Over the years of designing and printing business cards and calling cards, there is one famous card that is referenced time and time again. This card’s celebrity status comes from a three-minute movie scene and is visible for about four seconds, yet it has become one of our most requested cards.
We’re referencing Paul Allen’s Pierce & Pierce business card from the 2000 thriller/horror film American Psycho. We will take a closer look at the design of this simple business card, along with the other four cards featured in the movie, and try to distill why it remains such a famous and beloved card.
We’ll start in order of appearance with Patrick Bateman’s business card. His card is a close second in popularity to Paul Allen’s and is a style we’ve printed by request numerous times. According to the film, Patrick’s card is set in a fictional typeface called “Cillian Rail” and published on “Bone” colored paper. The actual typeface appears to be Garamond Classico SC (small caps). Patrick’s card has a few problems: the type is set off-center, painfully far to the left edge. It is also set too low so that the tight lower margin of the card is out of balance with the much larger top margin.
This gives the card an unhinged appearance, which might speak to the character’s mental state (though we’ll try to steer clear of film and character analysis here and stick to talking about the cards). In addition to the card being out of register, there isn’t a space between the ampersand and “Pierce” in the company name at the top right. Finally, Patrick’s card has a typo shared with the other four cards: all incorrectly spell the word “acquisitions” by omitting the c.
Oblivious to the card’s design issues, Patrick proudly shows it off to his colleagues and is met with mild praise. Let’s humor Patrick for a moment and consider the strengths of his card. For one, his card is letterpress printed. When the card is shown at a certain angle, you can see the impression made on the paper. Also, Garamond style typefaces are respectable, timeless classics that remain popular throughout the decades and the centuries (you might recognize a Garamond in the Abercrombie & Fitch logo or when reading a U.S. edition of the Harry Potter books). The print quality and the chosen typeface are traditional and professional selections, though it’s unfortunate that the other design problems distract so greatly from the card’s more vital aspects.
David Van Patten
David Van Patten is the second character to show off his business card. Like Patrick’s, his card is set off-center, though too high this time, so the bottom margin has too much white space, and the top is too tight. David describes his card as “Eggshell with Romalian type,” but they are printed on heavily textured uncoated paper and set in Bodoni. Though his card is charged too high, it is at least centered from left to right, which gives it a slight advantage over Patrick’s card.
One shortcoming is that David’s card needs to be letterpress printed; instead, it is conventionally printed (presumably offset since there weren’t digital printing options in the 1980s). This means his card is printed flat and needs the tactile quality of Patrick’s card, though he tries to compensate with the textured paper. Overall, his card has a more modern feel than Patrick’s, primarily due to the typeface selection, but the paper texture also gives the card a solid 80’s corporate vibe.
Third up is Timothy Bryce’s card. He introduces it by saying, “raised lettering, pale nimbus white.” Right off the bat, it’s clear that the lettering isn’t raised or embossed. The card appears to be letterpress printed, though we don’t get a clear shot of the impression depth. The typeface is the ever-popular and ubiquitous Helvetica, giving the cards the most contemporary feel.
The only fundamental flaw is that the card is set far too low, but otherwise looks pretty good. Timothy’s paper is also noticeably textured, though slightly more understated than David’s. As uninspired as his card, the clean and almost anonymous feel Helvetica lends is a good fit for the straightforward design. It’s as though this card knows it is one of the flock and does its best to look presentable rather than stand out.
And at last, we arrive at the supposed Adonis that is Paul Allen’s card. Since Paul isn’t in this part of the scene to present his card, we don’t get a character description of the typeface and paper choice. However, we hear Patrick’s envious voiceover, “Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness of it. It even has a watermark.”
Now let’s start by saying there is no watermark evidence. His card is printed on a relatively smooth, uncoated stock, similar to but whiter than Patrick’s. The typeface is Copperplate Gothic (which is also the typeface used in the film’s title sequence). Though it is called Gothic, the typeface has lovely subtle glyphic serifs, giving the card a distinctly 20th-century sensibility with more character than Helvetica offers (which is a true Gothic or sans serif).
Paul’s card appears off-center vertically or horizontally, making it the most confident. The unique aspect of Paul’s card is that the address, fax, and phone numbers are set on two lines rather than one long line spanning the length of the card. Though none are extraordinary, his card might be the cream of this particular crop.
Before we move on to talking about the primary four cards as a whole, we have to make an honorable mention of the often-overlooked fifth card! This card isn’t part of The Business Card Scene but shows up about halfway through the movie. Luis Carruthers’ garish two-color card stands out with the printing in green ink and gold foil. The green is registered well enough, but the gold is significantly out of register, hanging too far to the left.
Another detail unique to this card is that Luis’ name is set with his last name first. His last name is specified in all caps like the other four cards, but his first name is the only one to be set in the title case. His card is the flashiest and most expensive but is executed so poorly that it looks outlandish and silly.
The cards are much like their owners:
Potentially appealing at first glance, yet predominantly unoriginal and flawed. Patrick Bateman, David Van Patten, Timothy Bryce, and Paul Allen are similar in age, appearance, and dress, and they all have the same job and variations of the same business card. Their cards follow the same basic layout, have the same contact information and title, and are printed in black ink on off-white paper. The differences are mainly in the typeface, paper type, and degree to which the card is out of register. Typographically, Patrick’s card is Old-style, David’s is Modern, Timothy’s is a Sans Serif, and Paul’s is a Serif, which does give each card its own unique, though subtle, flavor.
Putting aside the technical errors and overall homogenous quality of the cards, what makes them so appealing? As mentioned earlier, we get many requests for American Psycho-themed business cards. Paul Allen’s card is so popular that we eventually created our calling card inspired by the original. We call it the Improved Paul Allen because we gave it an updated and polished redesign. In the turn of the century Copperplate Gothic, we traded for the modernist sans typeface, Verlag, and cleaned up the kerning and overall balance on a UK-sized business card. And we’ll let you in on a little secret—it’s our top-selling calling card!
So that brings us back to why people love these cards. Some of it comes down to the novelty of their celebrity status, but it also has to do with the flexibility of the cards’ layout. All these cards display a relatively large amount of information on a single-sided card. The design has a professional, familiar feel and is well-suited to various industries.
The focal point is on the name, without requiring the font to be overly large or flashy, and it’s safely nestled inside all the desired contact and business information. It’s adaptable, which is more important than any other trait, making this card highly favored.
Read also: How to Start an A.T.M. Business.