Karel Martens graduated from the Arnhem Academy of Art & Design, in the Netherlands, in 1961. He has worked as a freelance graphic designer ever since, specialising in typography, while also developing his own three-dimensional graphic projects.
In the 1960s, Karel Martens worked for Van Longhum (in Arnhem), and, from 1975 to 1981, for SUN (Socialistiese Uitgeverij Nijmegen). In addition to his work as a graphic designer in the publishing industry, he developed projects for PTT Nederland, for whom he designed stamps and phone cards.
Karel Martens also designed typographic facades, as well as signs. In 1999, he designed the facade of the Veenman printing company in Ede, at the request of architectural firm Neutelings Riedjik, and in collaboration with poet K. Schippers. In 2005, he designed the glass facade of the Haarlem Philharmonic building from a score by Louis Andriessen.
Karel Martens has been teaching graphic design since 1977. He held his first position at the Arnhem Academy of Art & Design until 1994. He then joined the Jan van Eyck Academy, in Maastricht, from 1994 to 1997. Since then, he has been a visiting lecturer in design at the Yale University School of Art.
In 1998, he co-founded the Typography Workshop (Werkplaats Typografie) at the Arnhem Academy of Art & Design, of which he shared the artistic direction – together with Armand Elvis and Paul Elliam – from 2001 to 2014. The programme became a Master's Degree in 2006.
Today, Karel Martens works as a consultant in contextual design at the Eindhoven Design Academy.
In 1993, Karel Martens received the H.N. Werkman award for the design of architecture magazine OASE.
In 1996, was awarded with the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for Art for the publication of Printed matter, in collaboration with Jaap van Triest.
His work has been nominated three times at the Rotterdam Design Awards. In 1995, for the design of a series of telephone cards for PTT Telecom, for which he received an honorary commendation ; in 1997, for his book entitled Printed matter ; and in 1999, for the design of the facade of the Veenman print company, in Ede.
In 1998, Printed matter, won the gold medal and was designed « most beautiful book in the world » at the Leipzig Book Fair.
In 2002, Karel Martens was awarded with the Gerrit Noordzijprijs.
His books are regularly selected for the annual Best-Designed Dutch Books competition.