Create unique, festive photo cards and calendars

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When it comes to holiday photo projects, you can’t beat personalized cards and calendars. They’re incredibly fun to make and folks love getting them. Here, we’ll explore designing cards in Photoshop Elements, uploading photos to online labs for printing, as well as creating cards and calendars in iPhoto.

Designing cards in Photoshop Elements

The first step in designing cards is to determine the printer. Some companies offer downloadable templates, which are handy for accurate document and pixel size or resolution (the template also includes trimlines that keep you from placing important bits in harm’s way). While you can use myriad programs to design cards, including Apple’s Pages, this column focuses on Photoshop Elements.

Pop Art Card

Pop Art holiday card design

Step 1: Choose File -> Open and navigate to where the image lives. Enter Guided mode and from the menu on the right, click Pop Art.

The Pop Art effect lives in the list of Guided edits in Elements 9 and later.

Step 2: In step 1 of the Pop Art instructions, choose the second style for a more subtle effect and then follow the remaning steps to create it (click each button once). Click Done when you’re finished.

Guided edits are easy to follow. Another useful Guided edit for holiday cards is Picture Stack.

Step 3: Click on Expert mode (Full Edit in previous versions) and press C to activate the Crop tool. In the Tool Options bar at the bottom of the window (top in previous versions), choose a card size from the pop-up menu (5-by-7 was used here) and then enter 300 for Resolution to keep the pixels nice and small.

Step 4: Draw a crop box by dragging from just outside the left corner of the image, diagonally downward to the right. Drag inside the crop box to center it atop your photo, then click the green checkmark to accept.

Step 5: Choose View -> Fit on Screen and press T to activate the Type tool. In the Tool Options bar, pick a sans-serif font such as Helvetica, Arial, or Myriad Pro, from the font menu and enter at least 42 points into the size field. Click the color swatch to open a menu of built-in colors and choose 10 percent gray—8th swatch in the first row of default colors—to keep the constrast down.

If you don’t see the correct card size in the pop-up menu, enter it in the W and H fields.

Step 6: Click within your document and type “happy holidays” in lower-case. Mouse away from the text about an inch and when your cursor turns into an arrow, drag to reposition the text so it straddles the dividing lines of the photos. Click the green checkmark to accept.

Step 7: Save a master file for future edits by choosing File -> Save As and picking Photoshop from the Format pop-up menu. Next, save a JPEG for uploading to the Internet by choosing File -> Save As and picking JPEG from the Format pop-up menu. Click Save and in the next dialog, enter 12 for Quality and click OK.

Partial Color card

Partial Color holiday card design

Step 1: Choose File -> Open and navigate to where the image lives and then enter Expert mode.

Step 2: Press C to activate the Crop tool. In the Tool Options bar, choose a card size from the Crop Preset Options pop-up menu and enter 300 for Resolution. Click and drag diagonally downward atop your image to draw a crop box; drag inside the crop box to reposition it atop your photo. Click the green checkmark to accept.

Step 3: Set the color chips at the bottom of the Tools panel to the default of black and white by pressing D and then press X until black hops on top. Choose Layer -> New Adjustment Layer -> Gradient Map and click OK in the resulting dialog and Elements turns your photo into a beautiful black-and-white image.

Step 4: Press B to activate the Brush tool and make sure black is your foreground color chip (the one on top). Zoom into your image by pressing Command-plus (PC: Ctrl-plus), mouse over to your image, and paint across the areas you want to remain in color (like the pj’s shown here).

If you mess up, press X to flip color chips (putting the white square in the foreground) so you’re painting with white and then paint across that area again. (With layer masks, painting with black conceals and white reveals.) Use a big brush (125 pixels) for large areas and a small brush (15 pixels) for edges. Zoom in if you need to and Spacebar-drag to move around within the image.

Tip: If the area you want to remain in color has good contrast, create a selection with the Quick Selection tool before adding the Gradient Map adjustment layer.

The layer mask that comes with the Gradient Map adjustment layer lets you hide part of that layer, allowing the layer below—where the original color lives—to show through.

Step 5: Press T to activate the Type tool and in the Tool Options bar, pick a script font, such as Brush Script or Zapfino from the font menu and enter 52 points into the size field. If your subject is positioned on the right, click about an inch from the top and left of your card; if your subject is on the left, click about an inch from the top and right of your card, then type Seasons Greetings.

Step 6: Triple-click within the text to highlight it and then click the color swatch in the Tool Options bar to open a menu of built-in colors. From the resulting menu, click the tiny circle icon at the bottom right of the menu to open the Color Picker. Mouse over to your image and when your cursor turns into an eyedropper, click to snatch the color you revealed earlier. Click the green checkmark to accept the text.

Step 7: Add a drop shadow to the text by clicking the Effects button in the toolbar. In the Effects panel, click Styles and choose Drop Shadows from the pop-up menu. Find and double-click the preset in the second row called "Low".

Step 8: Click the Layers button in the Elements toolbar to reveal the Layers panel and then double-click the tiny “fx” icon to the right of the Type layer’s name to open the Style Settings dialog. Set Size and Distance to 5 and Opacity to 50, then click OK.

Step 9: Save a master file by choosing File -> Save As and picking Photoshop from the Format pop-up menu. Now save a JPEG by choosing File -> Save As and picking JPEG from the Format menu. Click Save and in the next dialog, enter 12 in the Quality field and click OK.

Online print labs

Once you’ve prepared images for a card or for use in a calendar, gather those high-quality JPEGs and launch your Web browser. (iPhoto users can use the File -> Export command to create JPEGs. No matter which online card printer you use—,,,—the process is nearly identical. First, create a free account. Then, pick a product to make. Finally, upload your photos. For Mac users, Shutterfly has a handy plug-in that lets you upload photos straight from iPhoto.

Here's the process of creating a calendar on, for example.

Step 1: Go to and click the Get Started link at the top to create an account. Click the Sign Up button and click View Products. Click the Calendars preview thumbnail to create a spiral-bound wall calendar, then choose Binding on top, 12-by-18 and click the red Order Now button to enter the project workspace.

Most online print labs make it easy to create an account and begin a project.

Step 2: From the Themes section at the bottom, click a theme, such as Full Page Photos, then click the Add Photos button. In the resulting screen, click the Add an album button and enter a name for your project. Click the red Add Photos button and in the resulting dialog, navigate to where your folder of JPEGs is located. Shift- or Command- (PC: Ctrl) click to select multiple images and click Open; displays the name photos to be uploaded. Click the big red Upload Photos button and when they’re finished, you’re deposited back at the project screen. Click the red Next Step button at the bottom right to enter the edit screen.

Step 3: The edit screen lets you tweak four calendar pages at a time (just click the gray Next button to load more). Choose your photos by clicking an album in the My Photos area, then drag a photo into each frame.

If you place a photo that won’t print at high quality (small pixel dimensions), you get a triangular red warning symbol. Once you place a photo, you can change the zoom level, reposition it inside the frame, or rotate it by clicking the Edit Photos link circled here.

Step 4: To add text or a photo to a date square, click the Customize button near the bottom right and then pick a month from the listing on the left. From here you can click any date square to enter text or add a photo.

Step 5: When you’re finished placing photos, click the red Next Step button at the bottom right and then click the Add to Cart button. On the resulting order screen, choose a standard smooth finish or pearl (subtle shimmer) finish on thick stock.

Happily, the interface, along with the other sources mentioned, works the same way for ordering cards.

Cards and calendars with iPhoto

iPhoto makes preparing and printing photos and photo-based projects super-easy. Apple’s print quality is unparalleled and pricing is affordable (save for Letterpress cards, which are $3 each). No matter what you’re making—cards, calendars, or books—you start by creating a photo album. This narrows down your photos to a manageable subset of your collection and lets you resequence them; just drag the photos around inside an album to reorder them. For cards, start with 10-15 photos; for calendars, start with 25-30.


Step 1: Choose an album from the Source list and make sure you don’t have any photos selected from inside the album by clicking a free space between thumbnails in the preview area (otherwise iPhoto will add selected photos instead of the whole album). Click the Create button in the iPhoto toolbar and choose Card.

Step 2: Pick a card type using the buttons at the top: Letterpress ($3 each, 5-by-7), Folded ($1.49 each, 5-by-7), or Flat (.99 each, 4-by-6). Choose Holidays from the category pop-up menu and iPhoto displays the Holiday themes in a spinnable carousel; scroll by using the arrow keys on your keyboard or by swiping a finger across your Magic Mouse or Magic Trackpad. Click Create to enter the page-design screen.

After choosing a theme, use the buttons labeled here to change orientation and background or accent color.

Step 3: iPhoto flows photos into the project (by sequence or date) though they’re infinitely tweakable. Single-click a photo: that produces a slider you can use to resize the image, then click and drag the photo to adjust its position inside the frame. Double-click a photo to open the Options panel where you can add a Black and White, Sepia, or Antique tint, or open the image in Edit mode. Click the Back to [card] button that the upper right corner of the window when finished. Replace a photo by clicking the Photos button in the toolbar and then dragging thumbnails into the card frames.

Replacing photos is a drag-and-drop affair; to swap photos between frames, click and drag one photo atop the other.

Step 4: Click the Layout button in the toolbar to adjust the card’s background color and layout. The Background options and Layout pop-up menu varies based on which theme you picked (the latter lets you choose how many photos are on the page).

Step 5: Adjust the text. Click any placeholder text to edit it; click the Options button to gain access to even more text formatting goodies (it’s helpful to use the the toolbar’s zoom slider to enlarge the text first).

Step 6: When everything looks good, click Buy Card. Your Mac goes online and the order screen appears, where you can buy as many cards as you want. Unfortunately, there are no quantity discounts.


Creating calendars in iPhoto works exactly the same way, except that there are two design environments: one for the calendar as a whole, called All Pages view, and another to customize the photosand text on each calendar page, called Single Page view. These $20 wire-bound calendars are gorgeous and at 10.4-by-13 inches, they’re big.

All Pages view lets you rearrange pages (months), though that’s best saved until after you’ve perfected each page. 

Once you’ve created an album and sequenced the photos, follow these steps.

The “Show national holidays” pop-up menu lets you fill your calendar with important holidays (by country) and the checkboxes let you include iCal info (handy for vacations), as well as Birthdays from Contacts.

Step 1: Click Create in iPhoto’s toolbar and choose Calendar. Pick a template from the carousel (Big Date is a favorite) and then click the Create button. In the resulting dialog, tell iPhoto what month/year to start your calendar and how many months to include, then click OK.

Step 2: Here in All Pages view, you can rearrange the calendar pages themselves. To edit photos on a page, double-click it to enter Single Page view and then use the Layout, Options, and Photos button to customize each page as described earlier in the Cards section.

Step 3: Add text and/or photos to individual date squares.

Customizing date squares is great for anniversaries, vacations, or family events, as well as adding people’s faces to their birthday squares (though the date disappears).

Step 4: When everything is just right, click the Buy Calendar button, enter quantity and shipping method, and then tap your toes until the postman delivers your goodies.

Photos by Lesa Snider. All rights reserved.

This story, "Create unique, festive photo cards and calendars " was originally published by TechHive.

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