With just over a month to go and the festive season now well underway, in keeping with tradition we present the annual tinsel-topped, gift-wrapped Boot Camp guide to using your PC for sending yuletide greetings.


There are numerous possibilities, you can design, create and print your own cards from scratch using just the standard Windows utilities, or try something a bit more ambitious with word processor, desktop publishing (DTP) paint box or art programs. The bundled software included with PC peripherals such as colour inkjet printers, scanners and digital cameras often include ready-made greetings card templates for you to adapt. If you’re really feeling lazy you can buy a pack of Christmas card blanks from a stationery supplier to personalise on your printer, and then there’s the Internet. 


At this time of year the Internet is brim-full of sites offering free card templates and Christmassy clip-art to use on homemade cards and if you missed the last post to Cousin Nellie in Australia you could always send her an email Christmas card, but more about that in a moment.


DIY Christmas cards are obviously a lot more personal than the shop bought variety – friends and relatives will appreciate the effort you’ve taken – moreover making your own can be satisfying and a lot fun. You can turn them into family newsletters or a Round Robin and it’s a good excuse to put your scanner or expensive digital camera to some practical use at last. If you run a business why not design your own corporate cards to send to clients and customers  – or get the office PC expert to do it for you. You can include the company logo and a suitable commercial message. Well, it is Christmas after all…You might even save some money, compared with commissioning cards from a print shop.


Whilst it is possible to make eye-catching and professional looking cards using nothing more sophisticated than the Windows Paint program, word processors and art programs give you more creative scope, greater flexibility with extra layout facilities, and you can more easily incorporate clipart. There’s a modest supply of clipart and decorative borders included with word processors like Word and many paint programs but if you want an endless supply of smiling Santa’s, snow-capped festive fonts, baubles, cutesy angels as well as lots of religious images, then look on the web. We’ve listed some places to start you off in Web Contacts but if you’re looking for something a bit special or unusual try a keyword search in any of the main Search Engines, such as ‘Celtic Christmas clipart’ and see what that turns up.


It’s good idea to create a new folder on your hard disc to store images before you start browsing. When you see something on a web page that you want to use just right-click on it, choose ‘Save Picture As’ from the drop-down menu and put it in your newly created picture folder. Images will be saved as GIF files, which can be used by most applications. Import the picture into your card layout, using the ‘handles’ surrounding the image to position and re-size as necessary.


Your printer will determine how the finished product looks and you should familiarise yourself with its paper handling capabilities. Ideally it will be a colour inkjet or laser model, able to print onto 150 to 250gsm card, which will give you two A6 sized cards per sheet. If your printer cannot work with thicker paper stock then you can make a card by double-folding sheets of A4 copier paper. You will have to invert one of the images (see diagram 1), but this method has the advantage of only needing to go through the printer once.


When printing on card bear in mind that the front cover and greeting message will be on opposite sides of the sheet, so it will have to make two passes through the printer. If your software allows it’s a good idea to work on the two pages (back and front) at the same time, so you can check layout and sizing (see diagram 2). Have a practice run first, on ordinary paper, so you know how to orientate and load the cards on the second print run.


Keep an eye on cost, especially if you’re planning a big print run. Some inkjet printers, particularly those with non-refillable or single colour cartridges (i.e. you have to replace the whole thing when one colour runs out) can be quite expensive to run, in which case limit your use of single colours (especially backgrounds), print on coloured card or get a quote from a print-shop. 


Sending email Christmas cards should be an absolute last resort, but I suppose it’s better than nothing. However, before you do make sure the recipient is using a normal PC and email client program (Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape Messenger, Eudora etc.) and not a web TV, WAP phone, pocket organiser or some other gadget that can only display plain text messages. Check also they haven’t imposed any limits on file download sizes or phobias about viruses and attachments otherwise your greeting probably won’t get through. There are plenty of contemporary and traditional designs to choose from and personalise (see Web Contacts), including lots featuring animated graphics and tinkly tunes. The person you are sending it to can print the card out, if they so wish, and hang it up like a normal card, to remind them what a forgetful cheapskate you are…







Next week – Music on your PC




Graphics Interchange Format – standard file format for images and graphics used on Internet web pages



Grams per square metres, measurement of paper weight and consequently thickness. Standard copier paper is usually 80 to 100 gsm, thin card starts at around 120gsm



Ready prepared artwork that can customised, by inserting or replacing text, changing graphic elements and colours



My Computer is one of the most useful and frequently used features in Windows. You can make it a lot more accessible by turning it into a Toolbar. Simply click, hold and drag the My Computer icon to one of the sides of the screen then release the mouse button. By right clicking onto an empty area of the new Toolbar you can customise its appearance and even switch on an Auto Hide feature, so that it doesn’t take up valuable screen space when it’s not being used. This trick also works with Network Neighbourhood and several other system icons.

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