The Composite Photo Card (Comp Card) helps to get you noticed and considered for projects. A comp card (some call a Zed 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. Comp cards are relatively inexpensive and are versatile sales tools.
I know from my experience as a photographer that comp cards are very useful in hiring talent. Comp cards are often displayed in racks on the walls of modeling agencies. This makes it easy to go into a modeling agency and quickly scan the talent they have available. Comp cards are also mailed to photographers, art directors, and others to advertise new talent or to show updated looks or expanded capabilities of an established model. Comp cards often are held in a photographer's talent file for future project consideration. They give the photographer the ability to show prospective clients a selection of talent available for a project in addition to providing a resource file for the photographer's reference when projects arrive. Comp cards can be used in other fashions, but they remain a very essential marketing tool for a model.
You Begin with Photos
The ultimate success of a comp card comes down to the quality of the photographs. The quality of the photographs comes from the quality and talent of the model and the professionalism and creativity of the photographer and his team. To have an effective comp card you need to start with an excellent set of photographs. Most important is an eye-catching, grab-your-attention-from-across-the-office head-shot for the front of the card. You can have great photos and a poorly produced comp card and still come out with something useful. Bad photos and bad production will indicate you are not a professional. Of course top photos, innovative design and top comp card production will announce you as a top-tier professional model. Besides a great head-shot, the comp card will have other photos that show your experience, your versatility, range, and what type of work you are seeking. For best results 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.)
The Old Standard
Twenty-five years ago, comp card production was expensive and printing methods limited. Most models could not afford a comp card and would start out with just an 8x10 Black & White glossy photograph with a 1/4" white border. Stats were typed up and glued on the back. I remember having to print up 50 to 100 of these 8x10 prints at a time (pure drudgery). The 8x10 was fairly expensive which placed quite a limitation on their distribution. They generally went only to those who you were pretty sure were going to hire you or to a very important potential client. I am sure many assignment opportunities were 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 would facilitate handing the comp cards out to anyone remotely interested in hiring a model. Plus, they were inexpensive enough you could mail them out to potential clients, both locally and in other cities (regional coverage).
To try and keep setup cost down, a simple layout format was necessary. The simplest format was to put one big head-shot on the front and four equal size photos, model's stats and contact info squeezed in on the back. Sometimes, to save money and avoid the cost of film negatives or screened PMTs, we would do screened darkroom prints and rubber glue the whole thing together. The four prints on the back had to be the same size because this made it easier to paste-up and kept the price down. You would not overlap photos, as this would require added stripping and expense. You also had to leave lots of white space around the borders for the grippers on the press and white space between photos to keep the ink from building up. So for cost-saving technical reasons the standard comp card format was born and has stuck with us like doggie dodo on a pair of tennis shoes.
Modern Comp Card Possibilities
OK, now move ahead twenty-five years. Digital imaging and Photoshop are becoming the standard. Color printing has become very inexpensive and color-printing options are numerous. Black and White photography is mostly left to fine art photography and color is often cheaper to do than good B&W. There are many new and eye-catching looks possible for a comp card. Today comp cards can now use all of the graphic design, advertising, pre-press and printing techniques that are used by the clients you are trying attract. Comp cards remain a key selling tool for a model so you should make it as effective as possible and move beyond the standard comp card.
Ok, that was a bit of me on my soapbox but I have more on why to do innovative and colorful comp card layouts. Big and small companies use 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? Yes a lot of folks still use the standard comp card format but today you can do better than this.
Comp Card Production
One of the big changes occurring in the past few years is that the cost to produce an interesting and creative comp card has come way down. This has come about because of computers, digital imaging, and digital printing. Today you can produce an innovative comp card for what it used to cost to do a cheap B&W quick-print card.
There are a number of production steps one must go through to produce a comp card. Many turn this process over to someone who specializes in producing comp cards. Most of these companies produce the same old style of comp card that was produced twenty years ago. I have received email from starting models (or their parents) who either want to tackle the process of making a comp card to save money or to be more creative. So the following information is for those who are interested in producing your own comp card, or if you are using a comp card service and want to better understand what they will do for you.
Digitizing the Image
OK, you have got a great set of photos, now you have to get them into a digital format. If you happen to have your pictures taken digitally you are already there. If not you need to get your negatives, prints, slides or transparencies scanned. The technology for doing this is changing very rapidly. So you may have to research what the latest technology is capable of doing. Generally, your best quality comes from a color slide or transparency scanned on a high-end oiled drum scanner. Your lowest quality comes from a color print scanned on your less expensive desktop flat bed scanner. And there is a lot of in-between. There is also quite a 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 your budget and final printing process you will use. This is a GIGO situation. But 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 ‘Photoshop' type of program. The comp card layout, type, and graphics can be handled in the same type of 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. For those looking for the highest quality comp card production, (full color offset printing,) you may want enlist the services of someone who is knowledgeable on these issues. For those who are trying this on their home computer, and looking to use an ink jet printer, then just start playing around and have fun. If you are producing a comp card as a freelance model, you can design it in any fashion that you think will get you work. If you are working through a modeling agency, you should check to see what parameters the agency might require.
I think you can predominantly do whatever you want for the layout of your comp card. Through experiment and experience you will find what works best. But some general ideas might help get you started. One side of the card, (the front,) should have that all-important head shot 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 backside, (and inside of a fold-over or 4-page comp card,) should have supporting pictures large enough to see details. Please remember some of us older photographers and art directors do not want to have to look at the photos on your comp card with a magnifying glass. How many and what type of supporting pictures will vary, depending on what type of work you are trying to attract. You will need your name, personal stats, how you are to be contacted and who is representing you (if anyone) on the card. The graphics of the card should be eye catching but should not detract from the photographs.