What Is A Sketch Card?

This page, and the translated French version HERE, exists simply to informs those gentle people who happen along my part of the internet road, and don’t have any idea what a sketch card is.

After having worked in the sketch card world since 2006, I often forget that not everyone knows what a sketch card actually is, and people are usually very surprised when they find out that the sketch, drawing, or painting is only a teeny little thing. To be honest, where I live nearly no one knows what it is! In fact, there is not even a word in the French Canadian language for “sketch card” or “art card”. Several years ago we phoned the Office Québecois de la Langue Française to inquire what the word or phrase would be, and the kind (and very funny) man whose name I’ve forgotten, had to think long and hard before coming up with “carte de collection d’art”. Until someone comes up with a different version, it is what I will go with here when the french version of this page is available.

There are many places online where you can get more information, and over time I will try to keep a list of relevant links posted here, for anyone’s random curiosity.


So get on with it then, what’s a sketch card?

A sketch card can go by many names, such as an ATC (Artist Trading Card), an ACEO (Art Cards, Editions, Originals), or my personal favorite, an Art Card, and is the same size as a standard trading card: 2.5 x 3.5 inches. ACEO’s have been around longer than the current sketch cards. (update: Topps now occasionally includes art cards that are slightly wider than regular art cards, often called “widevision cards” – 2 ½ x 4 ⅝ inches, just so you know)

Art Cards can be done in any medium, of any subject, and can be given away, traded, or made available for sale. There is, however, a difference between original art cards and printed art cards. Both have value, depending on what the buyer is looking for, but an original sketch/art card is a card that has been drawn or painted by hand.

Since I entered this small but buzzing field, the market has changed tremendously, and in my opinion it will continue to change for a good while more. Art, as a whole, is a very personal thing anyway, so the chances are pretty good that someone will keep coming up with a new sketch card/art card idea. Art is also, by nature, collectable, and the unsung art card is perfect for collecting. It fits anywhere (even in your pocket, should you so desire), and can be displayed like any other creation. Even though Art Cards are small on the outside, they have big heart on the inside. And because they are small, it is possible for anyone to acquire original art from a wide range of artists, and styles.

According to Wikipedia (and of course, we all know Wikipedia is never wrong…), one could go way back to 1875 when the US-based Allen and Ginter tobacco company would include cards depicting baseball players, Indian chiefs, and boxers. In the United Kingdom,  W. D. and H. O. Wills included advertising cards with their cigarettes, but in 1893 John Players and Sons could perhaps be credited with the beginning of themed “sets” of [trading] cards called “Castles and Abbeys”. Other companies followed suit over time with the focus being, from what I can see, generally on sports with big stars and women with big…

Hmmm. Things have not changed much… 🙂

Except that popular culture is much bigger now than it was in those days (note: and then again, is it? Popular culture has been around since humans had hands to draw, write, and sew with – fictional characters and scenarios have always had a big place in the human village). Sports and women are still hot topics in the trading card world, but television and movies have provided another great outlet for fans and nerds alike to have a piece of something important to them. Sketch/art cards became a part of that when in the ’90’s, Skybox International included redemption cards with their trading cards sets for “Art de Bart” sketch cards from The Simpsons. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings pushed the popularity of art cards, perhaps not to the mainstream, but enough that there are now many more collectors, and so many more artists creating these cards, than ever before.

Art cards, despite being popular, are having their fair share of growing pains. Artists outnumber collectors (for now), prices that artists sell their work for range from a few dollars to many hundreds of dollars. And then there are the scandals. Yes indeed, even this quiet world of art has had its nastiness. But this is not the place to elaborate.

I admit it, the last part was included to keep your interest… (but it’s true)

What A Sketch Card Is Not

Because a sketch/art card has been defined as a piece of original art, by default a card that has been printed is not a sketch card or art card, as such. Sketch/art cards that have been pre-printed with artwork then falls into a different category. To be clear, each can have their value, but the person who is paying money for the card must know before purchasing what type of card she or he is buying, or else the value will drop.

To summarize:

In brief, here are the practical stats:

Size: 2.5 x 3.5 inches (“tobacco” cards are 1.5 x 2.5 inches, and are very rare)

Medium: Any medium including, but not limited to: pencil/graphite, pen, inks, marker, watercolor, gouache, acrylic, oil, collage…

Art Styles: Any style at all, from a loose pencil sketch to completely finished paintings. From abstract to comics to high realism.

Where to find them: There are many companies now including sketch/art cards in their trading card sets, if you are a trading card fan. Topps Entertainment, Cryptozoic Entertainment, Rittenhouse Archives, Perna Studios, and Upper Deck, are just a few of the numerous companies producing trading card sets that sometimes include art cards. Not every trading card set will include art cards – only those sets specifically marked as including them will contain those extras. There are many independents as well, producing “underground” sets that might appeal to a smaller number of fans for now, but have big potential. Contacting artists directly is a great option for those wishing to own a card. Most are willing to talk and work with you on any particular project you might have in mind.

Many artists, myself included, have been contacted on a regular basis to create commissioned cards, and occasionally even larger sets of art cards. I’ve done (and am still doing) a few personally commissioned sets that contained anywhere from ten to over fifty commissioned cards. These are beautiful sets that the owners are usually very proud of, and either keep to pass on to others or eventually sell.

If you have actually read this far, first off I congratulate you! 🙂 I’m not known for being short and sweet (more like tall and sweet, if you must know). If you wish to find out more about these little cards, your best bet is to start with a few sketch card forums, or find your favorite trading card company’s website to see what they have to offer. Wikipedia has a decent (but probably not complete) article on trading cards and non-sports cards.

Below is an incomplete list of sketch card forums: (for more links, please visit my LINKS page)

Scoundrel Art Forum

Non Sports Update Card Talk

Sketch Card Fanatics Forum

Sketch Card Fanatics On Facebook

Non Sports Card Forum

Sketch Collectors

The Trading Card Museum

Sketch Card Art on Facebook

 Obligatory Disclaimer:

This is not an “official” article, nor is it by any means complete, as there is so much more to sketch/art cards than I’ve written and included here. I do not claim that the timeline in the description is accurate either. This is simply for the curiosity of those people who happen across my site, and do not have any idea what a sketch card  is. As an illustrator myself, this is not the only area in which I work, but it’s an area I like very much. I’m not sure that there exists yet, an authorized and all-encompassing account of The Scandalous World of Sketch Cards. But there should be. 🙂

One of my cards for Topps Masterwork trading card set. 2.5 x 3.5 inches, acrylic.

One of my cards for Topps Masterwork trading card set. 2.5 x 3.5 inches, acrylic paint on wood (yes, a wooden card)


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