On QSL Cards

I knew when I became active on the air again a couple of months ago that I would have to deal with the question of QSL cards sooner or later.  I’m currently unemployed and am watching all my expenses closely. Even so, it seems against the spirit of amateur radio not to reply to QSL requests – even if I were to make it perfectly clear on my QRZ page. So that option was out of the window. At the time of writing this post, I’ve made the statement on my QRZ page that an SASE will be much appreciated for anyone that wants a QSL. I’m going to start using LOTW and will probably renew my relationship with eqsl, as well as figuring out which bureaus to use. That still left me wondering what to do about an actual physical QSL card.

When I started in the UK as G4IFA (actually, my first call was G8RYQ,  but it was short-lived, as I upgraded to the full G4 license within a few months) my brother drew a great cartoon of a ham sweating away at the key.  I wish I still had a copy of that card. Next came a home made affair constructed with lots of cutting and pasting (the old-fashioned way – not on the computer) and photocopiers:

By this time I figured it was time to try a professionally printed product.  These 2 cards were from Rusprint:

The Rusprint cards were great, but by now my address had changed twice and besides, I am into CW for the first time, and I wanted a card that reflected that. One thing that I learnt from the Rusprint experience was that my requirements of a QSL card tend to change a long time before the cards have run out, leaving me with a stack of fairly useless cards. I liked the idea of a simple yet informative and elegant card that would be easy for me to design and print at home, so that when my circumstances change (like I move, or start operating 80m AM and want to change my card yet again), I can make the changes, and only have to print what I need as I go along.

Then I found out that Kinkos, or as they are now called “Fedex Office” will let you upload a file online and go pick up your order a couple of hours later (sometime sooner) at any store you choose. Brilliant – I don’t have to fuss with printer cartridges, and all those pesky cleaning cycles that use up a lot of ink. I realized that I could fit 4 postcard sized QSL’s on a single piece of 8.5 x 11 stock and cut them myself at home with a box cutter and metal rule. The prices are quite competitive with the professional QSL printers. In some cases, it costs a bit more to do it yourself (especially if you’re printing color, and not just black and white) but to me, the ability to just print the quantity that I need, and make changes as necessary give the homebrew method the advantage.

I had decided that I wanted a card that was fairly functional and simple, yet appealing in it’s design. Operating CW has made me feel quite connected to the roots of this hobby, so I started looking at designs of QSL cards from the 20’s and 30’s. I liked the idea that cards of that era were simple and functional. They served to confirm a radio contact, and they did it perfectly. Some of the full color photo cards we have today feel like overkill in some ways to me, and besides, they cost too much to print! On top of that, I just think that a lot of old QSL cards look great. Steve VE7SL had cards printed by VE7DK that closely resembled many vintage cards, and I was impressed with the result. This page shows some vintage cards from Steve’s collection (opens in a new browser window) and also the card that he had VE7DK print for him. As an aside, Steve built his own replica of a “Paraset” (opens in a new browser window) – a British WWII spy transceiver. If you work him on his Paraset, he’ll send you one of his lovely vintage cards.

A few hours on the computer, and I had found a free old style font and put together a card with the help of Photoshop. I used much of the wording on VE7SL’s card, but did change it a little to suit my needs. He has spaces in which he can enter the voltage and current to the final transmitting tube, as was customary back then. I changed that to a simple space for power in watts, as I don’t have plans to build a tube transmitter. I also added my SKCC and NAQCC numbers, and made one or two other changes. It might seem like plagiarism, but this design was very basic and common for the era. I particularly like the idea of having the station callsign in large letters “behind” the QSL info.

Here’s my new QSL card:

It’s one sided, so it’s cheap to print – even cheaper if I want to print it in black and white on a colored card stock, and I can stamp and address the other side to take advantage of cheaper postcard rates. Some hams don’t like to send their QSL’s like postcards, because of the opportunity for damage in transit, but here’s another way to look at it; those old QSL’s with stamps and hand-written addresses on now are even more appealing 70 years later. The stamps that might seem pedestrian to you now, serve as a historical timestamp to folk who might be viewing them in the future.

Set up a sked with me so I can send you my new QSL card!


5 thoughts on “On QSL Cards

  1. Ok, so here I am reading this four years after it was written. What piqued my interest was your vintage QSL design, which still – despite all the modern digital graphic techniques that we are awash in today – stands out from among the rest. I am a Letterpress Printer (and license holder WD4NKA) – and my area of avocational study is the art of typography. And it is the typography of your ‘vintage’ design, which is indeed following the common mid to late 1920s format – that is the attention grabber. I hope you are still using this card, and still sending them through the mail, and still carrying on the tradition of personally filling out and mailing, and hopefully reading, these very human pieces of ephemera that serves to remind us that we are more than biological machines, but we are persons, individuals, who communicate individually, and that our contacts matter! BTW, if you ever want something like this printed by the same presses that printed them when these vintage cards were new, let me know.

    I remain:
    Gary Johanson, WD4NKA

    1. The pictures of your work are bringing back many memories Gary. My eldest brother used to run his own printing business in the 1970’s with a hand-operated letterpress machine. I wasn’t skilled enough at the age of 15 to lay out the type properly, but I do remember putting some sweat equity into the actual printing process! The examples of your work look fantastic.

      The design in this post was an interim version. The final version, which I am still using, is the one at the end of the following post – https://aa7ee.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/good-ops-bens-best-bent-wire-and-some-new-home-made-qsl-cards/

      I’m glad to see that you are keeping the art of letterpress alive.



  2. Dan – nice looking design – and allow me to make one comment, based on my experience. Although I liked the idea of having the callsign in large letters, floating behind the QSO details, I found 2 things –

    1) This might differ based on what printing ink you are using (I print my cards out at Fedex Kinkos, or whatever their latest name is). I found that when I was writing on the cards, the pen ink didn’t stick as well to the parts that had the red printing ink from my callsign on them.

    2) Although it looked good, writing the QSO details over the callsign made the QSO details a little less easy to read.

    For the above 2 reasons, I eventually went to another layout, though I stuck with the idea of a vintage design. You can see the card I came up with (which is now my main card) at the bottom of this blog-post – https://aa7ee.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/good-ops-bens-best-bent-wire-and-some-new-home-made-qsl-cards/

    PS – the font is a free vintage font that I found online. It’s called “Oldstyle HPLHS”. I don’t remember where I got it from, but I just Googled it and it looks like there are lot of places you can download it from (assuming you’re using a PC – I have no experience with Macs and don’t know how fonts work on them).

    PPS – I did all the layout in Photoshop and printed them out at my local Fedex Kinkos. No letterpress involved.

  3. Dave,
    Loved the post, always seem like there is something that catches my interest.
    I am in the process of making a vintage card for myself from what I have read on your post.
    BTW I like the old blog pics of you and the response photos!
    73 de W3HIZ

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s