How to design a stand out holiday card

Here it comes again… holiday card time!

Cards are expensive and time consuming, no matter how much you automate the process. As a creative, I truly love receiving a stand out card: whether its cheeky, clever or inspirational it makes me feel like the people on the cover are sending us a sincere wish for the season and year ahead. A beautifully designed card feels like a blessing. I hope this guide helps make the process light and fun so that it feels more like gift giving than a holiday chore.

1.). Find the message before the photo

“Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” are nice… but also pretty generic as far as wishes go… so go deeper! Find the design with a message that resonates. I love using lyrics from Christmas carols so when I saw, “all is bright” (card design above), I felt hope and knew that was where I wanted to begin.

2.) Choose photos that connect with your message

Ever gotten a card that says, “Happiest Holiday!” but no one in the photo looks particularly happy? Find photos with visual cues that connect with the message. If the design says, “warm wishes”, find a beach photo or one where everyone is wearing woolly sweaters. If the message has the word “together” use a group photo, preferably one with hugging, hand holding or another visual cue for connection. Peace? A sleeping baby is perfect!

Pro photog tip: Want to use your family photo session for cards? You can work this process backwards… how do the photos make you feel? Is the imagery soft, angelic and ethereal? Colorful and wild? Silly and joyful? Find the message that fits that feeling and go from there!

3.) Don’t be afraid to use multiple images.

Have you ever spent hours looking for ONE PERFECT PHOTO? No need! A few photos that connect with your message can feel more personal than one, single image. There are a couple reasons: one is that it drives the message home through repetition, another is that it reveals more about your life and lends sincerity. Plus, it gives you room to make sure everyone in the family is seen and celebrated. Pro photog tip: if the lighting/color looks different among selected photos, convert them to black and white to better unify them visually.

4.) Get in close or back off

Cards are relatively small objects…. which means you have a small working space to make impact. Zooming into facial expressions gets right into detail and emotion. Or zoom out…an atmospheric shot that does not rely on detail can be emotional too. Don’t insist on that standing shot because clothes don’t matter, feelings do.

Pro photog tip: Most card design portals have zoom functions – don’t be afraid to experiment and change your photographer’s original framing if it makes the design stronger.

5.) Include what’s new

Is there a new marriage, baby or pet in the family? Consider centering on that for this year, positive change in your life will always make impact with friends and family.

6.) Don’t be afraid to use the “artsy” shot.

Most folks are on social media these days and know what you and your kiddos look like. This gives you room to be creative: don’t be afraid to obscure faces or be more abstract if it brings out real emotion. If you are worried that a distant relative will complain, just enclose a straightforward 4×6 print in the envelope along with your card. I’ll bet you get an “old school” phone call of appreciation for your thoughtfulness!

Plus, an artsy, different or funny photo is always going to stand out from the others!

What tips do you have to add? Please leave your ideas in the comments so we can all create great wishes to send!


*** P.S. – All cards here are personal or client photos that I just messed around with on Tiny Prints, Minted and Paper Culture. Please disregard fictional family names and whatnot, you get the gist! ***

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