art business journal

Getting a Gig: Print Promo Strategy

Sending Postcards and Mailers

As an illustrator, I came of age on the tail end of the for-print era a time dominated by printed matter when promo consisted of postcards, promotional catalogs, brochures, and illustrators carried a physical portfolio to be dropped off with art directors for review. In the age of digital media, self-promotion as a freelancer has become much quicker, cheaper, and less wasteful. Standard promotion now includes email blasts, social media posts, maintaining a website, and subscribing to sites like the Directory, or the Ispot. That being said, there is a place for printed materials in promotion, but the goals are a little less immediate and it is no longer the primary way to look for work. 

I’ve heard art directors talk about taking their Wednesdays or Fridays with the help of an intern and spreading out all of the accumulated mailers from the week on a desk and going through, saving the highlights, and trashing the rest. Picturing that it’s not hard to imagine how easy it is to blend in, most postcards come in standard sizes and can start to look the same. I try to think of promo as a gift, a book, or a print someone would want to hold onto as an art object. I try to make something I can send to an art director as well as sell at conventions and off my website. With so many no print options available in self-promotion, sending a single standard postcard begins to feel a little wasteful, my suggestion is whatever physical promo an artist decides to send, they need to feel meaningful. These are some creative strategies I’ve heard from other artists and teachers that also goes beyond the basic postcard formula:

Promo Books

La Clave: Photographs of Cuba by Steve Schlackman, Artrepreneur’s CPO. See a preview of this book on Blurb.

When I design a promo book I have two strategies. I will collect highlights from the past year, 12-24 of my best images, and lay them out in a magazine-style book at roughly 8.5×11 inches (following a template that is easy for print on demand.) Or I will come up with a theme like location drawings in the city, something broad that will have wide appeal and create a new body of work to turn into a book. I take my time on the design and layout, pass it by my design friends for feedback. I want these to feel like serious collections of work, even narrative projects rather than just promo pieces. which allows me to sell them at comic, book, and zine conventions as well as online. Selling them helps me offset the cost of the initial promo run, and also helps build a fan base for my work beyond just clients. These books need to have a longer life than just one promo run.

When doing a promotional campaign an important thing to keep in mind is numbers. In a previous article, I wrote about two types of contact lists, one as a large collect-all list, another as a more targeted dream-client list. The latter of those is where I focus on printed promo. I will write about budgeting in a future piece, but a promo mailing, with print costs, postage and envelopes, easily rises above a thousand dollars. This is a necessary business expense and something that needs to be looked at as a way of generating more revenue, so ideally it will pay for itself and has much more longevity in its ability to make money than an easily forgettable email blast, but it needs to be targeted and efficient. It should be sent to art directors that you know want to receive it, it should be art that appeals to that client (based on your past experiences with that client, and your market research on the kind of work that the client commissions). Because of the cost, you want to be certain you are not wasting the effort, which means sending it to a more limited and specific audience. The further you are along in your career, these become the kind of promotions that you will prioritize to repeat clients. Promotion evolves from a way to attract new clients into a sign of appreciation for those you have spent years working with and with who you want to maintain a strong relationship with. 

Printed Material Resources:

Here’s a list of print resources for various materials!

Print on Demand:




Digital editions:



Cards and Printed Matter:

newsprint club

4 over 4


Overnight prints

Haven press




Offset book printing for comics and other books:


Minutemen press

Brenner printing

Asia pacific offset


What do you do for printables? Comment below!

Matthew Rota

A graduate of The Maryland Institute College of Art’s General Fine Arts program and the School of Visual Art’s MFA Visual Essay program, Matt Rota is an illustrator, author, and instructor. He’s spent the past 15 years working with clients in print and online including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Penguin Books, The LA Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Smithsonian, Variety, Buzzfeed, and many others. His illustrations focus primarily on global politics, criminal justice, social inequality, immigration, and poverty. His work in illustration has been recognized by several industry organizations including Communication Arts, Spectrum, 3X3 Magazine, and The Society of Illustrators, where he has won two silver medals, one for his work on the documentary Silent Truth, a documentary on the threat of violence towards women in the U.S. Military, another for a series of drawings with ProPublica on Fire Stone Tires and the Liberian Genocide.

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