Holiday Cards the Photocrafting Way

One of
An early holiday greeting!

Did you know that Louis Prang is credited with selling the first Christmas cards to the United States in 1874? I like to imagine that his image at the right could be a photo of a couple under the mistletoe. Alas it’s not an early photocrafting creation. He commissioned artists to do paintings for use in his cards.

So why are we talking about holiday cards? It’s hard to believe that it might be time to start thinking about them. But why not avoid the rush this year? Tom’s Guide: Best Photo Cards in 2020 already has a great description of ten favorite photocrafting sites for cards. We’ll add a couple more here and talk about the Five Picks for a process to create your favorites!

For an example, I wanted to make a holiday card that includes a family and photos from a vacation to France. I’ll work through our Five Picks: 1) Pick your photos, 2) Pick your site, 3) Pick a card type, 4) Pick a template, and 5) Pick your customization.

1. Pick Your Photo(s)

This is probably the most time consuming part of the project! You may be searching for just the right image or you may have a stack, all of which you want to use. Don’t have any photos? pinterest is full of ideas for creating memorable photos. Remember that your photos will appear on a card that’s probably no larger than 5″x7″.

The image shows a collection of photos from a vacation in France.
A selection of photos from a vacation trip to France.

I had several photos but decided to reduce it to a total of four. I thought the upper middle image of the Eiffel Tower didn’t show the person well enough and the lower middle picture, pretty as a larger image, became too much of a green blur in a small size. The Monet garden and the castle both run the risk of having too much detail to be clear but they’re so recognizable that I decided to use them. Note that the photos are differing sizes. It’s likely that your card template will cause you to crop images so recognize that you might have to cut out some parts of the images.

  • A few tips:
    • Aim for a picture (or pictures) in which the people or place is the main attraction with not too much additional detail.
    • Be sure the resolution of your picture is good (at least 540×360 pixels for a 4×6 image; 630×450 Pixels for a 5×7 image) so that it will print well. Most sites will let you know if your image doesn’t have a high enough resolution.
    • If there’s contrast in your image(s), that will help the clarity too.
    • Finally, don’t pick so many pictures that each one will be smaller than easily seen. For me, that’s about 2″x3″. I.e. that’s a max of 4-5 images on a 5″x7″ card; figure no more than 4 on a 4″x6″ card.
2. Pick Your Photocrafting Site

Almost every site that does any kind of photocrafting has cards and most likely has lots of holiday card templates. If there’s already a site you use frequently, I encourage you to stick with it! You already know all the ins and outs of using their particular features and avoiding their unique foibles. I will use three sites for examples today (Shutterfly, Zazzle, and Heritage Makers). If you don’t have a favorite site, consider these plus those on Tom’s Guide: Best Photo Cards. All of my three sites include lots of interesting template designs, offer an option for a custom design of your own, allow at least eight or more photos, and provide space for text as well as images.

The image shows the Shutterfly site for creating holiday (e.g. Christmas) cards.

Shutterfly generally has the most limited editing capabilities. That’s great if you find a template you like; you can upload your photos, and consider it done. Even their custom design (a blank card) appears to have six fixed layouts. Card sizes go up to 6″x8″ and they offer pre-printed addressing. Shutterfly has a good guide for making Christmas cards on their site.

The image shows the Zazzle site for creating holiday (e.g. Christmas) cards.

Zazzle offers considerable editing possibilities within a template but the basic graphic elements remain the same. Their scheme for adding your own photos is somewhat different than the more usual drag and drop. They explicitly have you change one image for another (as you saw in the legging photocrafting). Their “create your own” is a blank card so you can add images and text boxes as you like. They offer a small library of graphical elements. Card sizes go up to 4″x9.5″ plus jumbo cards (18″x24″, 24″x36″, and 36″x48″). At the bottom of their page for custom cards, Zazzle offers some steps for creating cards.

The image shows the Heritage Makers site for creating holiday (e.g. Christmas) cards.

Heritage Makers has extremely flexible and sophisticated editing capabilities with a very large library of graphical elements (artwork). Even if you start with a template, you can change any aspect of the card (number and placement of photos, text boxes, and artwork). Their custom design is a completely blank slate. Card sizes go up to 5″x7″ and they offer pre-printed addressing. Heritage Makers has online tutorials for creating products.

3. Pick a Size and Card Type

There are so many possibilities for just the type of card — sizes up to 4″x9.5″ (as well as jumbo cards on Zazzle) and various card types (flat, folded, gate fold). I like to use a 5″x7″ card as it’s a standard size for mailing and offers a bit more space than a 4″x6″. I also like the flat card for simple greetings; a folded card for more photos and text.

The image shows various card types (folder, flat, tri-fold, magnetic) and sizes for the three example sites.
4. Pick a Template

It can be difficult to choose a template from the large number available (hundreds!) Even after you’ve chosen, both Zazzle and Heritage Makers offer a lot of flexibility in editing a template (rearranging the photo placement and size, adding additional images, and including text areas). Heritage Makers also includes a large collection of art elements (e.g. clip art) that are included in the templates but can be rearranged, deleted, or replaced as you wish. There’s no problem in ensuring that your card is unique! I chose a 5″x7″ flat card template from each site to use for example holiday cards.

5. Pick Your Customization

Once you’ve selected your template and uploaded your photos, you can simply add your desired text and finish or you can manipulate the template to your own liking. Don’t forget to do all sides of the card (front and back for a flat card, front / inside / back for a folded card, etc.)

The image shows an example of a Shutterfly card.  The original card has four photos on the front, there is an option for selecting a different layout, and a final look at the front and back of the finished card with one photo on front and three on the back.
Even though the template showed four photos, I could actually choose different layouts for the same design.

On Shutterfly, I picked a great template for the four photos with good results. However, the family wasn’t really front and center and the back offered more photo opportunities. When you select “personalization”, the template shows options for one, three, four, or eight photos. I switched to one photo for the front then added the three other images and my greeting text on the back. Note that the images were cropped for a square shape (though I could choose which part of the photo showed) and I was unable to change the size of the images.

On Zazzle, I chose a landscape template but my family photo was really a vertical image. I added a green background, expanded the snow image in the template from around the text to the edges, centered the image, and changed the text to “Happy Holidays”. For the back, I added the three other images and my greeting text.

On Heritage Makers, the default placement of the family photo cut out Lori. I moved it up and over but left all the art pieces as they were. On the back, I inserted my text into the text box. There was only one photo so I deleted it and dragged in the three other images. I rearranged art pieces.

We would love to see examples of cards you’re photocrafting for the holidays and your thoughts about the process. Do write comments or send photos we can use to

P.S. Many thanks to loly galina for sharing their work (the family photo) on Unsplash.

6 thoughts on “Holiday Cards the Photocrafting Way

  1. It is not too early to start, is it? Now I am all fired up to search for candidate photos! And finish my travel book 🙂

  2. Not too early! In fact, a little too late—I have usually started on Labor Day Weekend but didn’t get to it this year, so thanks for the push! Camille

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