SLIDESHOW

Parlay Your Photos Into Holiday Cards and Calendars

Use image-editing software and Websites to turn your digital photos into handcrafted greeting cards and other holiday gifts.

Sharing Your Photos as Greeting Cards

When we were kids, our friends and family exchanged holiday cards decorated with artwork and messages thoughtfully provided by Hallmark. It wasn't as though we lacked the creativity to make our own cards; we simply didn't own our own printing press. But these days, you can use your digital photo collection and a photo-editing program to create high-quality customized cards for everyone on your mailing list.

Do you need some holiday pictures for your cards? Read "Take Spectacular Holiday Photos" for tips on capturing great photos of festive scenes.

Size It Up

You can print greeting cards of any size, as long as the paper for the project can fit in your printer (and in the envelopes that you plan to use). The easiest kind of card to make is the single-fold variety: Take--basically, a sheet of paper folded down the middle and opened like a book. To make this kind of card, you'll need to print one side of the paper, and then feed it through the printer a second time and print it again.

For this example, let's 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 that are available at any office supply store.

Resize the Photo

Open the photo in your favorite photo editor. (I use Adobe Photoshop Elements, but the steps are much the same in any photo-editing program.) Choose Image, Resize, Image Size. In the Document Size section of the dialog box, resize the photo so that it fits on the front of the card, with a small margin around the edges.

Our card will be 4 inches tall and 3 inches wide, so let's enter a height of 3.5 inches and let the width set itself automatically to keep the photo's dimensions proportionate. (Make sure that the Constrain Proportions check box is checked.) Those specs will ensure that the picture a little smaller than the card, producing a snazzy blank border around the image. Click OK.

Place the Photo

Now it's time to position the picture in the card's "canvas." We'll do that by setting the background of the photo to the correct size. First, choose Image, Resize, Canvas Size. Enter the width and height of the closed greeting card, which in our case has a width of 3 inches and a height of 4 inches. Click OK. You should see the photo centered in a rectangular canvas--like the front of the greeting card.

Next, you need to rxtend the canvas horizontally to the full width of an open greeting card. Again choose Image, Resize, Canvas Size; but this time change the width to 6 inches. Click the right-middle anchor tile to instruct Photoshop to expand the canvas to the left. Then click OK.

Add Finishing Touches

To add text to the inside of the card, grab the text tool and draw a text box over the photo, matching its dimensions; then type some text. You may have trouble seeing what you've typed, because it will appear superimposed on the photo. Nevertheless, the contents of this text box will ultimately go on the inside right panel of the card. To make that happen properly, though, we need to render the card's cover temporarily invisible. No problem: Photoshop Elements has treated the text as a new layer of the card's art.

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. Now you can see the inside of the card--and the text box--much more clearly. Enter the message. When you're done, you'll have something that looks similar to the image shown here, with text and images overlapping each other in an illegible mess.

Now you just have to print the card properly. Make the Background layer visible; make the text layer invisible; and click Print. Then load the paper back in the printer; 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. For help, check your printer's paper tray for a symbol indicating which side of the paper gets printed on.

You're all set now except for envelopes and stamps...but wait! What if you don't want to go the snail-mail route? It's easy to share your holiday snaps online.

Share Photos Online

When I think of the holidays, one of my strongest memories is of my mom addressing and mailing box after box of holiday cards, stuffing each one with various photos of the family. These days, it's a lot easier to share your photos on the Web, via one of the many popular photo-sharing sites.

I regularly use Flickr for this purpose. You can visit my personal Flickr site or the official Digital Focus Hot Pic winners gallery to see examples of photos I've posted online. I love Flickr because there are no limits on how many images you can store on the site, or on what how large a photo you can save. (If you use the free version of Flickr, however, you can upload no more than 100MB in a given month.)

To share photos with friends or family, first upload them to Flickr, and then let people know how to get to your Flickr page. Once there, they can click the All Sizes button above a photo to get to the download page.

Post Your Photos in the Clouds

If you like the idea of storing photos on the Internet so that certain people can get to them, but you don't want just anyone to be able to browse the photos, you can make suitble arrangements by using the photo-sharing site's privacy mode. Flickr, for example, lets you mark your photos as private, which limits access to people you specify.

Alternatively, you can store your pictures at an online storage service. Think of these services as virtual hard drives that you can access whenever and wherever you have an Internet connection. You can give access to this storage location to anyone you wish, thereby sharing high-resolution, print-quality photos with friends and family without having to send files through e-mail. Microsoft's SkyDrive is a superb example of this sort of "cloud storage."

After you obtain a free Windows Live account, you can store up to 25GB of files--music, photos, documents, whatever--and share them with anyone you choose. Another option is a service called Dropbox. Dropbox limits you to 2GB of free storage (you can pay a subscription fee for more space), but a small app lets you drag and drop files to Dropbox from your Windows folders, as if it were a location on your own hard drive. In contrast, you need to use a Web browser to upload files to SkyDrive.

Round Up the Year With a Calendar

I love traditions--turkey at Thanksgiving, hanging up the stockings on Christmas Eve after the kids are in bed, that sort of thing. Another tradition in the Johnson house: I create a custom calendar packed with photos from the year's various activities and events, and give one to my parents. They love it, and it's easy to do.

Most photo-printing and photo-sharing sites have some sort of calendar creation feature. My favorites include the tools at Costco Photo Center, Kodak Gallery, Lulu, Shutterfly, and Snapfish.

Making a calendar at any of these sites is easy. But before you dive into the calendar template on a photo-sharing site, let me offer some practical tips to help you along.

Pick Your Pictures

Most calendar templates accommodate one picture per month, so you'll need at least a dozen unique images to produce a basic calendar. If you choose a more flexible template, you can create a collage of photos on some pages, in which case you might want to have several dozen photos ready to go. Copy all of them to a single folder--perhaps on your desktop--so you don't have to scurry around looking for photos as you build your calendar. Collecting them in one spot is also a convenient way to ensure that they look good together.

When I create my annual holiday calendar, I try to find photos from the previous year that reflect the seasons. Snowscapes and frozen lakes decorate the winter months; sunflowers and puppies appear in spring. I use back-to-school photos in the fall, and, of course, the preceding year's holiday pictures in November and December.

In general, it's a good idea to edit your photos first--straightening crooked photos, cropping them for maximum impact, and adjusting colors and sharpness. If you need some pointers, check out my past columns discussing five common photo mistakes and four essential photo-editing tricks. You can use your favorite photo editor, or you can work with the online editing tools at the Website you select for making the calendar.

Make Sure the Photos Are Big Enough

For best results, you'll want to use images that have as many pixels as possible. If you use tiny, 1-megapixel camera phone photos on a wall calendar, you probably won't like the results. But any digital camera capable of capturing 3 megapixels or more should give you good picture quality. Since most calendars present pictures at around 8 by 10 inches, photos taken at a minimum of 1600 by 2000 pixels will get you off to a good start. There's no harm in uploading photos shot at even higher resolutions.

After your photos are organized, upload them and use the site's tools to lay out your calendar. If you have the option, customize the calendar with important dates (birthdays, anniversaries, and so on). Then order enough copies for everyone on your holiday shopping list; the site will have them professionally printed and mailed to you, or you can arrange to send them directly to your recipients.