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GCU Marketability Standards Policy

On the heels of our recent landmark of reaching 500,000 cards in July 2011, it is due time for GCU to turn an honest and critical eye to our existing collection and new cards.  To date, GCU has accepted virtually all submitted work and artists.  Today we are introducing a Marketability Standards policy.  Based on GCU’s evaluation of marketability and commercial appeal, GCU will begin saying “no thank you” to cards.    
The Marketability Standards and Guidelines will raise the bar on card designs to increase professionalism and marketability and ultimately a better experience for our shoppers.  This will up the overall product quality on GCU which reflects on all artists in our community as shoppers view GCU as a single store.  Our goal is to provide a selection of greeting cards to the buying public that are competitive, professional, and equal to the highest level of design.
Although we’d like to say this process will be clear cut, objective and quantitative, in practice that is quite impossible.  By nature it is subjective and heavily qualitative.  However here are some of the elements that we have established as standards and guidelines that our reviewers will be looking at.

Marketability Guideline Areas Examples (in process)
Subject Matter: poor, random, unrelated, not professional

REASON: Card is not professional looking. Poor mix of photo and graphics.

REASON: Poor quality pet photo.

Reason sent to artist when this card was declined:  The photo of the dog is not only blurry but contains distracting elements in the background that are telltale signs of a home snapshot. It seems the shading effect of the purple background is used to try to mask or correct the poor background of the photo. Although he/she's adorable this pose perhaps isn't the best to be used for sale. Compare your photo to this one for example which has the background snipped out, not blurry and clear eyes and no distracting accessories (scarf).

Image Quality – clarity, color, lighting, angle, cropping, shadows, composition,  misuse of filter, out of focus, exposure, particularly with photographs

REASON: Photo is not professional looking, with baseboard showing in the background and poor lighting.


REASON: Photo is not completely in focus, unfortunately!

REASON: Plain. Lacks good lighting. Nothing jumps out. Like many others.

REASON: Snapshot images should look professional, with appropriate lighting.

REASON: Snapshot iImages should look professional, and have no distracting background elements.

Misuse/overuse of filters -
Artists should use a light hand hand with filters. There are many tutorials on the Internet on the use of the various filters available. Filters are not intended to be used in their default settings; it often takes a lot of tweaking and the use of more than one filter to achieve an attractive image. A filter will not save a bad photo.

Overused Image -  
Unrelated Image - not related nor appropriate to occasion/category, gender, relation, age, etc.  
Any Reason - on a case by case basis we reserve the right to not accept a card considered to be lacking in commercial appeal

REASON: The composition and photograph will not produce a quality greeting card.  Distracting and unprofessional background elements and shadows.  Poor composition (cake is not centered).  Digital designs are not polished. 

FLOWERS - Problems to avoid


Lacks Interest
Lacks a Focal Point
No Wow Factor
Bright Sunshine on the front half and shadows on the back half of this image, are not working well together and are rather distracting.

Distracting pink flower in upper right corner of background
Lacks a Wow factor
Foreground flowers are out of focus
Too much negative space surrounding main flower
Image is slightly over exposed

Flower front is shaded
Flower is not properly lit
Lacks a Wow Factor
Too much clutter in background
Distracting other flower elements in background which takes your eye away from the main flower

Lacks a main subject
No Wow factor
Garden bush and garden flowers are competing for attention
Too much distracting garden elements in background
Pink Flower in Center, and two small purple flowers on right side are distractions

No Subject
No Wow Factor
Looks like weeds
Lighting is flat
Basic snapshot

Distracting sunlight in upper right corner
Rose is too centered (Would suggest the rose be off center for more appeal)
Lighting is flat
Too much negative space surrounding the subject flower

Bad Snap Shot
Image is not well lit
Rose is overexposed
Shadows are distracting in the background

Lighting is flat and underexposed
Light pink flower petals are bumpy and showing their age
Speckled background is distracting
Darker pink flower on left is cut off which isn't appealing

Subject flowers are too centered
Distracting dead flower petals on ground
This could have been a much better photo as a close up without the dead petals on the ground
Bright sunlit leaves are distracting


Problems to avoid - Before and After (Flowers)

Negative Element 1 = Harsh shadow under the flower

Negative Element 2 = Muddy background which should have been white.

Positive Element 1  = The flower is nicely lit.

Note the changes to the shadowing and background.



Other - Problems to avoid

Not Marketable
Image lacks a good focal point.
No wow factor
Lighting is off
Yellow lines on pavement are distracting
Bird wing in lower left corner is distracting
Seagull image would have been better if taken on the beach and not in a parking lot

Unacceptable Image
Bird is not well lit
Bright Background and dark foreground are distracting
Distracting element at top of photo takes our eye away from the main bird subject
Bird is looking off the frame which tends to lead our eyes off the image.
Bird should look into center of frame to make a stronger image and keep our eyes on the photo

Unacceptable Image
Butterfly does not pop.
Background and butterfly colors blend together.
White Blown highlights on leaf (should be green)
Distracting orange line in background to right of butterfly draws your eye away from the butterfly.



1.  Be creative, compositions should use creative and appropriate framing/treatment around or enhancing the photo.  Specifically: Photo area should serve as the focal point of the overall design. Compositional emphasis should be on the photo, not other elements on the card. In other words, the design shouldn’t look like the artist took an existing greeting card, and shoehorned a photo on it.  Preferably, smaller photo areas should be framed in a way that makes sense with the rest of the design.  Shape of photo area, if not generic (circle, square, rectangle) should be in keeping with the purpose of the card (for example, a Christmas tree shaped area on a Valentine’s Day card would be in error).
2.  Maximize the photo size as the focal point.   Specifically: Entire photo area (a single photo or multiple photos) should ideally use 1/3 to 1/2 of the card’s surface. Exceptions will be made for exceptional designs.
3.  NOT a one size fits all approach.  If design is used to create multiple cards, elements should vary and be appropriate by occasion, age, relation, gender 

See this Special blog post on Custom Front Photo Cards.

Before and After example


Not Marketable


Photo has a frame

Good correlation of photo frame and the card text

Card has a specific purpose

The review team will begin to apply these standards to newly submitted cards.  No cards will be grandfathered in.  GCU will also begin weeding through existing cards and saying “no thank you” to those deemed not marketable.  Ultimately the direction is for new artists to submit sample work for evaluation before opening a GCU storefront.
This is an excellent time for all artists to look at their body of work with a critical eye as well.  Schedule your own “Weed out Week” where artists look at their own cards and remove those designs that you feel do not reflect your best work or do not shine with professionalism and polish.  The biggest concerns will be those images of poor quality (blurry, poor lighting, unrelated subject matter, snapshots of household items, distracting/unsavory background items, etc.) Consider using your family and friends and peer artists as honest and frank critics and participating in the GCU Community BLOG Critique Clinic.  

Please note, the bar of quality and professionalism that we are setting is not too high and can easily be achieved w/o professional training.
We realize many artists will not be happy about this new policy.   This is another corner for GCU and artists to turn and we will all feel the growing pains.  However we are confident that this is a fair and necessary step as GCU grows and strives to be the leader in online paper greeting card sales.

Helpful links:

Photo Tips by Artist Doreen Erhardt.

Photographing Pets by Artist Peggy Mundell and Photographing Animals by Doreen Erhardt

Photography Tips for the Beginner by Artist Sheryl Kasper

Photographing Flowers by Artist Doreen Erhardt

The Fundamentals of Focusing Techniques by Artist Doreen Erhardt

Marketability tips in the Community Blog