Do you get stumped when coming up with a design for your cards? Where do you place that perfect flower or sentiment? One of the most well-known design principles is the “Rule of Thirds”.  It applies to every form of design. We see it in home decorating, graphic design, photography, painting, and even scrapbooking and card making. In this installment of Stamping University, I will show you some simple ways to apply the Rule of Thirds to your card making.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” Pablo Picasso

What Is the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds helps us compose our creations. It’s based on the principle that the human eye inherently prefers to see balance and movement in design and art. The Rule of Thirds establishes a guideline for us to follow. So let’s get started.

Divide your card front into 9 equal parts by imagining or even overlaying a grid that features three equally sized columns and three equally sized rows. It should look something like this:

9 square grid to identify the power points for design

Placing important design elements on the intersections of the horizontal and vertical lines, sometimes called “power points”, will help create balance and movement and ultimately result in a more polished, cohesive composition.

Why Use the Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is the most well-known design composition tool for a reason. It’s simple but profoundly effective and can help improve the overall look at feel of your designs by:


  • Adding balance and complexity without being overwhelming or confusing.
  • Discouraging you from simply locating your focal point smack in the middle of your page or card.
  • Creating a sense of direction within your composition by helping to direct the eye where you want it to go.


How Can You Use the Rule of Thirds?

Start composing your design by asking yourself two questions:

  1. What are your major points of interest? This could include things like logos, people, photographs, scrapbook embellishments, a cluster of stamped or die-cut pieces, quotations, or any focal point.
  2. Where should you place them? And that’s the million-dollar question. The Rule of Thirds can help you answer this question.

There are a few simple ways you can use the Rule of Thirds to help decide where to place your major points of interest.

1.  Place focal points on or near power points.

Daisy punches illustrating the single power point Rule of Thirds

2. Align elements along the vertical lines and horizontal axis. Think the letter ‘L’ in any direction. (Now I am feeling like a BINGO player, LOL!)

Daisy punch cluster with leaves to illustrate the horizontal and vertical lines in the Rule of Thirds

3. Align design elements along one of the horizontal lines. 

Daisy punch cluster illustrating the lower third horizontal space in the Rule of Thirds

4.  Create flow within your design by allowing linear features and design elements to extend into other sections or diagonally through power points.

Daisy cluster illustrating the diagonal line in the Rule of Thirds


Using the Rule of Thirds Heirarchy

Remember that the most popular, eye-catching power point is the top-left intersection. With this in mind, it might be a good idea to place critical information or your main focal point on this power point. Following this, the most attention-grabbing power points are (in order) the bottom left, the top right, and lastly the bottom right.

Rule of Thirds Power Points Graphic Design Principles


Breaking the Rule of Thirds

Ok, now the moment you have all been waiting for….you don’t need to be exact when using the Rule of Thirds. Think of the Rule of Thirds as more of a guideline, and don’t worry if your focal points don’t exactly match up with the power points or axes.

The main goal of the Rule of Thirds is to encourage artists and designers not to locate their subjects or focal points right in the center of their canvas. But if you have a good enough reason to break the Rule of Thirds, by all means, go ahead and break it! Here are a few good excuses but feel free to add your own:

  • You’re aiming to create a sense of symmetry. People like symmetry as much as they like balance and movement, so opting to create symmetry by breaking the Rule of Thirds is a perfectly valid design decision.
  • You want to create a certain emotional resonance within your design. Centered focal points can feel aggressive and confrontational, so if that’s what you’re going for, consider centering your focal point instead of following the Rule of Thirds.

In Summary

According to Pirates, “The code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” – said Hector Barbossa to Captain Jack Sparrow

Using the Rule of Thirds will help you create more visually interesting, balanced compositions, but if your specific project calls for you to break the rule, don’t hesitate to do so! Did this help with your design process? Like all things in life, it requires practice. Let yourself be creative. Now go forth and create beautiful things.

Do you want to know how I created the daisy clusters? I’ll show you tomorrow. See ya then (Meanwhile, collect the items in the supply list so you are ready to go.)


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