Despite the fact that the run-up to the season of goodwill now seems to start in late September, you know Christmas is just around the corner when the Post Office announces the final posting dates for overseas surface mail.

Remembering overseas relatives is only part of the annual ritual of exchanging Yuletide greetings but this year, if you've got a PC, printer and an Internet connection, you can relieve some of the strain. This week's topic is Christmas cards, how to create your own and send them, using your computer.

Printing your own Christmas cards is not difficult, in fact you can buy ready-made blanks on lightweight card, with a festive image on one side and pre-creased to make folding easier. They're designed to be used with an inkjet or laser printer, all you have to do is compose a message and load the cards into the paper tray and click the print button. GeoSeasonal greetings packs cost around £3.00 for a pack of 12 cards and envelopes and are widely available from stationary suppliers.

Designing your own Christmas cards from scratch is also easy and much more personal than buying ready made ones, moreover if you run a small business, cards to clients and customers can incorporate some discrete advertising a logo or suitable message.

The hardest part is choosing an image or design. If you have a digital camera or scanner then this is a good opportunity to put a photograph on the front; friends and relatives will appreciate a picture of the family or children and it's an excuse to dress up or set something up special for the occasion. Scanners and digital cameras often come with graphics programs that include ready made greetings card templates, which make the whole process a lot easier. Alternatively there are countless sites on the Internet and dozens of CD-ROMs jam packed with Christmassy clip art.

Downloading graphics from the Internet is simple, you'll be amazed at the amount of free clipart on the web, the sites listed in the Contacts box will take you to thousands of images. Before you start it's a good idea to create a folder into which you can put all of your pictures and graphics. When you find something you want to use on a web page just right click on it and use the Save Picture As option to create an image file, or select Copy, to send it to the Windows clipboard. From there it can be pasted into a word processor document or a graphics/paintbox program. Most Internet graphics are in *.gif file format, which can be positioned and re-sized using the 'handles' on the corner and edges of the image.

It's important to know your printer's paper handling capabilities; you'll find details in the instruction manual. Ideally you want to be able to print colour images on 150 to 250 gsm coated or glossy card or heavyweight photo-grade paper. This will allow you to make a simple gatefold A5 sized card. Because the image and message are on opposite sides of the card they will have to be composed separately and the card will have to pass through the printer twice. If your printer can only handle thin paper (80 to 120gsm) you'll have to use a slightly different method and you'll end up with a double-folded A6 card from a sheet of A4 paper.

To see how this works fold an A4 sheet in half, then half again, put a mark on the outside or front cover, and another on the inside, where your message will be. Open it up and you'll see that the cover and message end up in opposite corners on one side of the paper – so it can be printed in a single pass – but one of them will be upside down. This isn't a problem and you won't need any special software other than a word processor or the Windows Paint program, which you can use to create your own artwork.

In MS Word you can use WordArt on the Drawing toolbar to compose a block of text that can be turned upside down using the rotate command. Clipart images can also be inverted though you may have to use the 'Ungroup' option on the Draw menu before the image can be rotated. There's a Rotate/Flip option on the Image menu in Paint, and you can use the Copy function to Paste the inverted image into a word processor document. If you're printing colour images to card you should do a test print on ordinary paper first, to check the layout and alignment.

If all that sounds like too much hard work, it's 6 o'clock on Christmas Eve or you've just missed the last post to Aunt Ethel in Australia, then you still have time to send an email Christmas card. A number of web sites spring up at this time of year, that allow you to create a personalised card on-line, and send it to an email address in a matter of minutes, and it won't cost you a penny (apart from your normal ISP and phone charges). These sites have a wide selection of designs -- many of them with animated graphics – and a space for a message. Some sites let you attach a cheesy sound file to the card (usually a tinkly Christmas tune), that plays when the e-mail is opened. E-mail cards usually come with instructions telling the recipient how to print them out. It's not the same as the real thing, but at least it shows you remembered…

Next week – Receiving faxes on your PC





Copyright-free pictures and graphics included with programs and available from the Internet


An option in most graphics programs and word processors to rotate a text or graphics object on the page


Paper weight and thickness of paper is measured in grams per square metre (gsm). Ordinary copier/printing paper is normally between 80 and 85gsm; lightweight card is in the range 200 to 300gsm



If you upgraded from Windows 95 to 98 you would have been given the option to save your old operating system, just in case something went wrong and if you were sensible that's exactly what you did. If you also opted to convert to the FAT 32 filing system, or have done so subsequently, those old Windows 95 files are now useless since the file conversion process was a one-way trip. In any case it's unlikely you will ever want to go back to Windows 95. That means you now have between 60 and 80 megabytes of wasted space on your hard disc, which is also slowing your system down. To recover that space go to Programs on the Start menu then Accessories > System Tools > Disc Cleanup and click 'OK' for Drive C. Select the Disc Cleanup tab, scroll down the list in the Files To Delete window and check the box next to 'Delete Windows 98 uninstall information'. Click OK, then Yes. To get the maximum benefit from that recovered space it's a good idea to run Disc Defragmenter, also on the System Tools menu.

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