High Tech Cheer

How to design your own seasonal cards

Homemade cards have always been my style. But come December, I'm typically up late, mired in glue and glitter--and feeling devoid of holiday cheer. The Web has changed all that. Now, greeting-card sites let you design creative cards to send via electronic or regular mail. You can also incorporate personal photos, even videos.

But don't worry about technical smarts. Widely visited sites such as bluemountainarts.com, hallmark.com, americangreetings.com, egreetings.com, and amazon.com are easy to use. Simply choose a card template--some offer music and animation--and hit your e-mail button.

I particularly like the wacky templates at amazon.com, where I recently chose a "Day of the Dead" card for a friend in Austin, Tex., whose residents widely celebrate the Mexican holiday honoring the departed. The card featured an animated creature jumping in time to a musical ditty. My buddy loved it.

SHOWING OFF. My holiday card had to be more straitlaced. I also needed hard-copy cards for relatives who aren't online, and of course I wanted to show off a photo of my three-year-old daughter, Anya. What else are holiday cards for? I checked out three great sites--zing.com, kodak.com, and photoloft.com. All three help you embed your photos into cards. Zing and PhotoLoft offer photo gift items like cookies and mouse pads.

First, I needed photos. A photographer from BUSINESS WEEK shot them with his digital camera, scanned them, and sent them to me via e-mail. But if you lack digital equipment, ask your photo developer to transfer standard prints to the disk that fits your computer. Then you can save these image files on your desktop PC for easy access. When you do, remember to click the right button on your mouse to save the image as a ".jpeg" graphics file rather than a text, or ".txt," one. When uploading your photo and searching for the image file, look under "all files," not ".html" files.

The rest was easy. Using the zing.com site, I set up a personal "photo album" with my holiday shots, clicked on "Joan's album" and, from the menu, chose "Order Prints, Gifts, and Cards" and the "Greeting Cards" tab. From "Departments," I then picked a hokey holiday snowman template. The template selection of the three photo sites trails those of more established e-card sites. But I liked features such as Kodak's photo-editing tool and PhotoLoft's address book, which eliminates the need to address e-cards individually. I'll be sending out my snowman card online. But I also took advantage of Zing's offer to print 25 cards for $22.95 plus shipping.

Next, I checked out video greeting cards at cardsalive.com. They were a hoot. "Build a card" featured funny 20-second vintage movie clips embedded inside holiday and other pretty templates that could be personalized and previewed. Sample: a clip about Santa's elves inside a red and green "ho, ho, ho" design. (Netscape users have to save the card to their desktop to view.) Adding your own video to cards is the real gem of this site. That feature will cost you $9.95 for a year following a 30-day free trial and requires a Logitech QuickCam ($40 to $120) or similar digital camera that can be plugged into your PC's printer or USB port (Mac capability is planned). Logitech has the Cresta Systems software needed to embed the video into the card; or you can download it at the site and then click on "record." Your video of, say, the kids lighting the menorah or trimming the tree uploads to the PC in less than a minute.

With the Net, you can fulfill your holiday card duties without ever leaving your desk. You'll be happy, the grandparents will be happy--and think of what you'll save on nerves and glitter.

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