How can I make my handmade greeting cards look good?
August 28, 2016 9:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm good at drawing, and pretty creative. I'd love to start making my own greeting cards with personalized drawings for my friends. How can I make this look good, instead of just like I didn't want to go to Hallmark?

I don't scrapbook or do any type of paper craft, so this is 100% new territory to me. If you make your own greeting cards, what tips do you have to make them look good, or more professional than just folding a piece of copy paper in half and drawing on the outside of it?
posted by christinetheslp to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, first of all, maybe this is obvious, but buy blank greeting cards to use as your base.

I don't know what your typical drawing style is, but I find that ink drawings (or drawings at least outlined in ink) look better and more professional than pencil / colored pencil drawings on cards.
posted by mekily at 9:33 AM on August 28, 2016

Is the idea to make a card for a specific person that you would otherwise have bought a card for -- as in, a birthday card for your BFF -- or to make sets of cards for them to use themselves?

Regardless, the big thing is to use good quality paper that has some weight to it. Just normal card stock is fine. And if you can get a cheap paper cutter to let you cut the paper down to more greeting card-like proportions, even better.

Also, in my experience? People are almost always THRILLED to receive a hand drawn card, regardless of how "good" it is, because they understand it took time for you to make and they're pleased that you bothered.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:34 AM on August 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

Buying pre-folded cards will be more expensive but also save you time. Paper presentation has a great selection of colors and sizes and will also sell you matching envelopes. You can also buy this sort of thing on Amazon for pretty cheap.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:38 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding to what NP said, the more personal it is the more likely your recipient is to love it. Funny in-jokes or their name / nickname would be my fallbacks. I fiddled around a bit with calligraphy, so that is one way to make the words inside fancy. Or now we have fonts, but in my youth, all we had was calligraphy.
posted by puddledork at 10:06 AM on August 28, 2016

If you're using pre-made cards, you won't need the following suggestions, but they will help if you're starting with paper. There's something called a bone folder, actually made of plastic, for smoothing out and flattening your folds. When I saw one in a crafts video, it seemed to me that you could use the back of a spoon for the same purpose. After folding the paper, you can use a paper cutter to square up and trim the 3 sides that aren't folded. The cutter has markings on the bed that make it easier to cut an exact 90 degree angle and have the corners match perfectly.

You might also want to make your own envelopes, and if you search online for "envelope templates" you'll find printable patterns for different styles and shapes of envelope. Applying white glue with a brush gives you more control and less ooze than squirting the glue out of the bottle. Then for the flap, you could try a home-made lick-and-seal adhesive if making envelopes in a batch. You can buy some in an applicator bottle as well.
posted by wryly at 10:17 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, one note on folding heavyweight paper -- the folds will look much crisper if you lightly score the inside of the fold with a pen knife first.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 10:30 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

If I want to do multiple cards with the same design, but still want them to look hand drawn (i.e not printed), I use a lightbox to trace the original design on to however many cards I want to send. Lightboxes are nice in general to have, e.g. for neatening up a sketched design without using an eraser and messing the paper up.

Another way to make multiple cards is through hand printing, like linocut or simple intaglio. It's fun and you can get gorgeous results. You probably have a print studio nearby who offer courses or workshops to get you started, and who would let you use their equipment if you find you like printmaking.

If you don't want to shell out for pre-made cards or buy a paper cutter, then a self-healing mat + craft knife + metal ruler + bone folder will do a nice job. Or you could simply bone fold and tear, which gives a softer edge. Just whatever you do, don't use scissors. And get good quality card stock or paper.

I have a stamp with my initials and the year in roman numerals to go on the back of the cards, gives it a nice professionalish look.

Practice your calligraphy. A nicely made card will look weird with a blue-ballpoint message inside. Nicely written addresses on nice envelopes seals the deal.
posted by mymbleth at 10:34 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Crisp and solid colors matter a lot more in greeting card space than would a drawing on larger paper. Depending on your design, colored pencils can look washed out on card stock, while something that leaves less white space, such as paints or paper cuts/collage, will look more appealing. To make certain things pop even more, outlining in black archival ink (for example, using Sakura Micron pens) will help.

You want to use card stock that is heavy enough so that it won't wrinkle up if you paint on it. I liked using Strathmore blank greeting cards.

Sometimes embellishment, such as metallic paint, glitter (used sparingly), or Mod Podge gloss over acrylic paint on card stock paper, has improved the overall effect of the card, although embellishment is exactly that - and shouldn't substitute for a good composition and quality.

Also, half the energy of making my own greeting cards is the effort it takes to come up with an idea that is customized towards the person. (This tailoring also makes it clear to the receiver that I wasn't simply reluctant to go to Hallmark, regardless of the quality.) Since I can't force inspiration, I keep this in the back of my mind and write ideas down as they come to me so that when it's time to create the greeting card, I already have a few ideas to explore.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:50 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Part of it is the card, part is the envelope. If you buy pre-made cards for drawing on (which you can get in a variety of finishes, matte/glossy, watercolor paper, polished/springy texture, etc) they probably come with matched envelopes. Or wander through a stationers store and look at their envelopes. Or wander through a paper store and find paper you like, which you will then cut, fold, and glue into your own envelopes. My only point being that if the envelope is crummy or doesn't fit the card inside to a perfect size, that sets a certain sloppiness of presentation, which the drawing on the card would have to overcome.
posted by aimedwander at 11:47 AM on August 28, 2016

My mother makes her own greeting cards and sells them too. Just helped her finish a batch. She buys the kind of prefolded cards that have fold two times and have a window or passepartout type opening to frame or display her art (tiny birds marbled on paper). Most often she buys them with matching envelopes and the whole card looks very professional because the art iss framed by the card. She buys them in stationary shops or craft stores.
posted by 15L06 at 12:35 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I just found that the hole in the card is called aperture (sorry, my English failed me) and here you can see what they look like.
The advantage is, your artwork can be on any paper you prefer. The apertures come in many shapes, and the aperture cards in a multitude of colours. For selling them, she puts the cards (plus envelope) into clear bags
posted by 15L06 at 12:57 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

First, get a small paper cutter used for scrapbooking. Find one that has a scoring 'blade' as well as a cutting one. This will totally handle the folding issue with perfectly straight lines, no need for the bone folder or pen knife mentioned above.

As for your art, I would make it on whatever paper you like, then mount it as it's own thing on top of the front of your blank card. This will allow you to make your drawings without having to worry about size and placement while you're in process. Trim as needed and stick on the front.

Two ideas for mounting/designing: 1) mount with little adhesive foam pieces, found with scrapbooking supplies. This will add dimension. 2) enhance the edges of your mounted drawing by either slightly inking the edges, or by ripping them for that frayed edge look. (Use a ruler.)

Your recipients will love them!
posted by wwartorff at 7:18 PM on August 28, 2016

My wife uses a home embossing machine called Cuttlebug for her cards. She's bought a ton of dies used off eBay to have some variety. The embossing really adds to the "professional" appearance of the cards, IMHO.
posted by Harald74 at 11:37 PM on August 28, 2016

Double sided tape is my best friend. Others have sworn by glue dots or other adhesives, and after struggling with all types and having sloppy results, I was kicking myself for missing the obvious the whole time.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also re: folding, paper has a grain. If you take a sheet of card stock and try to bend it into a curve, you'll notice that it is easier to bend when you hold it vertically vs holding it horizontally, or vice versa. Folding "with" the grain means your creased edge will be neater.

Using the same paper color/weight for the cards and the envelopes will look more professional. Envelopes come in a lot of standard sizes to give you a starting point and any list will include the (folded) insert dimensions that best fit each size.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:17 PM on August 29, 2016

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