started sampling some colors. That allowed me to create a rough palette which I could experiment with and tweak. I created “color tests” in the proportions of greeting cards (see the image above) and kept adjusting the palette and color interactions until it started feeling right for Pretty Words.

Color is SO important in creating a cohesive, unified product line. As I build out a collection of related designs, I constantly view them next to each other and make adjustments along the way as necessary. Don’t wait until the end to view the designs together, or you’ll be unpleasantly surprised at how much work you still have left to do to make everything jive.

Once we’d all agreed on copy, a color palette (to start with), and some general creative direction, I started sketching!

I decided to work up tight sketches in color (see above) for each card one-by-one rather than create rough thumbnails for the whole collection at once. It’s easier for me to tackle the big picture by chipping off one bite-sized piece at a time. Plus, it kept me from the idea burn-out I’d likely have gotten had I tried to sketch every design at the beginning.

The entire collection, sketches and finals, were created almost exclusively on my iPad Pro with my Apple pencil in Procreate. I worked up small batches of sketches (4-8 at a time) and then sent them to the Cardthartic ladies for review. They’d look them over and get back to me with changes, which I’d make or discuss further. Then I’d send them the edits plus new designs in the next round. Rinse & repeat, until we had 36 approved sketches.

While all that sketching was going on, we were also looking at paper samples and preparing for production. We searched through a TON of swatch books and made note of our favorite paper stocks. Cardthartic’s printer sent us some samples of some of my sketches on the top paper selections, which helped everyone to easily agree on the winner. (Turns out, the lovely paper Cardthartic was already using for their Meanings of Life collection just couldn’t be beat!)

Also in the middle of the hubbub, I designed a logo for Pretty Words, which would end up on the back of the cards as well as on the website and at trade shows.


With all the sketches approved and paper and logo in the works, it was time to start creating final designs! I used my sketches as templates which I traced over in Procreate and refined along the way. I worked in layers, with one color per layer, so it would be easy to print later using Pantones.

I shared the finals with Cardthartic for last-minute design or color tweaks. Once they were approved, Creative Director, Valerie Sebring, placed my card designs into print files, which included any interior messaging as well as the design for the backs of the cards. Val also set up select messages for print on magnets and boxed notes.

Shortly after print files were sent off, we received color proofs to review. Color proofs are a printer’s estimation of what final color will look like. (However, they can be a little tricky, as proofs aren’t usually presented on the final paper stock or with the final printing techniques that will actually be used.) Val and I spent an afternoon debating over color tweaks, which was quite interesting considering we were in different states, looking at different proofs in different lighting conditions! We made it work (we always do) and sent final revisions and approvals back to the printer.

Cardthartic still had much to do on the logistics and marketing front, but the design phase was finished.

I was really excited when Cardthartic’s owner, Jodee Stevens, invited me to see Pretty Words debut at the Atlanta Gift Market (a giant trade show that features exhibitors from all over the U.S.). Seeing the designs altogether and in person at Cardthartic’s booth was such a cool experience! I was able to hear retailers’ reactions to the Pretty Words line and also got to meet more members of the core Cardthartic team and some of their sales reps. It’s not too common that you get such a climactic moment to review and appreciate the final results of your work as a designer, so I really soaked it in.

And now, without further ado…

Behold! Here’s the result of months of work and a whole lotta love and sweat…


A HUGE thank you goes out to Cardthartic for the opportunity and for their trust in me. Creating Pretty Words was an absolute dream!


The best thing about designing cards is that I get to share them with you! Check out Cardthartic and shop my Pretty Words line below.

Katie JohnsonComment