How To Design Your Own QSL Cards

QSL Cards, Our Identity to the World of Amateur Radio

General Design Specifications For QSL Cards

QSL Cards used in the United States are generally 5.5 Inches by 3.5 Inches.
Other sizes can be used but, there are many Hams that use plastic holders which
will only accept a card at this size.

When designing a QSL Card for offset printing (traditional printing done by
commercial printers), it is important to supply the printer with files they wish to
work with. This usually means that they want files created with industry accepted
software packages. Software packages accepted by commercial printers are:
QuarkXpress, Adobe Indesign, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw. Check with your
printer first as they may not wish to support certain programs or versions of
programs. Many printers will accept Adobe Acrobat files but they must be properly
created. More of that later.

Initial Design Guidelines

We will use QSL Card - QSL6 as seen on this site.

We start our design with a page size of 5.5 In. x 3.5 In. Additionally, we will add
1/8 Inch of bleed on all four sides of the QSL Card. Bleed is required when a
photo or a background color prints to the paper edge. What is important to
remember is: if using a photograph to print on your entire card background such
as QSL6, the photograph must be 5.75x3.75 inches (5.5"+1/8" bleed left and
1/8" bleed right = 5.75) and (3.5" plus 1/8" bleed top and 1/8" bleed bottom =

One other consideration is the margin on the card. At least 1/8" margin from the
card edge should be used. I recommend 1/12th to 1/4". That gives the card a
better look.

If you look at the image of QSL6, will notice a red outline. This is the card edge.
The bleed area extends from the red outline to the green outline. Anything in this
area will be trimmed off the card and discarded. The blue outline is the margin.
This is where your type should start. Because of the printing and cutting process,
it is considered safe to start your type or photo elements which you wish to print
inside the blue outline. If you go outside the blue margin area it is quite possible
that your card might be trimmed in the margin area and there will be a loss of
photo or type information.
QSL6 showing bleed and margin
Photographic Considerations

The photograph you select should be at least 5.75x3.5 inches. This includes the
1/8 inch bleed. So, remember that the bleed area will be removed and that there
is a possibility that some of the margin area will also be removed.

The photo specifications are as follows:

The image should be 300 dpi at 5.75x3.75 inches. Another way of putting it, your
photo should be at lease 1725x1125 pixels. These are minimum sizes. If your
photo is larger one way or the other then some of the photo will be cropped off. If
your photo is larger in both directions, it will be reduced to the closest dimension
before cropping.

If using a digital camera, set it to the larges pixel dimension and the lowest jpeg
compression (highest quality) setting your camera can produce.

If your image is in RGB, let it in that color space. If it is in CMYK, then let it there.

It is best to let the printer or designer change the color space of the photo as
there are many technical considerations to address.

The color gamut (number of colors) in RGB is much greater than CMYK, but, CMYK
is the color space that commercial printers use. When you convert a photo from
RGB to CMYK, you will see a loss in colors. They will be compressed into a smaller
space and because of that the photos won't look quite as good as a photographic
print. The challenge is to make your photograph appear better than it actually is
in a smaller, compressed color space. This is one area best left to experienced
personnel. Just remember, no matter how talented the personnel, your
photograph won't look quite as good as a photograph. It is simply a limitation of
the printing press.

Program Considerations

Talk to your printer or designer first. The preference of almost all printers is:
QuarkXpress or InDesign. These two programs will produce the best results.

Photoshop is not considered a good program for doing type. I would not
recommend Photoshop for anything other than the photographic elements. Just
keep in mind that your photo should be 300 dpi at bleed size as mentioned
before. If you do want to use Photoshop, keep your type as a type layer and do
not rastarize the type. That will produce good looking type. Contact me about
specific settings for sending a Photoshop file to me.

Programs to stay away from are any Microsoft Office programs. These programs
work in RGB and despite what you may read about them, they don't do a very
good job in the commercial printing field. Many printers simply refuse to take files
such as Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Publisher. Although Publisher has made
strides to work in CMYK, it is a difficult program for printers to work in and to
correct many of the easily made mistakes.
Check back often as I will continue adding to this section