Some thoughts on translation industry business cards

 Recently I collected a couple of hundred translation industry business cards at a conference. The cards came in all shapes, sizes, and colours. My task was to write to everyone who took the trouble to give me one of their cards. Having completed the task, I thought I’d share some thoughts about business card design from one recipient’s point of view. I jotted these down as I went through the cards and now reproduce them for you.

Note: this is my personal view

Accuracy: One or two of the cards I handled had errors in their address. This really is rather unforgiveable and could be the reason why the owners never hear from anyone.

Space for notes: One card (out of the 200 or so) had a dedicated space for notes. And many others had plenty of white space available for jottings. It’s great to be able to jot down why I have taken a certain person’s card. It certainly helps to jog the memory after a busy few days at a major event. But a word of caution, please read one of the links I give below, because in some cultures writing on peoples’ cards is not at all polite and can even be taken as an insult.

Several cards were printed on high-gloss paper. This makes it difficult to make any notes. The ink from a pen smudges and many pens won’t write on shiny paper. Other cards were printed on a dark background which also made it impossible to write any notes.

Font: Many cards had the vital information (phone and email addresses) printed in such tiny or unclear type that I needed to squint to see them. Some of the cards I saw had their crucial data printed in very pale colours – again difficult to read.

Complicated email addresses inevitably lead to copying mistakes. Email addresses with lots of numbers and apparently random letters, unrelated to the person’s name, are the hardest of all to copy out. I was surprised by how many people have a domain name and website but then use a gmail or hotmail email address.

While on the subject of email addresses, my aversion to hotmail addresses continues. I feel (and it’s my personal view, feel free to disagree) that a hotmail address does not give the correct impression of gravitas.

Size: Size does matter. The standard size is 3.5 inches x 2 inches. These fit neatly into card holders, wallets and other items designed for the purpose. Square ones, tiddly ones, and super large ones stand out, but they don’t fit in. And in some cultures (see below) they must fit into a card holder.

Design and content: Many of the “rules” for card design that I have seen say “keep it simple”. But I say that simply giving an email address and phone number isn’t quite enough. I like to know at least the town or city where a person has their office.

Phone numbers should carry the international dialling prefix. A card without this, and with no address, gives no clues to the recipient as to how to get in touch by phone if they are in a different country.

A couple of cards gave the business name but not the name of the owner of the business. This can be confusing.

Paper quality is important. It should be good quality and sturdy enough to withstand handling.

Cards that are out-of-date with different contact data written over them – however neatly – are a turn-off.

A logo or other relevant design helps the card stand out.

And lastly, a piece of typed paper cut to shape to serve as a business card really does not cut the mustard in my book. It gives a very poor impression of the person who gave it to you. To be fair, I think the one such “card” that I received belonged to a student, who perhaps hasn’t yet reached the stage of business cards.

I live and work in the UK and our business card etiquette is fairly informal. This is not the case in other countries. Read the links below for some good advice to follow.

More far-reaching advice on business cards

It’s important to be aware of business practice in different cultures. I looked up a few websites containing some good advice if you are travelling further afield than Europe. For example the method of presenting your card and receiving others’ can be crucial to a good business relationship. Read more on this.

In many parts of the globe a business card carries much greater significance than simply a means to exchange contact information. For the most part, the exchange of cards occurs at the beginning or end of the initial meeting. In Korea it is preferred that you present your card to a person before asking for theirs. In Japan cards should be presented and received with both hands. And cards should be kept in a card case. You can read more here:

And for some more design advice from the business card print firms, read this.

Finally, I checked over my own business cards with all the above in mind, and there is certainly room for improvement. But I have 500 to finish first.

Our readers come from all over the world. Have you any thoughts to add to mine? I’d love to hear from you.








  1. I lived in South Korea for three years and I confirm that business card etiquette is extremely important there. Most times card exchanges took place right at the outset. Korean business cards often had a small photo of the person printed on them, which was useful for remembering who was who.
    P.S. Concerning my own cards I’m currently guilty of having them printed on glossy card!

    • Thanks for confirming that Eastern cultures take business card exchange extremely seriously. In a culture where it would be bad manners to write on someone’s card, glossy sounds good. Maybe I’m alone in wanting to write on someone’s card the reason why I have promised to get in touch.

    • That’s very interesting Catharine. My son travels a lot in Asia (Japan, S. Korea, China) and can certainly vouch for what you say.

  2. Ina

    Thank you for the information! I need new business cards and now I can design them accordingly.
    I also think that it’s nice to be able to write on them. The photo seems to be a good idea, even if it’s not common here. I could use it instead of a logo. Much to think about.
    Thanks again!

    • Glad you enjoyed the article. It is only my personal opinion though, and there are many other viewpoints and considerations that I didn’t touch upon.

  3. While hanging on to old technology is not usually advisable, I recommend that people take into consideration what their card might look like if printed in black and white, as in a photocopy. I often see black and white newsletters, where people have paid to have their business card included as an ad, or as recognition of their financial contribution to the newsletter, only to have them be illegible. Beautiful in color, useless in gray scale.

    • Excellent point Christian. So many things to think about in a design. It all depends on how your card may be used by the recipient. That’s why small print runs could be useful. Most printers want to do a minimum of 250, but one person who commented on another forum told us that he had found a printer willing to do runs of 30 or so. That way changes in phone numbers, accreditations etc, as well as different purposes, could be easily catered for.

  4. Very useful article. I like receiving and giving out cards. Like studying them for details and contemplating about the success people have had with them.
    I changed a lot of designs. Do them myself. The newest has my photo on it. Was pretty scary putting the picture on it, but they still need to be given to many people. And i inluded a quote of my own to do with translation. Thought it interesting.

    • Thanks for your comment Mariann. Everyone has a take, and there are so many different reasons for handing someone a card, that there is no real defining “rule”.

  5. Great points, Lucy. This is an area I cover in detail also in my marketing webinars. My daughter and I have different views regarding pictures, though. I like them because it helps refresh people’s memories. And I agree that writing on cards should probably done away from the card owner. I try to use mnemonics such as connecting one letter or a word in the card with the reason for contact. Nowadays we can also use apps to take care of those details without offending anyone. (Learn that trick on the last networking event I attended. Rather practical).

    • Yes, that’s a good idea: take a quick photo of the card. It cannot offend and you can sort it out later when you have time.