A QSL card is a postcard-sized physical card used to confirm a contact between two stations on a particular band and mode at a particular time. An amateur station that participates in QSL card exchanges will design cards of their own, print a supply, and send them in response to on-the-air requests for a card or in reply to other amateurs' cards. Shortwave listeners will also sometimes exchange QSL cards with amateur stations that they have received.
Usually, a QSL card has a front face fully occupied by an image with the callsign of the sending station overlaid on top of it. The reverse holds information about the sender of the QSL card and information about the contact between the sender and receiver. Usually, the sender's information is printed (and doesn't change between cards) and the information about the contact is handwritten, though this varies.
QSL cards are used to confirm contacts for award purposes (though they have largely been superseded by digital logs for this purpose), to commemorate personally-significant contacts (like someone's first contact on a particular band or mode), and to confirm DX contacts.
QSL card design
While there are no definitive standards that apply to QSL cards, there are certain de facto standards for QSL card design. QSL cards have several standard sizes, but they all . There are also several pieces of information that a QSL card should include about the sending station and about the contact; often, QSL cards are unacceptable for award purposes without certain data fields, while others are customary. QSL cards may also be designed to be mailable as postcards without an envelope, necessitating adherence to other standards (and severely restricting the space available for other information.
QSL cards should always use slashed zeros to avoid confusion between the number
0 and the letter
O, whether in handwritten or printed text. Furthermore, if an error is made when filling out a QSL card, the card should be discarded and re-written.
The US standard size is 5.5 in × 3.5 in. Other standard sizes are sometimes used.
The front, or obverse, side of a QSL card is most often filled by a photo somehow relevant to the sender of the card, with the sender's callsign overlaid. The photo is often of the sender's station, antennas, or other equipment; a photo representative of the sender's location; or a work of art by the sender. The standard rules of amateur radio conduct also apply to QSL cards, so obscene, discriminatory, or inflammatory photos should be avoided.
When designing and printing QSL cards, pay special attention to bleeds and safe areas. QSL cards are often printed on larger paper stock and then trimmed down to the proper size, or printed on the same page as other objects and then cut out. The cutting process is never exact, and cards will often be cut off-center, too long, or too short. Without proper design, this may result in text being cut off or images not covering the entire area of the card. To avoid this, commercial printers will specify two dimensions along with the intended size of the card. The bleed covers the area that may appear in the final product; background images or other design elements should completely extend into the bleed area. The safe area is the largest area that is guaranteed not to be cut off; all text should be inside the safe area.
If you are printing your own QSL cards, bleed and safe areas must be determined based on your printing process. A starting point is to have the bleed extend 0.25 inches beyond the specified size of the card and to have the safe area be 0.25 inches from the edges of the specified size of the card.
Sending station data
Usually, these data are either printed on the card, selected from a list of possible values, or left as blank spaces to be filled in later. Common data fields include:
- The sending station's callsign or callsigns
- The sender's mailing address, e-mail address, and other contact information
- The Maidenhead grid locator of the station from which the contact was made (hereinafter referred to as "the station")
- The station's county, if applicable
- The station's ITU zone from which the contact was made (list)
- The station's CQ zone from which the contact was made (list)
- The model number of the station's transmitter
- Club affiliations
The back can also contain information about the photo on the front of the card, version information, and information about the design of the card.
These data fields pertain to the contact that the QSL card confirms:
- The callsign of the other station
- Whether the sending station was using portable, mobile, or remote operation
- The frequency and band on which the contact was made (list both frequencies for split operation)
- The mode or modes used during the contact
- The sender's signal report (using the RSx system for voice, image, or CW modes; or SNR for certain digital modes)
- The power used during the contact
- A text box for more general "remarks" about a contact
QSL cards often also have a space used to specify whether the card is sent in reply to another QSL card. This is usually phrased as
PSE QSL (please send a QSL card in reply to mine) or
THX QSL (thank you for sending a QSL card; this is my reply). The correct option is either specified with checkboxes or by printing
PSE QSL THX and crossing out the part that does not apply.
- Slide deck on QSL card design
- LaTeX template/generator for the reverse side of a QSL card
- Gallery of QSL cards received by Kimberly KJ7OMO (thanks!)