Make Swiss Design Inspired Business Cards in 30 Minutes

This is what we’ll end up with (click the image to see it in full scale).

Preview

Introduction

To some, the idea of the business card might seem a little outdated—a remnant from the days when we didn’t have super cool touch screen phones with our super cool digital address books.

However, the business card is still a very robust method for getting your name out there. For one thing, it’s much quicker and easier to pull a card out of your pocket than to have someone take out their phone and type out your information on its tiny keys.

Secondly, the business card is physical and tactile. It is a tangible reminder the person that hands it out.

And finally, a business card has a certain air of professionalism attached to it: The business card shows that you mean—well—business.

So now that you’ve decided that you need business cards, how do you go about getting some made?

Well, there are always printers you can hire to make cards for you. They’ll even design it for you, if you want (which would be ironic if you were a designer). However, the costs can sometimes be prohibitive, especially if you get all sorts of different finishes and treatments for your cards.

Then, of course, there’s always the option of having some business cards made online. Some of these services will even do it for free. But you’ll have very little control over how your business cards will look.

If you’re on a budget and would still like have great looking business cards, one of the best solutions is to design and print them at home.

I’ll walk you through how to make very simple business cards that pay homage to Swiss design.

What is Swiss Style design?

For those of you not familiar with Swiss Style, also known as the International Typographic Style, it is—at its most basic definition—a style of graphic design that emphasizes readability, cleanliness, and clarity while using typography as main design elements.

The Swiss Style emphasizes the notion that "form follows function." And with business cards—whose main function is to give out your contact information to people—readability and clarity are definitely appreciated. You definitely don’t want to lose a client because they couldn’t read your business card.

Resources

What you will need apart from Adobe Illustrator and your computer:

  • Card stock
  • A printer
  • A stiff ruler
  • A box cutter (or if you have a photo trimmer or one of those paper cutters, even better.

Step 1: Setting up your Adobe Illustrator Artboard

You can fit 8 business cards on a single A4 sheet of paper. The dimensions of your business card should be 3.5 x 2 inches for a standard size business card.

Setting up your Adobe Illustrator Artboard

Step 2: Designing your business card

Since this business card is inspired by Swiss design, I knew from the start that I didn’t want to put images on my business card and that I want the design to focus on typography as the main design elements.

Font selection

For this business card, I chose sans serif fonts in keeping with the desire for readability and cleanliness. The typefaces I chose were:

  1. Helvetica: To keep the design firmly grounded in the Swiss style. One can even say that Helvetica is the epitome of the Swiss Design style with its clean lines and its creator’s intention to make a neutral font.
  2. Chalet New York 1980: The Chalet font family is a fairly new collection of fonts released in 2000. It is mostly derived from Akzidenz Grotesk and Helvetica. The result is the more modern and clean look of the Chalet font family.
  3. Chalet Paris 1960: With its delicate stroke weight brings a little softness to the design of the card.
  4. Rockwell: Gives the design a little bit of a twist. Rockwell isn’t a sans serif font but rather, it is a ‘slab serif’ font. However, in the context of this particular design, Rockwell’s monoweight strokes complement the other sans serif fonts quite nicely.

Designing your business card

When you’re satisfied with the layout of the business card, you can select all the design elements using the Selection Tool (V) and while everything is selected, press and hold the Alt/Option key on your keyboard to drag out 7 copies of the business card design that you can place in the other art boards.

Make sure to align the text properly. You can turn on the Snap to features (View > Snap to Grid and View > Snap to Point) of Illustrator in the View menu to make this easier.

Step 3: Swiss Style remixed

Up to this point, I’ve stayed pretty much in the Swiss design mindset. So far, the design is neat, legible, and conveys all the contact information I want people to have.

However, Swiss design emerged in the 1950’s. I was born in the mid 80’s and I’m working in 2010. I think it’s time to add some more current design elements.

Adding vibrance to Swiss Style

One thing I love about the 80’s is the liberal use of color that emerged from that decade. And one thing I love about current design styles is the resourcefulness of designers who often use design elements in unexpected ways to create something new.

So now, I aim to combine these two things by some adding colors to the business cards while using a rather large charcoal brush to apply that color. The charcoal brush has nice jittery edges that will make for interesting results.

To do this, create a new layer for the color splash and place it under the layer on which we have all the text.

Then, you take the Brush Tool (B) and select a 20pt charcoal brush. Set the fill to None and the Stroke color to the color you want to use. Draw out short, random paths with the Brush Tool to achieve different effects.

By having short paths with a large charcoal brush stroke, you can achieve some pretty unexpected results. Play around with it until you’re satisfied. 

Swiss Style remixed

I decided to use a lot of different colors so that I have 8 slightly different business cards that I can give out to people.

To change the colors of the splashes, select the path whose color you want to change with the Selection Tool (V) and go to the Appearance Panel. Change the stroke color to whatever color you want.

Swiss Style remixed

To make things a little more interesting, you can change the blending mode of the text layer to "Difference" in the Transparency Panel. By doing this, you bring out the inverted color of the color splash you just applied to parts of the text. It’s a simple and easy way to add some boldness to your card.

To do this, first select the text layer in your Layers Panel and click on the small circle beside the name of the layer to select all the elements on the layer. Then go to the Transparency Panel and choose Difference.

Swiss Style remixed

You now have some interesting looking business cards ready for print.

Step 4: Printing your cards

To print your business cards, first load up your printer with your card stock.

Then go to File > Print (Cmd/Ctrl + P) to open the Print dialog window. You’ll need to click on the "Ignore Artboards" box and orient the layout to print in Landscape mode. Refer to the image below for guidance.

Swiss Style remixed

Step 5: Cut up your business cards

With your business cards printed, take your box cutter and ruler, and cut along the sides. Depending on your card stock thickness, you may have to do this one sheet at a time. This is where a photo trimmer comes in handy as they can allow you to do more sheets at a time as well as make sure that your edges are professionally trimmed.

However, by using a box cutter, the edges can have unique nuances that make each business card distinct and personal (or it can make them look unprofessional—so be careful).

Swiss Style remixed

Conclusion

These are the actual cards I give out to people when I’m doing photography for parties and club events and I’ve gotten some very nice compliments and some very good contacts.

Sure, these business cards that we made are very low budget and it’s almost unfair that they are so easy to make. Some people might think that’s a bad thing. However, just keep in mind that while some of your peers might have some super awesome business cards printed on organic paper made from the pulp of extinct trees from the Amazon rainforest, the business cards that you made at home do the exact same thing as theirs.

The truth is: Your business card will not help you make a good impression on someone. All a business card can do for you is make it easier for prospective clients and new contacts to get in touch with you when you do make a good impression with your work and your personality. A business card is just a small piece of paper.

Some parting words

There was a movie that came out in 2000 called "American Psycho" starring Christian Bale. There was a scene in the movie where Christian Bale’s character had an internal monologue about how envious he was of his colleague’s business card design.  In the movie, Christian Bale’s character ends up being crazy.

Don’t be like Christian Bale (even though he’s Batman).

Preview

If you’ve created some home-made business cards, share them with us on Design Instruct’s Flickr group pool.

Download Source Files

  • Awesome tutorial! thanks!

  • RCO

    Yup, but readability is bad in your example, so there’s nothing with Swiss Design.. ;(

  • nora

    Really cool! Thanks for the detailed how-to. Will have to try this when I get home 🙂

  • Good to see a high-quality Illustrator tutorial on business card design. Thanks.

  • Very bad, nothing that you sould be teaching to anyone. Everything is wrong.
    The card looks horrible, you show how to make a card with 3 – 4 different types, thats completely wrong and should never be done. A card must have a distinct type font selected that should be used in the card and the rest of the identity.

    Im not gonna talk to much about the card itself, since it could only be a example, but its truly bad. Dont know much about swiss design, but i can guess its far better than that.

  • Arsenic

    I’m not sure if this is even close to Swiss design. Seems sloppy. Colors not complimenting. And too much variety in font and font sizes. We’ll that’s from a designers point of view. Sorry Isaac. 🙁

  • You really can’t be much clearer than what it is. I think maybe we must be looking at different things though.

  • Source files? Thanks 🙂 Very good tut.

  • Nice to see you only post the good words. I was constructive in my feedback, i gave my reasons why i think its bad. So its a shame to see how you can controll your posts with only the good words.

  • The source files are available for download above, at the bottom of the post. Are you having issues downloading it?

  • Peter,

    We moderate comments to make sure they are not spam, not as a form of censoring legitimate reader comments. This is a necessary measure to ensure that the discussions in the comments are high-quality and relevant to the topic. As a result, comments aren’t automatically posted and take a while to show.

    We do not delete any comments, positive or negative, as long as they are constructive. We are not in the habit of controlling opinions and we will only remove comments that are offensive and that are spam in nature. We welcome, and in fact, encourage you to share your views and opinions on the subject.

  • To be fair to Jacob, the design is most definitely typography-based. The layout and key elements are all typographic. The only deviation is the brush stroke of color which is held in place by the font that it accents. Whether you like it or not is not the point. Jacob has show us some simple steps to creating a business card and many designers/creatives out there who are just beginning in their field can benefit from these sort of tutorials.

    Let’s not quibble about the exact understanding of the term Swiss Style. Sure, it’s not ‘classic’ Swiss Style but the basic concept of grounding the design with bold clean type faces is consistent with the International Typographic Style, aka Swiss Style. Jacob’s card is easy to read and focuses attention on the text. Many business cards do the opposite, preferring to focus attention on graphic elements and colors.

    Thanks Jacob for the tutorial.

    Marlowe

  • Ok sorry than, i saw my comment beeing hold and other being posted in front..not used to comment very much

    So sorry again

  • You forgot to tilt the type at 45 degrees. 😉

  • I have to agree, this doesn’t quite feel Swiss.

  • I doubt I want to use that many fonts just for one business card.

  • Aaron Dickey

    Hmmmm… If I may…

    Swiss design, also known as the International Typographic Style is built on the idea of being simple. Helvetica being the font of choice and really, THE ONLY font of choice. Swiss designers never use more than one font on any piece, although they do use a few different sizes.

    The grid system is also a main part of swiss style, which this piece does use but a little too extreme in my opinion.

    Color of choice? Black. And if another color is needed… Red.

    I would say the title tells it like it is, It’s swiss INSPIRED.

    So yes, I can see some swiss in it, but I can also see where the design went off the style quite a bit.

    I would say the top is very Armin Hofmann and the bottom is more deconstructivist.

  • To add to your comment, if people look at Step 2, I think that’s where you can see Swiss Style the most. Black red, white, gridded, typography-centered. Simple and clean serif fonts.

    But if people actually took the time to read the tutorial, they would see that Isaac wanted to remix *his* business cards to add a bit of color. So the base, is Swiss Style inspired.

  • I agree with Peter Steven. These are not even close to Swiss/international style or even inspired by and look very student like. They need to be polished up more and seem to be shouting for attention is a bad way. Also where is the Grid? Swiss design is about simplicity, Strong typography (not like 3-4 different typefaces) and the grid.

    “To some, the idea of the business card might seem a little outdated” lol who thinks that? business cards are very important, even if you have the client, when you meet them, you better give them your card.

    Now tips to improve the card. Make logotype smaller, stick with one/two typeface not including logotype. Remove those color splats, they look sloppy, find another element. Go to colourlovers web site and find a colorway that represents you. ( hint: staying neutral will lead to more clients and appeal larger audience)
    Try to stick with a font size around 9-10, 11max. These are just some tips of the top, but will give you a more polished/swiss end result. Also, don’t print your own business cards. seriously, its not expensive. Go to clubflyers.com and order 1,000 for around $35, full color, double sided gloss prints, or if you have cash to burn taste of ink studios is well worth the money at around $200( yeah the cards are that good)

    Thanks for putting up the process and taking the time. E for effort.

  • I think it’s a good tutorial, I’d remove the “Swiss Design Inspired” part though. The only Swiss thing I see there is the use of Helvetica.

  • I hate to harshly criticize anyone but there’s nothing Swiss about this design and I think the article is misleading by suggesting such a thing. If you look at Swiss design, there’s more involved then just using Helvetica and making it simple. Also the notion that images aren’t part of the Swiss design process is baseless and flat out wrong. More resource should have been done prior to writing this article.

  • Matt

    Well said. If you use helvetica, stick with it. Don’t add rockwell and call it swiss. It lost its swiss element when you added the brushes. Inspiration : http://crawlspacemedia.com/swiss-posters/

  • sorry, but just because there are a lot of fonts in use does not mean the design is in anyway “typography-based.” typography has much more to do with proportions, harmony, and use of a grid system than just choosing typefaces based on perceived historical relevance.

    there is nothing in this article about the relation of the type to the card or the grid, nor is there any mention or even understanding of the use of a baseline grid. the point sizes are arbitrarily chosen and there is no sense of hierarchy in the typography.

    this is not the type of information those “who are just beginning in the field” should learn. if you want to truly lean about the international style, then pick up a copy of brockmann’s the grid system and start learning about the rules of modern typography.

  • Hi Jacob,

    I will not place a comment about the look & feel of your buzz-card design, because taste is subjective. What you like I don’t have to like at all, and vice versa … respect for that.

    What my main problem is with your article is that what you write is totally wrong and inconsistent with the principles of graphic design (the ‘old school’- basics).

    The first deadly sin is mixing 4 types together, specially when you name it ‘Swiss Style Inspired’. Can’t agree more with @Peter Steven, @Arsenic and especially with @Aaron Dickey (he’s won the lottery with his correct definition!).

    More deadly sins in your tut: where’s your bleed (can’t see it and not mentioned)? No outlines created for your types (not mentioned)? RBG colors in Illy (not mentioned)? And if I would open your .AI-file I’ll probably find more common ‘mistakes’.

    It’s also a bit farfetched to call it “Swiss Style inspired” .. if you have just one or two common aspects from this International Typographic Style in your design? But okay, maybe you differ in this opinion and thank God it’s a free world. I hope you respect my opinion ..?

    Bottom-line: It’s okay to share with your readers, but (please) do it in accordance with the basic graphic design principles, so that your readers can actually learn ‘the right way’ and get better in designing buzz cards, .. or whatever.

    With kind and professional regards, Cheers & Ciao ..

  • Elmas

    What part of Switzerland is this design from?
    You want to see real Swiss design?
    http://www.aisleone.net

  • I think he is referring to the paint splatter which doesn’t feel Swiss in the least. In addition… I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have used 4 different typefaces with no real grid.

    So yes, this title irrelevant, but its obviously chosen to appeal to what is popular so that people will visit. A little underhanded, but what blog isn’t doing that nowadays…

    Other than the title being incredibly misleading, this is a very useful way to mockup business cards quickly if you need them ASAP. Otherwise, its not the most cost/time effective approach.

  • Honestly should not be followed by any young designer looking for advice or help Im afraid. Some of the biggest designer faux pas have been made here (4 typefaces on a business card?!) anyone who thinks these look in anyway good should probably consider a career change. If you want to see some really good design references try http://www.formfiftyfive.com

  • RCO

    Look at the white areas and you’ll understand.

  • Justin

    That should be “… He’s in charge of making sure that Design Instruct publishes high quality content that professional designers and digital artists demand and expect….” not “”