Homemade gift series: personalized cards

The cards below were a cherished gift received by the author's wife, inspiring this addition to the homemade gift series.

Trent Hamm / The Simple Dollar
Handmade note cards, featuring your own photography and assembled with basic materials from a craft shop or Target, can be an inexpensive but unforgettable gift. Featuring photos of you and the recipient together can make them especially meaningful.

A few years ago, Rachel gave my wife Sarah a wonderful Christmas gift: some beautifully-constructed stationery with photos of her own choosing placed on the front of note cards, along with envelopes to mail them in. Here are three examples that Sarah has kept:

As you can see, there’s some variety in the cards – the border colors changed, some of the photos are in color and some are grayscale, some depict nature and others depict family. The full set, numbering about 25 or so, included a wide variety of pictures and colors.

Simply put, this was one of Sarah’s favorite gifts she’s ever received. Some of the cards are nice enough that they could easily be framed for home decorations. Others are so aesthetically pleasing to Sarah that she simply can’t bear to part with them.

When we first started thinking about doing homemade gifts for people this year, these cards were the first thing that Sarah mentioned. We should make a batch of them for a great gift for someone.

Our first step was finding the elements that we needed to pull this off. The things we needed most were the material for the cards themselves, some additional craft paper for the borders, and the photos we wanted to use.

For the card material and the craft paper, we simply checked flyers and waited patiently for a sale. We watched craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, as well as art supply stores and paper stores. Eventually, we found some huge discounts on just the items we wanted, picking up big piles of both craft paper and cards for a pittance. However, even if you do buy them at face value, the cost for 20-30 cards’ worth of material is $10-15 if you shop around.

What about the pictures? This is something I’ve been dealing with lately and deserves a full post on its own. However, my rules of thumb are this:

If you need just a picture or two, home printing is probably worth it.
If you’re printing ten or fifteen, the local department store is probably the best place.
If you’re ordering a lot of pictures (enough to get free shipping – say, 100+), there are online sources that take the cake.

Now, what about assembling a card?

Here, I just chose a black and white snapshot of my youngest son (actually taken by my niece). The simplest thing to do, of course, would be to simply paste it to the front of a card without any border at all. It’s quite simple and works, but I want to add a bit more panache to it.

My next attempt was to add a brown frame to the picture, using craft paper and scissors. Since the card is 5″ by 7″ and the picture is 4″ by 6″, I cut the paper at 4 2/3″ by 6 2/3″, making a thick brown border and a thin white border around it.

Do you like that one? I did, but I wanted to keep going.

I then cut out a tan craft paper rectangle measuring 4 1/3″ by 6 1/3″, then placed that between the dark brown rectangle and the photo, creating a “multi”-border effect that I quite liked.

As you can see, there are infinite options here and you can make whatever you like – different colored cards, different colored borders made out of craft paper, different photographs. They all result in different effects.

What pictures should you choose? I would suggest using prints that would have some personal meaning for the recipient: family members they care about, locations that have meaning to them, and things like that. You can also choose some of your best natural shots as well to give the card recipients some variety in the pictures.

Another note: I think the cards look better if the edges on your own work aren’t absolutely perfect, so don’t obsess on straight perfection. A little tiny bit of skewing adds a wonderful handmade flavor to the cards that can’t be duplicated.

One final thought: if you send out holiday cards to your family and friends, consider making some of these instead. They will really stand out from the pack.

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