How I Cheaply Created Custom Glossy Double-Sided QSL Cards in 1 Day

I’m posting this information to the world hoping that someone else in a position similar to mine can benefit from the experience I gained through trial and error when trying to rapidly design/develop professional-looking QSL cards for as little cost and risk as possible. I Googled around for this information, but didn’t find anything too helpful, so I figured I’d share my story! For those of you who don’t know, QSL cards are like postcards which amateur radio operators often mail to one another after making long distance contacts. In addition to providing tangible proof of the communication, they’re cool mementos to tote around to show people / remind yourself who you’ve made contact with over the years. QSL cards display information bout the contact (time, date, call sign, frequency, signal report, etc.) and sometimes contain extra pictures/graphics which make them unique and appealing.

Once I got a HF rig for my apartment (a Century 21 CW-only HF rig which puts out ~30 watts, pictured below), I started making contacts and getting QSL cards myself, so I wanted to send some nice ones in return. Being a poor college student (and a graduate student at that), I was extremely cash-limited, and didn’t want to sit around for weeks while my cards were professionally printed. I wanted a fast solution. This post describes how I created amazingly cool QSL cards in a few hours, and for less than $0.25 each!

My QSL card:

Step 1: Design the cards with PERFECT dimensions. Here’s the deal. The most cost-effective way to print nice digital images is my local Target (a store with a 1-hr photo lab which accepts JPEGs as the image source for $0.20 cents a picture), but the snag was that they only print 4” x 6”. QSL cards need to be 3.5” by 5.25”. I used Inkscape to create an image exactly 4” by 6”, and inside of it I drew a border 3.5” by 5.25”. Everything outside that border I made black. I designed my QSL card INSIDE that border, such that when the images would be printed I could trim-off the black border and have a perfect 3.5” by 5.25” QSL card.

This is how the image turned out:

This is what the 1-hr photos looked like:

Step 2: Print the reverse side on full-size label paper. All I needed was some framed boxes for QSL information, so I quickly sketched up the design in Inkscape and saved it in the same format as before (4” by 6”). I left a LOT of white space around the edges so it’s very forgiving down the line. I then printed the design on full-page label paper (full-sheet stickers, available at most office stores cheaply in the printer paper section), placing 4 “backs” per page.

Here’s what the adhesive paper looked like after printing:

Step 3: Attach backings to QSL cards. This part is easy if you have a paper cutter. I purchased mine ~5yrs ago and I *LOVE* it. It’s almost as useful as my soldering iron. Seriously, so convenient. I wouldn’t dream of doing this with scissors! Anyhow, roughly cut the sticker paper into quarters:

Next, peel and stick on the backs of cards. DONT WORRY ABOUT OVERHANG! We’ll take care of that later…

Step 4: Trim the edges. Make sure you do this step AFTER applying the sticker. This was the secret that I wish I realized a while ago. If you trim first, sticker placement is critical and difficult. If you place the sticker BEFORE you trim, you get *PERFECT* edges every time. Way more professional…

How nice does that look? If you did your math correctly, your new dimensions should be EXACTLY 3.5” by 5.25”. Let’s view the back…


Step 5: fill-out information. I decided to use a metallic Sharpie to write the name of the call sign I send this to on the front of my card. How cool does that look? This is what the front/back of this card looks like after filling it out (Hi W2BFE in Maine! You’re a celebrity!).

I hope this information helps you. If you print your own QSL cards using this (or a similar) method, let me know about it! I have to say, for ~5 / $1, these don’t look to bad. It’s especially useful if you only want to print a few cards! Good luck.
–Scott, AJ4VD