What does November 4th have to do with it? Nothing specifically, just that–as various Facebook friends and email lists like to remind me–we’re 7 1/2 weeks or 51 sleeps away from Christmas. I’m already seeing gift guides in my inbox and on some blogs. I shudder to think how early the Black Friday sales are going to start (and I don’t mean on Thanksgiving, I mean I’ve already received one email with that subject line this week).
Makes you want to head for the eggnog, doesn’t it?
While you can shop up until the last few moments of December 24th, if you wait until then to send out your Christmas or Hannukah greetings, you might as well call them New Year’s cards because that’s about when they’ll arrive. The time, my friends, to make plans and take actions for timely holiday happy mail is now.
So what are your options? In relative order of acquisition ease…
- Pre-Made boxed card sets;
- Photo cards on a prefab background;
- Custom-designed cards; and
- Handmade cards
First of all, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with boxed cards you buy by the dozen: sign, stamp, done. If you want to you can even dress them up a little with some well-chosen embellishments. One of my most popular articles from my eHow days was How to Embellish Store-Bought Cards (I haven’t the foggiest why it’s on that blog and not eHow; I’m guessing Demand Media sold it, as was their right, since I was on a work-for-hire contract backÂ then.) Â The only real issue I have with boxed cards are my tendency to buy them and never send them out. Kinda defeats the purpose, right?
Photo cards are also a good way to go if you have a great family picture from earlier in the year or can organize one pretty soon. I don’t recommend waiting until Thanksgiving for this one, since that’ll be cutting it close by the time prints come back or you’ll be forced to pay exorbitant shipping prices to get them in time to send before the holidays. We did one the year we got married (thanks to a speedy turn-around of our November wedding pictures). I did the layout and design and ordered them as postcards from Overnight Prints (whom I prefer over the more common VistaPrint option, though there’s nothing wrong with VP, I use them for other things without any complaints).
Todd and I aren’t generally mug for the camera types, though, so photo cards require planning. Instead, I’m much more likely to put my illustration skills to use and design a custom card for us.
OneÂ year I designed and screen-printed (on my Print Gocco) this funky monkey Christmas Card (printed in white on a navy linen background)
And then, the year we ended up moving the week before Christmas (fun times!), we sent out combo At Home/Christmas Cards:
But I don’t just use my artistic talents for myself, I’m available for hire, too! (Just email me!) Last year I was commissioned to create a card with a dragon in a Santa hat, reading a book in front of a fire…
And earlier this year I was commissioned to create a blog header of caricatures of the author and her family members. While not a Christmas card, I’m sure you can see the possibilities. Plus you could have a large print made up and framed for your gallery wall.
A few things to keep in mind if you decide to order a custom illustration for your holiday cards (or any other time):
- Budget. Truly custom illustrations are going to run you about the same price as a mid-range photo session (at least in my area). I know that there are folks on Etsy offering family “portrait” illustrations for Â $50 or less and I honestly don’t know how they can do it for that and pay themselves a living wage. My prices start at $75 for a single subject (aka 1 person or figure) and go up depending on how many people, animals, etc. you want included. A good illustrator will work with you to find a way to work within your budget by giving you options, but don’t expect them to work for free. After all, you’re not just paying them for the timeÂ they spend putting together your custom illustration, you’re paying for their unique skill and style, honed over years of practice.
- Timeline. The earlier the better is always a good rule of thumb. Depending on the number of “moving parts” to a commission and the number of revision rounds you go through, you want to allow a couple of weeks for a custom illustration. So, for Christmas cards, now is the time to find your illustrator and ask if they have any openings.
- Communication. Unlike ordering a card design through a print on demand service, custom illustrations require back and forth communication. The way I work, we start with a consultation where you tell me what you want, show me some samples of things you like from around the web, and I ask a few questions to get a better feel for the project. After that I prepare a round of sketches or mock-ups (usually 3 options, unless we’re dealing with a very specific request) and I ask you to pick the one you like best and for any changes you’d like made. I come back with the revision, you sign off on it, then I create the final art. If you’re going to be out of town or in an Internet dead zone for a few days during the process, send up a flare so I’m not wondering if you’ve changed your mind all of a sudden.
- Contracts. You might think a simple thing like a card illustration wouldn’t need anything more than an email agreement, but I urge you to reconsider. A good contract answers the important questions: who, what, where, how much, and–most importantly–by when. It protects both you and I, and I don’t even start sketching on your job until the contract is signed and a deposit is paid. I’d be wary of anyone who starts work without a written agreement in place as you have no recourse should the unthinkable occur and they disappear on you.
Finally, handmade cards are a way to get the custom treatment without any art or computer skills required. I put it last on the list only because it takes more of a time investment on your part compared to the other options, but can be the most rewarding knowing that you made them with your own two hands! But time investment is relative–there are lots of ways to make handmade cards that can be done in just a few hours. I’m a fan of the assembly line method for making holiday cards: do all the cutting at once, do all the stamping or stenciling in one go, put everything together, then add final embellishments. But just because you’re approaching them like an assembly line, doesn’t mean you have to make them all the same, either.
Above are just four examples of the twenty cards you can make with one of myÂ CPR Holiday Creative Mischief KitsÂ from The Crafty Branch. (CPR stands for Cards Prepared and Ready, by the way.) For $40 you get everything you need to make 20 cards, that’s only $2 per card, including cutting diagrams and card “recipes” to get you started putting everything together. It’s up to you how you use the included stencil to embellish the cards (dry embossing, stamping, or texture paste supplies are included). Plus you’ll have paper left over to make gift tags, scrapbook layouts, or even more cards. Order your kit hereÂ and it’ll be on its way to you the next day.
So again I ask… it’s November 4th, do you know where your Christmas cards are?