Football Cards: Design Characteristics Since 1985 Part 1

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Attracting collectors of sports cards has involved various design changes in their history. This article reflects on some of the major changes over the past 20 years.

I started collecting cards back in 1985. I mainly bought football cards. Now the trick with sports cards is to somehow frame a picture of the player who is being represented. Though the year of 1985 may not seem like a breakout year in design to some people, but I think it was.

Before 1985, I cannot recall seeing a border surrounding a picture in any color other than white. But that all changed with the Topps brand of football cards in 1985.

The border surrounding the picture of the player was suddenly painted in black. This created a level of intensity that helped to bring out the photograph of the player depicted on the card.

Another noticeable change appeared in the printing of the player’s name, The player’s last name was printed in bold white letters, while the player’s first name was printed in small black letters. The scale of the last name is almost gigantic when compared to the first. But even though the first name of the player was printed much smaller than the last, it still stood out because of the contrast between the black and the white.

The other two characteristics that a card company usually tend to display on their card are the player’s position, and team that he plays for. In this particular example, Topps did not choose to identify the player’s position, which is a very rare find. But they did identify the team that the player was associated with.

The team name was listed underneath the player’s name in black surrounded by the main color of the player’s uniform. Besides the black and white design of the card, this was the only color that shown, thus helping it to stand out a bit.

Lastly, there was one more major element that made this year of football card a unique one. To this day I have noticed that almost all card designs are produced where the picture of the player is depicted in a vertical, or up and down kind of fashion. But with this model the layout of the border required the card holder to turn their card, holding it vertically in order to see the photo of the player correctly. I think there is a reason as to why this type of format has not been used too commonly. Just like with books, it Just seems easier for people to view the objects with the longer side stretching vertically rather than horizontally. The company took a risk coming out with these cards, but it seemed to have open the door for many other intriguing ideas and designs.

In the following year of 1986, Topps came out with one of its most popular designs ever Topps once again stayed away from the traditional idea of the white trim border. This year they introduced a green trim around the photo with diagonal white lines. These lines tend to draw in the viewer more than one would think, because they actually represent more than just some green and white lines.

The content or meaning behind the work of art is simple to football fans. The game of football is played on a green field, with white lines being spaced out over every five yards. So, the card company just tilted the lines a bit by making them appear diagonal in order to help catch the viewer’s attention.