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Essential Elements of a Good Modeling Comp Card

An example of a traditional, two-sided comp card with five images for a fashion model.

An example of a traditional, two-sided comp card with five images for a fashion model.

The talent industry is tough. Whether you're a model or an actor, there is tons of competition, and if you're going on a casting call you can rest assured that there are dozens or hundreds of other people vying for the same spot.

So how do you get ahead? You need to make a great first impression. For a model, that means having a top notch comp card.

Not sure what that means? Well, here are a few tips to make sure that your comp card beats out the competition.

What Is a Comp Card?

Let's start with a quick definition to make sure we're on the same page.

A comp card, also known as a zed card or a composite card, is your calling card. When you go to a casting call or audition, you leave it behind.

This card includes select images from your portfolio. Typically, there's a large headshot as well as a variety of smaller photos that show a bit of range.

Finally, you need to include your contact information and vital measurements. For fashion models especially, things like height and sizes are important. For everybody, you'll want to leave a phone number, e-mail, or other form of contact for the casting director.

If you're represented by an agency, then their information or logo should be on the card somewhere as well.

This comp card breaks convention, slightly, by only including three images on the back. But this helps the images pop a little and stand out from the crowd.

This comp card breaks convention, slightly, by only including three images on the back. But this helps the images pop a little and stand out from the crowd.

Tips for Designing an Awesome Card

Now that we know what a comp card is, let's talk about how you can conform to industry standards and design the best card possible.

Sizes, Paper, and Finish. A comp card is traditionally printed on an 8.5" x 5.5" card. This card is a thick cardstock, anywhere from 12 to 14 pt. Since you're reproducing photos, you probably want a glossy finish, although you could try a matte finish if you're sure that you'll like the effect. If you use a thinner paper or card stock, your card will appear cheap and you don't want that.

Choosing a Headshot. The front of the card should include a single, large image of yourself and your name. Choose an image that is stunning. While it doesn't have to be a traditional head and shoulders headshot, it should be tightly focused on you - the model. Make sure the focus is crisp, the lighting is flattering, and the colors are rich. On a smaller image, you can get by with a few imperfections. On a large headshot like this, you want to look perfect.

Choosing the Supporting Images. The back of the card should have a set of smaller images. Traditionally, there are four equally sized images laid out in a grid. Here, you want to show some range. If you're a commercial model, show yourself in different situations. If you're a fashion model, pick a few different outfits. Include something from the runway as well as something from the studio. A zed card that only includes images from a single photoshoot in a single outfit is, well, boring. And you don't want to be boring.

Breaking the Mold. While you need to respect industry conventions, you can push the boundaries a little to help your card pop. For example, the example above includes only three images on the back. Two of these are in a traditional portrait orientation, while the third image spans the bottom of the card in a landscape orientation. This simple change adds a good deal of visual interest that most other cards will lack.

Use a Downloadable Template. Nothing is worse than card with uneven spacing and differently sized images. If you outsource the design of your card to a graphic designer, he or she will be meticulous in making sure that everything is symmetrical and lined up. If you're designing your cards on your own, you need to do the same thing. A nice shortcut is to search the web for some free templates and work from there. That way, the measurements and layout are done and all you need to do is place the images in the template. However, this will probably require you to have access to some design software, like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe InDesign.

Your First Comp Cards...

Print Some, and Stay Up to Date

Once you're happy with the design, go get your cards printed. If you have your own designs, you can find a digital printer that will get the job done for anywhere from $50 to $100 per 100 cards.

You may be tempted to invest in a larger quantity, because large print runs are almost always cheaper per unit than short print runs. Before you do that, keep one thing in mind.

Your ideal comp card today isn't going to be your ideal comp card tomorrow. As you continue to work as a model, you'll produce new images that will rotate into your portfolio. You'll eventually find that the images on your first comp card are somewhat stale and perhaps even subpar.

It's a good idea to update your portfolio and your comp cards, and therefore it's a good idea to think small when ordering your cards. Unless you plan on going to a convention and talking to dozens of casting directors in one day, an order of 1 to 200 cards is probably sufficient.

In six months or a year when you've exhausted your supply, you'll probably want to redesign your card with some new images, and you don't want to be stuck with hundreds of old, useless cards!