Ways To Make A Greeting Card

There are different ways to make a greeting card. Some people draw or paint and then scan in their designs. Other people photograph and upload an image and work from that. Whichever way they work with the design, at some point they are going to have a PDF ready to send off the printer.

The first thing is to decide which company is going to print the cards. It seems like this is working backwards, but bear with me and you will see it is sensible to start from here. Look for printers that specialise in printing greeting cards. We use The Imaging Centre.


Pretty much all printing companies provide downloadable templates for different card sizes. So download the template for the size of card you intend to make, and work from that. The advantage of using a template provided by the printer is that it will have safe areas, cut lines, and bleed marks. That way you know exactly where to place your design and what to avoid.

Safe Areas, Cut Lines, and Bleed Marks

What do safe areas, cut lines, and bleed marks mean? It starts from the fact that the design will be printed together on a large sheet, eight or more cards to a sheet. After the sheets have been printed, the printer cuts the sheet up into individual cards. Cutting up a sheet is a mechanical process, so from one cut to another there may be small differences in exactly where the guilotine lands and cuts. Modern machines are very accurate, but not perfect. Now imagine designing a card with a red background, a design on it and some words – but you ignore the marks.

If the cut drifts just a fraction away from where it should cut you can end up with a thin white line around the edge of the card, which looks very bad, Or if you place text or the major elements of the design too near the edge of the cut, part of a letter or the design may be cut off. Templates show you where to keep essential elements of the design. Keep them well away from the edges where the cut will be made, and you won’t have a trouble. And run the background colour to the edge of the template and you won’t run into problems with bleed.

Our Cards Are 120 x 170mm

You need to decide what size to make your cards. Take my tip and spend more time that you think you need on this. Go around some card shops, and take a ruler. Once you settle on a size, keep to that for everything because it is easier to plan and cost.

And watch the pennies. Let’ suppose you are mail cards to customers in board backed envelopes. If you choose to make your cards at some huge size, the board backed envelopes will need to be big. Above a certain size you are in the territory of Large Letter stamps. They are more expensive than standard letter stamps. The extra cost eats into your profit.

Our cards are 120 x 170mm, in portrait orientation. It is a common size, we like it and it works out cheaper per card than an unusual size. That’s becuase an unusual size means fewer cards can fit on a sheet when the printer prints the cards. So they cost more to print. If you were only ever going to print a handful of cards then it wouldn’t matter. When you are talking thousands, then the pennies add up. The same for envelopes.

Envelope suppliers cut and make standard sizes in their tens of thousands. You might not find it so easy to source unusual size envelopes that you need to fit your unusual size cards. That’s also true of the colours of envelopes. We made a decision right at the start to use white. White doesn’t clash with any other colour we used in the design of the card and it is the most readily available.

Digital Files

All printing companies printing cards at scale start with digital files that the card creator sends them. So you have to prepare those digital files and send your designs to the printing company. The file will probably be a PDF in CMYK ready for an offset printer to load.

Design Applications

Some designers work in pencil, paint, or ink and scan their designs. Some designers use vector software like Adobe Illustrator, but I use Photoshop to create the visuals. Often I import a photograph or a design. Or I start from scratch. Either way, I work directly on the template I downloaded from the printer.

And because we print a small image on the back of the card of what is on the front of the card, I created a layered template with the back of the card on a separate layer. I ‘cut out’ a square in the layer for the back of the card. That way I can insert a small version of the main image and it will be correctly positioned.

Here is what it looks like, and to indicate the layering, I have offset the main image for this example so it is partly hidden under the layer that forms the back of the card:

An image showing the layers of a Photoshop document indicating how we make a card

When I have finished the design and added the name of the card and the SKU (stock keeping unit) I convert to the format the printing company requires (PDF in CMYK). I name the file with the same name as the SKU, which ensures that I can always trace the file among many others. And that is how we make a greeting card.

What Is CMYK

CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key/Black) are the four colours of the ink used to print the cards. CMYK is a subtractive process.

This really confuses a lot of people but it is quite simple really. RGB (red, green, blue) are the colours you see on a computer screen or the back of your camera. Any colour is made by adding such and such amount of those three colours.

When printing companies print professionally onto paper, they use printing ink. And that doesn’t add one colour to another. Instead any colour we see is made by subtracting colours. That is because we see the light reflected off the surface.

An easy way of looking at it is to think of the feathers on a red macaw. The white light lands on the feathers and everything except red is absorbed. So we see red because it is the only colour that is reflected back at us.

Why Does The File Format Matter?

The reason is matters is that if you submit a file in RGB to the printing company and they print in CMYK, the finished card will probably not look like what you saw on the computer screen. Chances are it will look duller and more washed out. So you have to change to CMYK on your computer to get a good facsimile of how the finished card will look. If it looks too washed out after you convert to CMYK, boost the colours.

What is Prepress?

You may come across the term ‘prepress’. What it means is that before printing, the design is prepared for the printing process. It may involve converting RGB to CMYK, and embedding fonts. We never have that issue because we prepare our files as flattened images. The text is baked in and from the printer’s point of view the whole file is just a digital mapped image.


Photoshop is really good for typography, and over the years we have settled on the fonts that we use time and time again. It helps to unify the designs so that they look like they all come from the same creator. But if the design demands it we will use whatever font seems right. There’s a huge choice, and our standard source for fonts is MyFonts. I don’t know how many fonts there are in their catalogue but it is definitely in the thousands. There are so many that it is easy to go ‘type blind’ looking for ‘the one’.

If you know you want a certain style then it pays to look at the categories. They are sans serif slab, sans serif, display, handwritten, monospaced, and script. If the terms are unfamiliar to you, google typography basics. It’s pretty straightforward.

What Paper

All papers are not created the same. You have to choose the weight of the paper and how dense it feels. We wrote a whole article about grammage, as the weight is called. Somewhere around 300gsm is best.

And then not all papers are the same base colour: some are whiter than others. You may think you want to go for the whitest of whites. But think about it because too white can look clinical. And choose a paper that is usually going to be in stock. During the COVID pandemic, some papers were very difficult to find.


Finally, the card has to be creased so it will fold properly – and you may or may not know that the front of the card is fractionally longer side to side than the back. That way the card opens easily. If both the front and back were the same, they would kind of stick together. That matters when your aunt or husband or whomsoever, tries to open the card. These are the little things that make all the difference.

You will definitely want the printing company to crease the cards. They can crease and deliver them flat or you can ask them to fold them, put envelopes with them and bag them, or put them individually into cello bags or put bands around them. You can fold and bundle the cards or you can pay the printer to do this. If you have a solid customer flow-through then it might be worth you getting the printer to take the work off your hands.

We are still using up stocks of resealable cellophane wrappers. Eventually I am sure we will use some paper method of keeping the card and envelope together. Watch this space for that.

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