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Today's business cards offer a new edge

Marlisa Clapp of MCD Studios in Marshfield is designing new business cards to replace her current cards. Marlisa Clapp of MCD Studios in Marshfield is designing new business cards to replace her current cards. (BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

Peter Shankman's business card was a gamble that hit the jackpot. Instead of using the familiar rectangular paper card, Shankman, a New York City-based author and public relations entrepreneur, has his contact information printed on a $100 blackjack chip. The actual Las Vegas-style casino-grade chip receives lots of positive reaction.

"I constantly get 'Oh wow, that's so cool, can I have another one?' when I give them out," said Shankman.

In a digital age, business cards once collected in Rolodexes or bundled with a rubber band are no longer a "must-have" in the corporate arsenal. With e-mail, Palm Pilots, and cellphones, keeping track of personal data and meeting new connections is as easy as using social networks such as LinkedIn or MySpace.

But there is still a place for the business card, said Boston career consultant Anna Ivey. "A professional-looking business card that you can distribute far and wide helps your networking efforts," she said. "The whole purpose is to make it easy to find you again and help people recall whom it was they met at that golf tournament, wedding, or conference."

Like Shankman's casino chip, off-the-wall business cards are hard to forget. Cynthia Shannon, a Hoboken, N.J.-based publicist at John Wiley and Sons, said the coolest business card she has gotten was crafted out of cloth, made for a vintage store in SoHo. Then, she said, there was the card that was actually a CD "but it was kind of pointless because the contact info wasn't written on the card; you only had access to this person's info if you put the CD in the computer. Go figure."

There are holographic, 3-D, pop-up, and even Braille business cards.

Marlisa Clapp, art director and owner of MCD Studios in Marshfield, is redesigning her two-sided black and red business cards, which coordinate with the colors on her website. She's spending about $1,500 on production costs alone, laminating two types of paper together and using a stamping process to engrave her information on the card.

"I'm doing something more advanced," said Clapp. "It's newer and cooler. To me it's about memorability and first impact."

Business cards should be appropriate for the industry they represent; it's expected that a lawyer or physician will carry a standardized card, typically black lettering on a white background, while creative arts professionals and service providers have more leeway.

Many small business entrepreneurs are opting for do-it-yourself, online business cards made from design templates.

"You can't beat the convenience," said Lee Duhl, owner of Fleur de Lee, a floral design shop in Lexington, who created her card on VistaPrint. She was able to go onto the website and tweak colors, fonts, and design until she had the signature hues and logo of her company set against a sunflower yellow and teal green. She ordered 1,000 of the cards, as well as a matching magnet and postcard.

"The price of printing in the modern age is such that no business has an excuse for not having a full-color, well-designed business card," said David Moyle of Identity Crisis, a California-based marketing firm. "The day of the bland and boring business card makes you look behind the times."

And once you have your card, make them "viral," adds Kevin Stirtz, a Minneapolis marketing consultant and author. "How can you encourage people to pass them on so you can get referrals?"

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The details

n In the pocket: Always carry your business card, as you want to be prepared when you have a chance meeting with a potential business connection. Not having a business card can demonstrate a lack of organization or commitment to your business.

n Flip side: Use the back of the business card to expand on your credentials, list your blog, or even print before-and-after photos if you're a decorator or designer.

n Junk the clutter: It is distracting and unprofessional if your card has tiny, unreadable text and is crammed with fonts and images. Keep the card clean and avoid cartoonish characters or overused, vague tag lines.

n Don't cut corners: Although it's almost expected that the calling card for some trades, such as plumbing, painting, and carpentry, won't be fancy, in general, pay the extra money for heavy, quality paper stock.

n Shop around: When using a professional designer or bricks-and-mortar print shop, get a least two estimates.

n Think about contact information: If you include your cellphone number on your card, be sure you also have a professional sounding voice mail greeting. Include a physical address as well as e-mail address.

n Nonbusiness applications: There is a growing trend toward using cards to promote hobbies, support a cause, provide social identity, or promote an event.

SOURCES: MCD Studios, VistaPrint