My 10 Commandments For Designing Sports Cards

Since so many products are being released as a new year with only slightly updated designs, its time to have a talk. As I have mentioned before, I have incredibly high standards for my own personal collection, to the point where I wont buy a card if it doesnt meet most of my personal rules. Here is a breakdown of how I judge things, broken up into my 10 commandments.

Thou shalt not use vertical orientation for jumbo patch auto cards

Jumbo patches are usually hard to fit into a standard card front, which is why so many companies use booklets. To try to cram a jumbo patch into a vertical oriented card is close to impossible, at least without relegating the player to a jail at the top of the design. Each of the companies has put out cards like this, mainly because every card designer wants to try their hand at the wheel. Because the horizontal orientation always looks better, I dont think its worth continuing to try.

2013 Absolute EJ Manuel Jumbo Patch Auto /49

Topps Sterling Mike Schmidt Jumbo Relic Auto

Thou shalt not make a card without a player picture

We collect cards for one reason, and its the players or sports depicted on the cards. Without that element to the front of the card, I really dont understand why anyone would buy it. Panini has decided on a few occasions that an oversized relic is more important that the person who it belongs to, which makes my blood boil. Not only is it ugly to just put a border on a giant swatch, I dont really see the point.

2012 National treasures Dwight Freeney Jumbo Pro Bowl Patch

2012 Panini Prime Sidney Crosby Jumbo Patch

Thou shalt not use studio pictures

Sports is about dynamic action, at least in all the major sports we collect. Because dynamic action always inspires amazing photography, I have no fucking clue why anyone would want to move away from that part of the attraction. Studio shots, especially in football, present the player away from their practice, therefore forcing them to try to be models. Athletes arent models, and it shows. More importantly, most athletes arent attractive, thus making it more difficult to want a card like that in your collection.

2010 Limited Rob Gronkowski Initial Steps Auto

2012 Topps Five Star Trevor Bauer Auto

Thou shalt not build products around sticker autos

This is a tough one, because the product calendars in each of the sports we collect dont always lend themselves well to securing on card auto content. Every product should be built around SOME element of hard signed autos, even if the rest of the product has to be stickers. The default configuration is stickers these days, and companies have resorted to building the products this way. Its even more frustrating when a super high end product uses sticker autos. Because veteran autos can be built far ahead of time for signing, collectors should speak mightily about more content of this sort.

2012 Topps Triple Threads Mike Trout Auto Jersey

Thou shalt not use defined boxes for sticker autos

This is what I cant quite process. All the card companies design the cards, knowing what elements will be added on, whether its a sticker auto or a swatch. To require a big white box to be used to highlight the autograph on a sticker is ludicrous, because the design was something that should have considered that fact. Not only does the big box behind the sticker look hideous every time the companies use it, they should have had every opportunity to design the card differently.

2011 Panini Elite Cam Newton Auto RC

2012 Contenders Case Keenum Auto Ticket RC

Thou shalt not use sticker autos on dark backgrounds

Obviously this brings me to my next point, which is basically a very similar way of stating the above commandment. When designing a card with stickers in play, why would a black or dark background ever be considered? Its pretty obvious that the blue pen wont be showing up as well, so that means that its going to be stupid to use a dark background. Not a good idea.

2012 Panini Black Luke Kuechly Auto RC

Thou shalt not use foil as the stock

Its one thing to use foil embellishments to make a card look regal, but its completely different to use rainbow or regular foil as the stock. Foil stock, by nature is extremely condition sensitive, which makes little utility in a hobby focused on mint status. To add insult to injury, the foil often highlights poor design, as it is hard to take in the card as a whole when every part of it is shiny. These arent pretty pretty princess cards, either, and a clean white or color stock is much more visual appealing.

2012 Panini Totally Certified Russell Wilson Patch Auto /5

2012 Topps Triple Threads Nick Foles Auto Jersey

Thou shalt not make text or product logos the focus of the design

A number of products in the past have taken the use of fonts and product logos to a place they should never go. Either the text covers the entire front of the card making the design busy and hard to digest. Similarly, large product logos that obscure surface area that can be used for the design elements that are necessary to make a card appealing, should be similarly axed from consideration.

2012 Panini Prizm Miguel Cabrera Gold Refractor /10

2009 Contenders Mike Wallace Rookie Ticket Auto

Thou shalt not make dual player cards with players on different value tiers

To be honest, its rare that multi-player cards work to the point of both players adding combined value. Most of the time, one player is great and the other is junk, or something to that degree. Of course there are successful cards where both players are adding to the value of the final product, but its only when both players are on the same tier. Team affiliation or rookie year is not an excuse to put two or more players on a card, just want to make that clear.

2012 Five Star Russell Wilson / Robert Turbin Dual Auto

2010 Topps Tribute John Elway / Tim Tebow Dual Auto

Thou shalt not rely on swatch content to be the focus of a card’s design

This is a big one for me, as it is rarely considered among the companies who approach their sets with the wrong perspective. Ridiculous patches are great, but they are much more valuable when the design is similarly great. In fact, now that crazy patches are the rule, rather than the exception to the rule, the design HAS to be nice to match. Let me be PERFECTLY FUCKING CLEAR here, you do not need to sacrifice design and visual appeal just for the sake of getting a bigger patch in the card.

2013 Panini Immaculate LeBron James Jumbo Patch

2009 Topps Unique Tom Brady Jumbo Patch Auto

2013 Playbook Ryan Tannehill Triple Booklet Logo

I would love to hear some of your commandments in the comments if you have them, Im sure there are some great ones out there.

2 thoughts on “My 10 Commandments For Designing Sports Cards

  1. Thou shalt always employ, at least, one former Upper Deck design team member and this person shall have final say over all product design releases.

    Thou shalt fire any design team member who blatantly copies or replicates in any form the hideous designs of miserably failed products from the past.

    Thou shalt ensure that all design team members are aware of the ability of fading a photo instead of just cropping it.

  2. Thou shall not make multiple player cards at all for any reason no matter what the connection is. There is no dual player premium card that is more impressive than those 2 players on individual cards by themselves..

    Even a Babe Ruth Ty Cobb auto card is not as impressive or able to convey solid design and focus as individual cards featuring those players..

    Thou shall make every effort to minimize or eliminate borders on cards

    Thou shall make COA for autos that are on the cards, evident but unobtrusive, not removable or easily forgable.

    The same goes for the brand name and logo of the product(s). The product name should not be the most eye catching or noticeable part of the card

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