Is there a way to send typewritten Xmas letters with sentimental value?
December 11, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

I would like to send Christmas letters, including one to a girl I like. There's only one problem: I have terrible handwriting. It's really, really bad. I've worked on improving it my whole life, but my motor skills just can't seem to pick up on the knack of writing properly; my words honestly look like the scribbles of a child, and unless I take care are sometimes illegible to other people. For this reason I much prefer typing things, but I feel that much of the sentimentality is lost if a letter is typed. Is there any way for me (through cool program, font, or other method) to send something that's typed that gives the same impact a written letter would?

My brother and Dad have the same problem, perhaps due to the ADD we share. All of us are clumsy and have sloppy handwriting, but mine is probably the worst. My printing is bad, and don't get me started on my cursive.

Due to my atrocious handwriting, I've had to rewrite assignments in school, I've had to retake tests, you name it. I would often get the note on my report card "needs to take more care when writing," but here"s the thing: I was taking care. I am allowed to type for work, which is a blessing since I'm a competent typist. When I'm writing, it's not like I'm trying to rush things; I've tried slowing down, and although it is legible it still looks sloppy. I have a difficult time with other tasks requiring fine motor skills, such as art, as well.

My writing, I feel, is bad to the point where it interferes with what I am trying to say. No matter how heartfelt (and in the case of the girl, romantic) I try to make the card, it still looks like it was written by a second grader, and I tend to get frustrated.

Also, there is the matter of time; it takes me an inordinate amount of time to write a Christmas letter due to how carefully I try to write, and even then it looks like I rushed it and don't care. I've even tried taking my time and tracing cursive letters I had printed out online, but it doesn't look right and takes up a lot of time. I can literally spend an hour on a card, and I have too many to send to be using up so much time.

It has gotten to the point where I would like to eschew writing personal letters entirely and figure out a way to type them instead. With typing, I am able to get them done more quickly and convey my thoughts more eloquently, instead of sounding like a child. However, although typing is certainly a step up from email or a facebook post, it seems that some sentimentality would be lost through typing my letters.

Does anyone else have a similar problem? Are there any ways to type a letter with sentimental value? Maybe a cool font or program? Or maybe even programs that make it look like the card was typewritten? Are there any other possibilities that I haven't thought of?
posted by Kamelot123 to Writing & Language (24 answers total)
Use a typewriter and good stationery and you'll create a keepsake, I promise.
posted by kmennie at 9:04 AM on December 11, 2013 [21 favorites]

I have painstakingly meticulous penmanship, but I can only handwrite stuff once in a great while because I have ulnar nerve damage that makes my hands go numb and useless after I pen just a few words. I can't even write a check in one go. Super annoying.

To preserve the personalization in my missives, I type up whatever I need to write, then draw zillions of little illustrations in the margins and add very brief handwritten blurbs/accents as desired. It doesn't matter if you're not a particularly talented artist (heaven knows I'm not) because every little sketch will be completely unique and they will give the typed letter a wonderfully heartfelt flourish.

You can illustrate what you're writing about, draw your/their pets, make a page-corner flipbook -- the possibilities are endless, and if you totally mess up, you can just print out another copy of the letter and start over.

For special brownie points, you could cut the letter up into small sections, paste the paragraphs onto individual 3x5 index cards, hole-punch and "bind" them like a miniature book, and hand-draw the cover. There are tons of paper-crafting activities you could use to personalize your letters without having to resort to penmanship.

And of course, don't forget to hand-sign your name and frivolously decorate your signature!
posted by divined by radio at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

something that's typed that gives the same impact a written letter would?

No. Some people might feel like a typed letter is plenty personal, but for me, a handwritten letter is always, always going to beat it out. Always. Always. If I were on the receiving end of some pitched woo, and I got something that is traditionally handwritten with type on it, I'd feel a little weird, like who else is this bro sending it to, and am I really not worth the time to find a damned pen. What the heck.

So anyway, my thought is that you really need to handwrite this. Here are my official tips on making your writing legible (enough):

1) Print. Do not cursive.
2) Put a bit of space between every letter. This feels awkward and unnatural and it takes a long time, but trust me. Pick your pen up off the paper after EVERY letter you make. It will make your writing easier to read.
3) Write a little bigger than you think you should.
4) I'm serious about picking up your pen between every letter.

You don't have to hand-letter all your cards, but you do need to handwrite the one to your intended. You should also handwrite the cards to your parents and grandparents. Everyone else can get a typewritten letter. (Protip: handwrite your salutation at the end instead of typing it. "Yours, Kamelot123" in even the most illegible scribble is more personal than seeing it typed.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:11 AM on December 11, 2013

I don't know if this is scalable across all the letters you intend to send, but if you're looking to increase the sentimental value, I would consider mashing up your typewritten/computer-printed letter with some element of collage. Just a quick Google image search of "mail art" might return some inspirational pictures or ideas.

As a former mail art aficionado: part of what seems so personal about handwriting is that you can see such clear evidence of the writer's work and time - you can almost sense their hand hovering al over it. Interspersing a printed letter with some sign of that "invisible hand" could return a lot of that personal quality. Think taped on photos, doodles, even memorabilia like a label from a shared wine/soda/drink bottle or a receipt from a dinner you shared.

On preview, basically what divined by radio said above!
posted by allisonrae at 9:12 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I also dropped by to say to suggest using a typewriter. I used one to type up a handful of business cards, and I think people really liked them. There's something about the occasional imperfection of the ink on paper and the willingness to persevere through an error or two that make it a quaint medium.
posted by antonymous at 9:20 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah! Make your envelopes from scratch -- all you need is packing tape and a page-sized pretty photo. Do you have any old issues of National Geographic laying around? So many photos in NatGeo are perfect for envelopes. It seriously takes two minutes to whip one up, and you can make it any size you'd like. Here is a photo tutorial.

When I was a young'n, email didn't exist and snail-mailed friendship books were all the rage. *reminisces*

FBs are very stylized, very personalized, and each one is utterly unique, but the actual words inside -- usually just a name, address, and some favorite interests -- are often typed out and cut/paste rather than hand-scrawled, presumably so as to not detract from the ridiculous amount of glitter, stickers, decorative cello tape, and band photos that have to be crammed onto each page.
posted by divined by radio at 9:21 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My grandmother types her letters on a computer and mails them, and they are plenty sentimental to me. They aren't in a formal business letter format of course - they're block-formatted with nice big text and nice big margins on pretty, personalized paper.

In today's day and age, the act and care of physically mailing a letter sent on nice stationery seems quite equivalent to the care in writing a letter out long-hand.
posted by muddgirl at 9:33 AM on December 11, 2013 [10 favorites]

I think if you actually used a typewriter to do this, it could be cute.

Twee, but in a good way. It's Christmas. Christsmas is inherently twee (at least, the good things about Christmas).

But it needs to be an actual typewriter, not microsoft word with Courier font.

Nice stationery (good paper, interesting envelopes, etc) would add to the effect. If at all possible I would hand address them, even if it means you end up spending 15 minutes on each one.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I did this: go to a font website like and pick a handwriting font that expresses the way you wish you could write.

I carried on a long distance relationship for years doing this and was assured many times that those letters were cherished.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, remember to actually sign them by your own hand. Nothing worse than getting a card and then it's not even signed.
posted by Sara C. at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Even if you have to print from a computer printer, you can still personalize it.

First, look for nice _stationery_ paper, maybe even in a subtle color. Not resume paper, but letter paper. Crane is the most popular "fancy" paper manufacturer in the US, but you can probably find some nice options if you go to a nice paper store or stationery store (where are you? I know this will be difficult in some places.) Find something you really like. If you want to really do it up right, and if you have time, you can get monogrammed stationery, so your name and maybe a pretty icon will be embossed/printed nicely at the top of the page.

The letterpress/heat printed/whatever fancy method they use will make that paper _your_ stationery, which does personalize it. Ask for help choosing something that's warm and personal.

You may not have time for the whole monogram thing (and it is expensive), but maybe for later. Or you can ask your Mom or Dad for it as a Christmas gift (maybe your Dad could use some too). Not to worry! Some nice paper that's smaller than standard letter size will still be lovely.

If you want, you can choose an understated font for printing that's _not_ trying to look like handwriting, but is subtly different from Times New Roman. Maybe Garamond? (Definitely not comic sans - there are about a million fonts out there, have fun, but keep it simple, very readable, and remember -- you will be using this for happy writing and sad writing, and you want your words to show through and not be overpowered by a "fun" or "funky" or "fancy" font).

If you want to really personalize it, like for your Grandma or other family members, you can include photos in the letter! These can look a bit cheesy, but Grandma will love it. So will your Mom.

Printing to a slightly smaller piece of paper might take you a few minutes to figure out, if you haven't done so.

After the letter is printed, you can write a short phrase at the top or bottom (leave space when you create the letter), add a little doodle or drawing, and then put it in an envelope.

The key to personalizing is a) effort by you, and b) a reflection of your personality. The words can do most of this, of course, but a smaller, special piece of paper that you choose will help a lot.
posted by amtho at 10:09 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi all,

Moreso than writing, I'd much rather find a clever, creative way to send a cool typewritten letter and make it my 'thing'. The typewriter idea sounds nice but I move about a lot and wouldn't want to lug it around. I took a look at some stationery paper, and that might be the best option for me. I'd love to hear some stationery paper suggestions.

Also, anyone know what kind of program I would use to personalize the letter? Would Pages work, or is a specialized program a good idea to look into?
posted by Kamelot123 at 10:33 AM on December 11, 2013

I think if you're computer printing it, it doesn't really matter what program you use.

I would pick a typeface that isn't Times New Roman or whatever default font. I think using a handwriting typeface is silly/overkill (nobody is going to think it's your handwriting), but picking something a little unusual yet elegant and definitely readable in long blocks of text on paper is a great idea. Georgia, maybe? Garamond? Baskerville? Something along those lines.
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 AM on December 11, 2013

but picking something a little unusual yet elegant and definitely readable

Gentium is a little different and a very nice font.
posted by phunniemee at 10:44 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Once when I was dating someone, I typed out some letters in serif font, copied the font using my pen (serifs and all) and then sent that.

We broke up shortly after that but I don't think it was the font.
posted by yaymukund at 10:48 AM on December 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Any word processing program will work, but you might get a lot of benefit if you put a little time into learning more about using the features of Pages.

You'll need to make it use smaller page dimensions, to match your stationery paper, for example. If you haven't learned how headers and footers work, that's good too - you can put a pretty symbol, from a symbol or "dingbat" font, at the top or bottom of the page.

Here's Crane's listing of stationery letter sheets, and here's a listing from the Papyrus company. It's more fun, and faster, if you have a stationery store near you - if you can, go look!

If you start searching, note the spelling of "stationery" (not "stationary" - the last vowel is 'e', not 'a' - different word).
posted by amtho at 10:52 AM on December 11, 2013

I only have one friend with whom I still exchange letters and it's a treat to get mail no matter the form. I think a great many people would consider snail mail something that stands out and perceive it as something you took care with, even if it were a typed letter.

For family, you might be more lighthearted and say in passing "You all know how bad my chicken scratch is!"

For the girl you like, you don't necessarily have to say "I have terrible handwriting". Instead, you could maybe say something like "I hope you'll forgive the formality of a typewritten letter but I wanted to get it just right." And maybe enclose a little treat, like a photo or pressed flower or fortune cookie fortune. Something fun and silly would balance the formality of the typing.
posted by Beti at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just re-read the end of your question - you probably don't need a new program. Just become a master of the word processing program you already have! If Pages is what you use, maybe get a small book about using it. You can do a lot with that, or MS Word, or the free LibreOffice.

You'll also want to know how to install fonts for your system (Windows, Mac, or whatever you're using). The book you get should tell you how to do that, too. You can find the answer by searching the net, too, but it sounds like you're early enough in the learning process that a book would be a big help to you - it will give you answers to questions you don't yet know you have.
posted by amtho at 10:58 AM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is not the 18th century. Communication is about getting the message. I would prefer to get a typed/computer generated letter that is legible to one scrawled so that deciphering it is a chore. Fancy computer paper in many patterns is available at paper or office supply stores. Compose it in Word, edit until it is perfect, run it through your printer, sign it by hand. Copies for all your friends are quick and limitless. That one girl? Her copy could be a bit different.
posted by Cranberry at 11:39 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Just make it clear that it's a personal note rather than HERE'S MY FORM XMAS LETTER I'M SENDING TO EVERYONE. I.e., personalize it via what you say, not how you get the words on the page.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:13 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

For stationery, consider getting a smaller size. Something like A5 or what the US apparently calls "junior legal". I find that a typed or even computer printed letter on a good stock of A5 paper feels more intimate and personal than the same thing on normal sized paper, which looks the same as every bill and business letter I've ever received. A smaller page or two can also be more neatly folded into a signed card.
posted by mosessis at 1:20 PM on December 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are many script fonts, some very ornate (Shelly Volante) and some straightforward (Lucida Handwriting). Hundreds of fonts come with word processing programs. If you use a script font, you must *never* use all caps, which are unreadable.

There are also great looking non-script fonts, such as Centaur and Garamond.

My wife and I hand-wrote all the thank you letters for our wedding presents, and the response was overwhelming. No computer font matches that.

There are people who do fine handwriting. Think of your college (or even high school) diploma. For that one special person, it will be worth the cost, which should be fairly reasonable. Look under "engrossing" or ask any fine stationery store, printer, bridal shop or jeweler for recommendations.
posted by KRS at 2:48 PM on December 11, 2013

You're sending mail, that's personal these days. Do you plan to use an actual typewriter? That could be nifty. Write the name, type / print out the message, and sign. Make the message individual. Just got a card from my cousin, with a printed insert that has my name and her signature written, and I'm just happy she keeps in touch. For the special girl, add drawings with colored pencil, or use some rubber stamps, collage, etc. Not art-y? Get a rubber stamp alphabet. Stamp the 1st letter of the recipient's name next to the handwritten name, and do the same with your signature. Bonus points for using gold or silver ink.
posted by theora55 at 7:46 PM on December 11, 2013

Cute paper makes a big difference. Definitely the A5 or smaller sizes work even better. Use thicker paper than copy - 120gsm is nice, and if you can use a slightly 'soft' matt paper in cream, that somehow looks more personal. Good stationary or art supply shops have the best paper. You can get a very nice personalized embossing seal or awesome stamp to make the papers look like your personal stationary, and by adding a wide margin and choosing a classic font, it will look thoughtful.

I would not use a handwriting font - they are fine for captions, but in a letter it quickly become obvious that it's a font. Add an ink signature (use a different colour, blue usually) at the end.

Here's a great example: Ray Bradbury's typed note. The wide margins, the mix of blue ink stamp/printed letterhead as a quirky personal graphic, the plain but spaced typing and the personal signature, all of that makes for a very personal note that wasn't handwritten.
posted by viggorlijah at 12:58 AM on December 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

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