The Composite Photo Card (Comp Card or Zed Card) helps to get you noticed and considered for projects. A comp card provides a small collection of pictures and basic stats on card stock or rigid paper. It is a standard marketing tool that has been around for many years and is still very essential to have today. A comp card is a relatively inexpensive and versatile sales tool.
Modeling agencies often put comp cards in their display racks. This makes it easy for a client to go into a modeling agency and quickly scan their talent pool. Modeling agencies and models send comp cardsto photographers, art directors, and others to advertise new talent or to show updated looks or expanded capabilities of an established model. Speaking from my own experience, as a photographer I have found comp cards very useful in hiring talent. Photographers often maintain a talent file (comp cards) for future projects. In addition, the comp cards make it possible for a photographer to show prospective clients a selection of talent available for their project. Comp cards can be used in other ways, but they remain a very essential marketing tool for a model.
The ultimate success of a comp card lies in the quality of the photographs. This quality comes not only from the level of professionalism and creativity of the photographer and his team, but also from the level of the model's talent. An effective comp card requires an excellent set of photographs. Most important is an eye-catching, grab- your-attention-from-across-the-office headshot for the front of the card. You can have great photos with a poorly produced comp card and still come out with something useful. But bad photos plus bad production show that you are not a professional. High-quality photos, innovative design, and the best comp card production will announce you as a top-tier professional model. In addition to a great headshot, a comp card will have other photos that show your experience, versatility, range, and the type of work you are seeking. For the best result, all of the photos should be the highest quality you can obtain at your stage in your modeling career. (For more information on getting photos see the Test Shoots section.)
Two decades ago comp card production was expensive and printing methods limited. Most models could not afford a comp card and started out with just an 8x10 black-and-white glossy photograph with a 1/4" white border. Stats were typed up and pasted on the back. I remember many times having to print 50 to 100 copies at a time of a single 8x10 headshot (pure drudgery). The 8x10 was fairly expensive so it placed quite a limitation on its distribution. They were generally sent only to those agencies who seemed to be a promising source of work, or to an important potential client. Many assignment opportunities were probably missed because of this cost limitation on distribution.
As a model progressed and became more professional (with more income) she/he would move to a one-color (black) offset-printed comp card (full color was only for top NY city models). The initial setup costs were high for these cards but when you printed 500, 1000, 2000 or more, the cost per card came down to only pennies each. This made it possible to give comp cards to anyone remotely interested in hiring a model. Plus, they were inexpensive enough that they could be mailed to potential clients, both locally and in other cities (regional coverage).
Earlier printing setup technicalities, and thus the cost, dictated the format of comp cards: one big headshot on the front with four smaller equal size prints on the back along with the model's stats and contact information. The four photos on the back could not overlapped (added work and expense), had to have lots of white space around the borders for the grippers on the press, and required white space between the photos to keep the ink from building up. This became the standard comp card format and it is still with us today, stuck like doggie doo doo on a pair of tennis shoes.
Okay, now fast-forward 20 years. Digital imaging and Photoshop have become the standard. Color printing is inexpensive and options are numerous. Black-and-white photography is mostly used for fine art photos, and color is often less expensive. Many new and eye-catching looks are possible for a comp card, and can now include all of the latest graphic design, advertising, and printing techniques.
Comp cards remain a key selling tool for a model so make yours as effective as possible and move beyond the standard format. Use innovative and colorful comp card layouts. Big and small companies are using creative, high visual impact layouts for their advertising and promotional materials. They do this because it cuts through the clutter and gets notice. It also effectively shows the benefits of a product or service to the consumer or client. Bottom line, it works. In selling your services as a model in a highly competitive market shouldn't you be doing the same? Many still use the standard comp card format but today you can do better.
Computers, digital imaging, and digital printing are responsible
for today's lower production costs. You can produce an innovative
comp card today for what it used to cost to do a cheap black-and-
white quick-print card.
There are numerous production steps required to produce a comp card. Some companies specialize in comp card production. Most of them produce the same old style of comp card that was popular 20 years ago. I have received emails from beginning models (or their parents) who want to tackle the process of making a comp card either to save money or to be more creative. The following information is for those who want to try do-it-yourself production, or for those who simply want to have a better understanding of the services offered by a comp card company.
Okay, you have a great set of photos. Now you have to get them into a digital format. If you have had your pictures taken digitally you are already there. Most photographers today shoot digiatal but if you are working with a photographer who is still using film(film still offers the best quality), you will need to get your negatives, prints, slides, or transparencies scanned. The technology for doing this is ever changing so you may have to research what the capabilities of the latest technology. Generally, the best quality comes from a color slide or transparency scanned on a high-end oiled drum scanner. The lowest quality comes from a color print scanned on a less expensive desktop flatbed scanner. And there are a lot of in-betweens. There is also a big difference in price between high quality (with a knowledgeable technician) and low quality scans. Try to start with the best quality scans that will fit both your budget and the final printing process you will use. This is a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) situation. Just as the best quality photos produce the best quality comp card, so do the best quality scans.
Your digitized photo sizing, cropping, and retouching are normally handled in a program such as Photoshop. The layout, type, and graphics can be handled either in the same program or in a page layout program. This is where your creativity can come in, but because of color management issues and postscript error problems, a lot of headaches can arise. If you want the highest quality production (full color offset printing) for your comp card, you may want to enlist the services of a professional. If you want to try this on your home computer, and you are using an inkjet printer, you should just start playing around and have fun. Freelance models can produce and design a comp card in any way that might bring in work, but if you are working through a modeling agency, you should check to see what parameters the agency might require.
For the layout of your comp card, you can do whatever you want. Through experiment and experience you will find what works best. Here are some general ideas that might help you get started. One side of the card (the front) should have that all-important headshot and it should fill most of the front of the card. This large-size photo allows for your picture to be seen at a distance when placed in racks at modeling agencies or when clients review several models' comp cards on a wall for consideration on a project. The back side (and inside of a fold-over or 4-page comp card) should have supporting pictures large enough to see details. Please remember, photographers and art directors should not have to use a magnifying glass to look at your photos. How many and what type of supporting pictures should you have? This will vary and depends on what type of work you are trying to attract. On the card you will need to include your name, personal stats, how you want to be contacted, and who is representing you (if anyone). The graphics on the card should be eye catching but should not detract from the photographs.
This is where producing a comp card has changed a lot. The final printing method needs to be considered when doing the card layout and scans. After you have your comp card prepared here are the printing options as of this writing: color inkjet, xerographic (color laser), digital offset printing (indigo), gang offset printing, and custom offset printing.
There are now several ways to print a full color comp card. What we are looking for is a printing process that is close to photographic print quality for the least amount of dollars up front.
What does a photograph give you? A photograph produces very smooth, gradual, and realistic color. It transitions from the highlights to the shadows very evenly (no sudden jumps) and carries recognizable detail in both the highlights and the shadows. This is what we want to achieve in a printed comp card. We want to get it as close to a high quality photographic print as possible without breaking the bank doing it.
When the printing process starts to lose the photo quality, we see loss of detail in the highlights and shadows and it starts to posterize. Posterization happens when instead of a smooth transition of gradient and color we get sudden, sharp, unnatural transition and strong unnatural colors. Rather than a picture of a person looking natural and alive it ends up looking stark and unreal. So normally we play the trade-off game in printing, quality verses cost.
Printing a comp card using a color inkjet process is something some have tried on their home computers. It can work if you are just doing a few cards. It is true today that some of the better inkjet printers can produce quality as good as a photograph but because you can only print on one side of high quality gloss inkjet paper, you have to do some jury-rigging to get it to work
Lay out your comp card so the finished size will end up being half of a full-size 8½x11" sheet of paper (that is, 5½" wide by 8½" tall). On a full-size sheet, lay out two 5½" by 8½" front comp cards; on another sheet lay out two backs of the comp card. Now glue together the sheet with fronts to the sheet with backs using rubber cement or spray adhesive. It helps to work up some kind of jig to align the sheets. Rubber cement and spray adhesive will not shrink, warp, or wrinkle (spray adhesive works best but requires a little practice). Now cut the sheet in half to make two complete comp cards (use a straightedge and razor knife for a clean, straight cut). The cost per card for ink and paper can be high and it takes some time to do all of this. So this method is only useful when you want just a few cards. But when you are starting out and have the time it may help hold down cost.
Color laser (xerography) printing has come a long way. Early color laser printing was economical but the print quality was posterized. Today some of the new high-end color laser printer/copiers can produce acceptable results. Still, it is not photographic quality but may be close enough for certain uses. High-end color lasers lose detail in the highlights and shadows, their overall saturation of color (color gamma) is weak, they have a grainy appearance, there is a loss of overall sharpness, and you are limited to non-glossy paper stock. Color laser printing is very affordable for small quantities (50 to 100) of comp cards. Some internet companies offer this type of comp card printing, or you can take your prepared file to a local copy center or printer to be copied.
This printing process almost matches that of a photograph and is very close to full offset printing quality. For small quantities digital offset is more affordable then traditional offset printing process. This printing process produces very good detail in highlights, shadows, and mid tones. It has almost no posterization, very smooth tone changes, rich color, and you can print on a variety of paper stocks including high gloss. The cost runs from three to four times higher then laser printing but is still affordable in the 100 quantities when you want a top quality product.
This is the type of printing you see in magazines, brochures, and catalogs. A reasonably good printer can produce results close to photograph quality. What comes into play with this type of printing is cost. This printing takes place on large million-dollar presses and is not something you can do yourself. Often the shortest print run you can get is for 500 cards. One way to make this type of printing more affordable is to gang several printing jobs together at one time. This way several jobs share the cost of getting one of these big presses ready to run. This type of printing becomes attractive when you are distributing large numbers of cards to clients and agencies. The cost per card can come down to just pennies. There are many restrictions with gang printing as far as size, paper stock, and finish. Also, there is some compromise in quality compared to a custom job, because all of the projects in the gang have to run under one set up. There are shops that will offer color one side and black-and-white on the back for 500 cards for under $200. But for full color on two sides the lowest price I have found for the printing only is $495 for 5000 cards. Allowing a reasonable amount for scans and graphics, these cards would come out to be 15 cents each. It costs more up front but the cost per card is a lot cheaper then any other process.
This is the most expensive printing method and usually only the top models in major markets can afford it. The quality is better than a photograph and certain techniques can be added to make the comp card stand out from the pack. If printed in high enough volume, the price per card can cost only pennies. At this level a model works with a graphic designer to produce an effective eye-catching advertising piece. This kind of comp card screams top tier professional.