Friday, December 6, 2013

Greeting Cards: method

I enjoy making photos into greeting cards. Most commercial cards leave me cold, and it's satisfying to create something on your own. My wife Susan encourages this. In fact, she suggested it in the first place.

I started out making cards by pasting 4 by 6 glossy prints onto cards designed for that purpose (Strathmore makes a line of these). It is easy to do, in part because you need no folding or cutting. The cards are ready to send as soon as the print is attached (and your sentiments written inside, of course. I've always made cards that are blank inside). You don't actually paste the photo; you use little squares of double-sided tape. Quick and easy.

But I was never completely happy with that method. The cards look like what they are: two-piece constructions. Over time the photos can warp. There's no control over the paper or border; you get what the manufacturer provides. You are stuck with a 4 by 6 aspect ratio, too. Susan asked a question that led me to a better method: "Could you make a borderless card?"...meaning, cover the entire front of the card with the image.

Objections flooded into my mind. How do I print all the way to the edge of the paper? This isn't a trivial task with the Epson printers I've used: they insert a border if you don't have the settings right. The card printing templates provided by Red River Paper (an otherwise great source of papers and tips) didn't seem to do borderless. All just too fiddly, I thought.

And what about the paper itself? The reverse side of most photo papers isn't designed for handwriting. Some have brand names or other markings on the reverse; some have surfaces that resemble newsprint or feel like plastic. Not the best thing for your jottings.

After fooling around a bit, I settled on a borderless method. First, I use Epson's double-sided Premium Presentation Matte paper. Both sides have a nice surface and most images print attractively on it.  It's heavy enough for a card (48 lb), if not quite as heavy as typical commercial cards. It's not very expensive. I usually print two images per sheet. Second, I don't try to print to the edge. I use a paper cutter to trim each card just where I want it.
Printed images
One wrinkle remains. To ensure that all of the card's edges line up, you need to fold the card before you trim it. If you think that making a straight fold in a card by hand isn't easy, you are right. Don't even try. Instead use two simple tools, one old and one new.  The old tool is a bone folder (marvelous term, isn't it?). It resembles a knife made of ivory or bone, though is typically plastic, and is used to score the paper along the fold line before folding. The new tool, called Scor-Palhelps you make a straight score. It's a flat plastic tray with lots of straight narrow grooves. Put your card on it and run the bone folder along the card above the appropriate groove to create a straight score.  Fold the card, "commit" the crease by pressing along it with the bone folder, trim the edges, and Bob's your uncle.
Scoring printed images
Close-up of score line
Creasing the folded card
Trimming the folded card
More trimming
Add info on the back
This technique isn't for everyone. You can't use it to make glossy photo cards. It's clearly unsuitable for mass production. But it gives you complete control over the aspect ratio and card size--image and card are necessarily the same shape and size. You also control the print quality. If you like, you can print a label, copyright or other info on the back. I like to title and sign the back. All in all, I'm happy with this technique and people seem to like the cards.

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