Make Your Own Christmas Cards and Photo Gifts

Print out your own personal holiday cards, and wow your friends and family with thoughtful customized photo gifts.

DIY Holiday Cards

If I learned anything from A Charlie Brown Christmas, it's that dogs are hypercompetitive decorators. Also, that the season is woefully commercialized. This year, instead of giving commoditized, prepackaged, assembly-line gifts, create personalized presents that incorporate something that's uniquely your own: your photos. Here's how to make greeting cards, photo collages, DVD slide shows, and more--with one part creativity and five parts your own holiday photos. Let's start with a greeting card that you can design in a photo editor and publish with your own printer.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Susan Adams.

Choose Your Size

You can print greeting cards of any size, as long as the paper fits in your printer and in the envelopes you'll be using. The easiest kind of card to make is the single-fold variety--basically, a sheet of paper folded down the middle. Making this kind of card involves printing one side of the paper, turning it over, and then feeding it through the printer a second time. For this example, I'll describe how to print on 4-by-6-inch photo paper. When folded into a 4-by-3-inch rectangle, a card of this size fits nicely into small envelopes available at any office supply store.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Windell Oskay.

Prep the Cover Photo

Choose the photo that you want to appear on the front of the card, and open it in your photo editor. I'll describe how to proceed in Adobe Photoshop Elements, but the steps are much the same in any photo-editing program. Click the Crop tool (tenth from the top of the toolbar) and, in the Tool Palette at the top of the screen, set the Aspect Ratio to Custom. You'll want to resize the photo so that it fits on the front of the card, with a small margin around the edges. The card will be 3 inches wide and 4 inches tall, so enter a width of 2.5 inches and a height of 3.5 inches. Drag and resize the crop box until you like the part of the photo it encloses, and then click the check box to accept the changes.

Position the Photo

Now it's time to place the photo in the card. To do that, you'll set the background of the photo to the size of the closed greeting card (in this case 3 by 4 inches). Choose Image, Resize, Canvas Size. Enter 3 for the width and 4 for the height, and click OK. You should see the photo centered in a rectangular canvas. Next, you'll want to extend the canvas horizontally to the full width of an open card. To do that, again choose Image, Resize, Canvas Size; but this time, enter 6 for the width to change it to 6 inches. Click the right-middle anchor tile to expand the canvas to the left. Then click OK.

Add Your Greeting

To add printed text to the inside of the card, use the text tool to superimpose a text box over the photo, matching its dimensions, and then start typing. Initially, your words will overlay the photo, but don't worry--by the end of the project, the contents of the box will appear on the inside right panel of the card. To make that happen, you must render the card's cover temporarily invisible. In the Layer palette on the right side of the screen, make the Background layer (the one containing the cover photo) invisible by clicking the eye-shaped visibility icon.

Print Your Cards

Now simply print the card. Make the Background layer visible. Make the text layer invisible and click Print to print the front of the cards. Check your printer's paper tray for a symbol indicating which side of the paper gets printed on; then load the paper back into the printer to print the opposite side. Make the outside of the card invisible and the text visible, and click Print again. You may have to experiment with the orientation of the paper to perform the second pass properly.

You're all set with holiday cards now...but what about gifts? Read on to learn to make a collage.

An Old-Fashioned Photo Collage

You can make a digital photo collage that looks like the old-fashioned kind where you cut photos apart with scissors and paste them onto a sheet of paper--with no snipping or gluing. Kids love to make them, print them out, and post them around the house at the holidays. To get started, create a blank page in Photoshop Elements by choosing File, New, Blank File and then set the dimensions to 8.5 by 11 inches at 200 pixels per inch. That gives you a blank canvas for the photos you'll be adding.

Add Your First Photo

Choose the first photo that you want to include in the collage, and either open it by using the File, Open menu or drag it into the Photoshop Elements window, where it will open automatically. Grab the Lasso tool (in the sixth cubby from the top of the toolbar on the left side of the screen). In the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen, set Feather to about 10 pixels. Now use the Lasso to draw an outline around the part of the photo that you want to include in the collage. Your hand-drawn selection will look as though you cut it out with a pair of scissors.

Arrange and Size Your Photo in the Collage

When your selection is complete, press Ctrl-C to copy the image; then switch to the blank canvas you made in Slide 7. (You can double-click the blank canvas in the Project Bin at the bottom of the screen.) Press Ctrl-V to paste the selection. Now switch to the Move tool (in the very top cubby of the tool palette), and position the photo where you want it. If you like, you can resize the photo at this point to make it smaller: Position the cursor over the lower right corner of the photo, and click and drag to change the photo's size.

Finish the Collage With More Photos

Now it's just a matter of lather, rinse, and repeat: Add more photos to your Photoshop canvas, cutting, pasting, resizing, and positioning them to suit your taste. When you're done, save and print your creation.

Make a DVD or YouTube Photo Slideshow

People used to groan when grandpa pulled out the slide projector, but those were the bad old monomedia days. Today, you can combine photos, video, and music to produce enjoyable slideshows that you can share on DVD or post on YouTube. These aren't your grandpa's slideshows, and everyone loves them.

I suggest working with Windows Live Movie Maker. This free program is part of the Windows Live Essentials Suite. The latest version simplifies the task of publishing and sharing your movies in all sorts of ways.

Add Photos and Music to the Slideshow

To get started, click Add videos and photos in the ribbon's Home tab and select all of the images you want to include. (You can add more later if you like.) Then click Add music and choose a soundtrack for your project. At this point, you can rearrange your images and video clips by dragging the thumbnails around. When you've arranged your slideshow to your liking, click the Title button to add a title page, and type your title.

To put the finishing touches on your video, click the Music Tools tab and use the Fade In and Fade Out tools to give your slideshow a more professional sound. To make the slideshow last exactly the length of the song, click the Project tab and then click Fit to music.

Publish the Slideshow

There are many other ways to edit your slideshow, so experiment as long as you like. But when you're ready to publish, click the Home tab and choose the appropriate sharing option to send it to, say, Facebook or YouTube. Want to burn a DVD? First click Save Movie and then choose Burn a DVD. Movie Maker will save the file in DVD format, and automatically send it to Windows DVD Maker to burn the disc.

Clothing, Puzzles, Statues, and Other Photo Gifts

Yyou can put your photos on T-shirts, tote bags, calendars, mouse pads, and more. Several photo-printing sites offer these services, but if you're new to photo gifts, I suggest starting at Shutterfly and Snapfish. Here you'll find all the typical stuff, as well as goodies such as blankets, neckties, cutting boards, canvas wall art, jigsaw puzzles, hardwood boxes, and even playing cards. Another option is Zazzle, a site that lets you customize any of its gift items with your own photos. You can personalize just about anything: shoes, postcards, skateboards, key chains, buttons, kitchen magnets...even pet clothing. Zazzle can even make an acrylic 3D sculpture from a photo.

You may also enjoy these slideshows:

• "Shoot Awesome Holiday Photos"

• "Take Great Photos at Night"

• "The Best Way to Photograph Fireworks"

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