This holiday season, ditch the hackneyed store-bought greetings cards and instead design your own to add wit, sarcasm, or maybe even some heartfelt words of gratitude.
The mainstream greeting card industry rarely expresses your own unique character. Are you the sarcastic black sheep of the family? Or the shutterbug who is forever capturing that perfect shot? A pack of store-bought holiday cards simply will not do your personality justice. You can do better—and for a very affordable price—if you have a little time to create your own custom cards. The words "holiday cards" may elicit groans and eye-rolling from those who see it as a fuddy-duddy tradition, but, when you make your own, holiday cards and post-Thanksgiving thank-you notes can take on a new dimension. Combining photographs from your private collection, inside jokes, wit, humor, or (if your tastes are more highbrow than mine) genuine and heartfelt appreciation for your loved ones, holiday cards can be entirely individualistic. The six services highlighted below let you design whatever kind of holiday card you want right from your computer, and in one case, your mobile phone. Some let you order single cards for an affordable price, while others offer better deals for buying in bulk.
Another benefit of using online sites and services for making custom greeting cards is that you get something in the mail without ever setting foot in the crowded greeting card aisle of a chain pharmacy mega-mart, with its piercing fluorescent lights and snaking line of coupon-clipping shoppers. That convenience may be a huge value-add. Moreover, some of the services I've tested are actually cheaper than what you'd pay to buy a card in a store.
With some services, including Zazzle.com and Snapfish.com, you can select from a huge variety of paper stock, card sizes, flat or folded styles, landscape or portrait orientation, and so on. Other services prevent you from making too many adjustments to the templates provided on the site, although that's often a blessing in disguise, guiding you toward an elegant design. If you ever needed someone to keep you (or your spouse) from going overboard with Comic Sans font in multiple colors, you'll want a service like Hallmark.com or iPhoto's card-making feature, which keeps you from coloring outside the lines, as it were.
Here are six services for making custom cards, in alphabetical order.
.99 (for software) from Apple's Mac App store; single Letterpress card .48 (.99 each plus .49 shipping); single folded card .49 plus shipping; single flat card 99 cents plus shipping
Most Mac owners already have iPhoto '11 pre-installed on their machines. Without ever leaving the photo-editing interface, you can snag your favorite image and whip it into a beautiful greeting card. iPhoto doesn't have an expansive collection of card templates, but several exist for most major occasions (although humor cards are notably missing). You can customize the text and add images—depending on the template, of course—and create pre-addressed envelopes, too. The Letterpress printing used by Apple results in some of the most tasteful cards I've seen. The quality is unparalleled. Read the full review ››
Long used by small businesses to create custom t-shirts, stickers, and mugs, Cafe Press has an entire section of its site devoted to creating custom holiday greeting cards. You can choose from a variety of templates, although know before you start designing that some cards can only be ordered in bulk, usually starting at a pack of 12. If you want a single card from Cafe Press, you can design on a blank slate 5-by-7-inch folded card ($4 for a single card) but if you go that route, you can only upload images. That's fine if for graphic designers, but probably too intimidating and time consuming for the rest of us.
Free to use; prices vary
Hallmark.com offers a good card-making service that's fairly hassle-free, and with some of the best shipping options around. Hallmark's online service will work best for people who want to get the job done, desire a professional-looking finished product, and need it delivered when and where they want. On average, prices are slightly higher with Hallmark than Zazzle.com or Snapfish.com—for example, a single card I made came in at .62 after shipping—but the finished products tend to be of a slightly higher quality. However, Hallmark has more rigid templates than Zazzle and Snapfish. Read the full review ››
Free to use; prices vary
Snapfish.com, the website that also offers photo hosting, lets you not only order prints of your photos, but also slap them into greeting cards and other custom-merchandise pretty easily. The Snapfish card-designing editor is one of the very few that zooms in on the text by opening it in a separate window, helping you verify that what you think you've written is indeed what you've typed. Snapfish has perhaps the lowest prices and vast options for cards, but in my testing, I did run into quality issues with the final product more than once. Snapfish does offer a full refund and 10 percent discount on a future purchase if you're not satisfied, but caveat emptor nonetheless. Snapfish has a good service, but I personally wouldn't order its products if I were on a deadline; you'll want a few extra days for possible quality-control. Read the full review ››
Free to use; prices vary
Custom merchandising seller Zazzle.com has a huge section of cards that you can make from the comfort of your computer chair. The site didn't leave me feeling "zazzled" or wowed, due to its mediocre card-customizing tools, but the quality and prices were better than I expected. Zazzle gives you a lot more control over the look of your cards than Hallmark, which is fine if you design well. Zazzle's real selling point is low price, with bigger savings when you order cards in bulk. It's a good option if you're buying dozens of cards to mail to family, friends, and business associates. Read the full review ››