What are Artist Trading Cards?

What are Artist Trading Cards?

Have you ever dug around the history of ATCs (Arts Trading Cards)? I have looked at many, and used the term often without knowing their history and I was prompted to dig around a little.

As objects and format they are a relatively recent phenomenon and I don’t think they would have take off quite the same way if not for the internet. Artists Trading Cards as a project was initiated by artist M.Vänçi Stirnemann who began trading sessions in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1997. ATCs (Artists Trading Cards) measure 2 1?2 X 3 1?2 inch or 64 X 89 mm. Apart from the format restriction this is the only ‘rule’ that applies to an ATC.

Wikipedia describes ATCs as “typically made on a base of card stock. However, ATCs have been created on metal, stiffened fabric, plastic, clay, glass, balsa wood, leather, embroidery canvas, acetate, heavy watercolor paper, and many other materials. The art on the cards can be done in any media: textile arts, pencil, watercolor, acrylic, oil, collage, scratch board, mixed media, assemblage, digital art, calligraphy, beadwork, rubber stamps, carved soft block stamps, pen and ink, colored pencil, airbrush, pastels, and many others – anything artists use.”

For any blog reader you will quickly encounter ATCs because they have become very popular as internet swaps. A key concept behind the original project was that ATCs were not made for sale but were traded with other artists either in person or by mail. They are intended to be a non-commercial.

Another key concept behind them, is that they are non-hierarchical. They step outside divisions (real or imagined) between high and low or fine and folk arts. Cards are generally traded one for one between people of all ages and artistic abilities. Artists generally sign and date the back of the card.

A brief history of contemporary Artists Trading Cards describing how the original concept developed and a description of the first Artist Trading Card Session in 1997 can be found here

Art in your pocket has published an article on ATCs and creating them. If you want to know a little more browse the contributions in the Gallery section of the Artist Trading Cards site and there are a number of ATC groups online. On Flickr there is an Artist Trading card group and the Illustrated ATCs site hosts a gallery, forum and swap gallery.

I am constantly drawn to them as a format but so far have resisted embarking upon making any simply because I don’t need another thing to become obsessed with but boy are they tempting!


  1. Well, what can I say but “resistance is useless”. Succumb and be merry! Such fun (and very useful way of using up small experimental pieces)) – I love paper arts as well as textile arts and love ATCs as a way of connecting small scale with others allover who operate in bth mediums! PS They don’t have to be hugley time-consuming – you decide!!


  2. Timaree – yes I have seen the site and I am pretty sure I wrote about it earlier in the year as Susan Lenz asked me to participate – its one of the reasons I am resiting doing too much with them as I can see a habit forming very quickly!

  3. I don’t do ATCs to trade as such – but I find them a good size to practise new stitches or colour ideas – quicker than postcard sized embroideries, easy to store and flick through for ideas.

  4. I made a post about these just last week. I tried my first one. I thought it was fun to do. I’ll definitely do more. 🙂 They are also a great way to test out a new technique on a small scale. Nothing wrong at all with doing say one or two a month!

  5. I have done over a dozen ATCs for swap-bot.com, but I doubt that I will do any more. The first couple were lots and lots of fun, but I find the small size to be just too limiting. I also find the need for another kind of work area (for glue and paints) just not compatible with my threads and fabrics. And, yes, I have done several in fabric. I like working on postcards (4″ x 6″) or fabric journal pages (8 1/2″ x 11″) to be much more reasonable for the kind of scale I find in fabric prints.

  6. Anna LOL – yes I could – I could get into lots f stuff to reduce my stash but it would take my focus away from projects I am working on. I might get into them but not this year as I have a quilt or so I want to complete and since that is a a lot of hand work I am wanting to keep myself on track … but I do like them a heck of a lot

  7. Our doll club did an ATC swap last year. We had so much fun with it. The best part was having a little bit of art from all of our fellow club members. I opted to make mine all similar with hand-drawn faces on fabric and fused fabric strips. I also discovered that having a few on hand are great to mount on blank greeting cards to send to friends. Thanks for the info on who started this craze. 🙂


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