Rack Cards 101

Go to any major print shop — whether it’s a brick and mortar or online — and you’ll see “rack cards” available for businesses. But what exactly are rack cards and why might you want to use them to promote your bed and breakfast? In this Media Moment, Bed & Brunch pr talks with Heather Turner, of Forfeng Designs, a hospitality consulting and social media training firm, to get the skinny on this 4 x 9-ish card.

What are rack cards?
Rack cards are tall and narrow, generally measuring 4 inches in width by 9 inches in height.  They’re often used to target prospective customers or guests in areas with heavy foot traffic, like a tourist kiosk, tradeshow, or conference. “The point of a rack card is to drive people to your website,” explained Heather. “The point of a brochure is to try to cram as much information into it about your inn in an appealing way.”

What are some of the benefits of rack cards?
“The major difference between a rack card and a brochure, which is what most people are familiar with, is that it’s generally cheaper to print a rack card,” said Heather. “When people pick up rack cards, they’ll generally keep them around longer too,” she added. Other perks? Having a rack card professionally designed costs less because it’s one sliver of paper, usually double-sided; not three panels that are double-sided, like a brochure.

Rack cards are also more economical to print since, again, it’s just one panel on two sides. If you really want someone to keep your information handy, a rack card boosts that chance. “The paper they’re printed on is heavier. People will pick up a rack card and flip it over, look on both sides for information, and decide if they’re going to keep it. If they pick a brochure many times they put it back, especially at a tradeshow when they don’t usually have two hands free to look through it and open it up,” she said.

What are some key things to keep in mind when designing a rack card?
“Generally the top half of the rack card is the most important,” stressed Heather.  She suggested if you’re thinking of having your rack card displayed through a tourism distribution company, to find out where the cards will be distributed then doing a drive-by to see what the existing rack cards in those locations look like. “You want to see what kind of rack card holders they have and take some pictures. I would pick up rack cards from other innkeepers that are there and also take your digital camera. Take your marketing hat off completely and think of it from a prospective guest’s point of view,” said Heather. She also advises you bring Post-It notes and right then and there when you pick a rack card you like (or dislike) write down why you thought that. “If you take it home you may not remember what sparked your thinking — whether it’s ‘this looks very interesting’ or ‘the image cuts off weird on this one.’” Pay attention to the type of rack holder that’s used. In many cases you’ll lose visibility on the lower part of the card due to the holder, so you’ll want your most visually appealing information on top.

More specifically, what are the most important elements to include in your rack card?
Rack cards are all about branding, photos and messaging, per Heather.

“I’m a big believer if you have established colors you’re using for your business card, your website, or any other thing you use, that you be consistent. It’s super, super, important to be consistent,” she said. “I’ve seen so many rack cards and brochures that don’t even have contact information on them and that’s completely crazy but it happens.” She said new innkeepers who might have a website in development and might not have their business cards printed should identify the colors and fonts they like and stick with those. “The promotional material should always be an extension of your inn.” Heather suggested you use two font choices, and three colors, at most.

“Always use photos; line drawings are nice, and they always have their place, but don’t put that line logo, if that’s what you use, in a prominent spot because photos are what drive people,” said Heather. She suggested inns use photos that showcase their unique offerings, like a fantastic wrap around porch, or guests sipping coffee on your verandah, or your glorious dining room with its huge picture window.  She urged innkeepers not to use stock imagery, if possible. “People generally bring rack cards with them and will compare them, when you use stock photos on rack cards they may figure that out,” Heather said, explaining that it could chip away at the originality and the impression that your inn may make. Use lots of photos that are bright and colorful.

That said, Heather reminded that when using photos of guests, it’s paramount to have their permission in a signed and dated written release form. Look at the other rack cards that attracted your attention and put your finished sample rack card design near them. How’s it look? Now take your rack card and put it 4 feet from you. Is the detail in the photo still visible to you? “If you can’t really tell what the photo is from 4 feet away it has too much detail in it,” Heather explained.

Have a headline and a tagline for the front. “You really want your rack card to be a driver for people to get online with their smartphones right away,” said Heather.

“If you have a nice logo, if the logo has your name very, very, clearly, go ahead and put it near the top or incorporate it into the photo,” she said. In the top part also include a call to action, like ‘Come stay at our inn.’ “I’ve seen some really good rack cards that say ‘Bring this card and get 10% off, or get chocolate covered strawberries’ it’s an incentive for people to take that rack card home,” she said. It’s also important if you incorporate this idea into your rack card that you use it on the top half. It’ll be important that you honor your promotion whenever that card is redeemed, so think through your offer carefully.

Aside from top messaging, your rack card should also include a short paragraph about your inn and five to seven bullet points on the back. “Make sure there’s plenty of white space,” warned Heather, referring to breathing room of sorts for the text. She said not to cram information or use too small a text. You want the text to have the space it needs to succeed or else it just looks cluttered.  To help with this, Heather suggested innkeepers put their content into categories, like recreational things to do, nearby restaurants, and inn amenities, for example. Free WiFi is a good thing to put on top because so many hotels still charge for this and Millennials, as well as other travelers, will find it a huge draw.

Don’t forget to include your inn’s name, phone number, address, and website. If you’re active on social media, put a direct link to your Facebook page and other social pages. “Don’t just say find us on Facebook. People can be lazy and sometimes, the way Facebook is, they may find a property with a similar name, not yours,” Heather explained. Put the actual full URL i.e. facebook.com/janedoeinn  or facebook.com/jane-doe-inn.

One thing to totally avoid — pricing! It’s fine to include a price range and point readers to your website for more information but printing your exact prices may mean you’ll have to incur printing and distribution costs frequently to keep your rack cards up-to-date. A price range provides you with more flexibility.

About Printing
In terms of printing, make sure you print in a matte finish, despite the lure of ‘glossy.’ “Tourism centers have exterior lights coming in and the gloss finish causes a reflection. Sure, once someone picks a rack card, they’ll see your full design but if it’s in the holder, and your card is competing for attention, you’re going to get a lot of reflection from natural and fluorescent light that may hamper your chance with that prospective guest,” explained Heather. You’ll also want to invest in a heavy card stock. “You see people in some tourism centers, they’ll pick up a rack card and if it flops (because whoever made it wanted it printed on lighter paper to save money) they may put it back. “It negatively affects that first impression,” Heather said. “Plus if it flops over in the rack card holder itself, people won’t pick it up at all.”

Some final notes — remember to proofread and proofread again, and again. If you have staff, ask each person to read it. Also, in terms of promoting your inn… if you have a very specific style, say you’re art deco, and you know two other art deco inns outside your region (i.e. not direct competition), reach out and see if you can swap rack cards to display at each other’s inns. “It’s just a way to extend the free advertising and have a mutually beneficial relationship,” said Heather.

Where to print rack cards?
There might be a local printer near you that would do a fantastic job. If you’re more apt to design yourself or order online, check out:


Before you order, check out RetailMeNotCouponCodes, and similar sites in case they have a promotional code that will help knock a few dollars off your order.

Sample Rack Cards