Monday, May 7, 2012

DIY: Custom Graduation Photo Cards

Card in envelope
The final result of my DIY photo card adventure
Since I'm graduating this May, I decided to send out a special graduation thank you note to my friends and family. I started using the photo card creator on the Walgreens website but quickly got frustrated with the lack of customization tools. Specifically, I wanted custom fonts and also to change font colors within a text box. Being an incurable DIYer, I thought to myself: "I can make this myself in GIMP and customize it all I want!"

What size card? I started with the assumption that the card would be 5x7 inches, but I changed my mind when I realized I only had letter envelopes (4 1/8 x 9 1/2) which wouldn't fit a 5x7 card. So, I switched to a 4x8 inch card which would fit in a letter envelope. Ultimately, the website where I ordered my prints supplied me with envelopes for free so this was all for naught, but I'm still glad I went with the 4x8 format.

What resolution? For photo prints, you need a pretty high resolution for the photo to look good. For my 4x8 card, the GIMP "canvas" was 2880x1440 pixels.

What design? I came up with a template for my card:
General template for graduation photo card (2880x1440 px)
In general, pictures on the right and text on the left. I thought that four pictures of myself looked a bit vain, so I made the smallest frame an "object" picture. For my object, I used a cool picture of the golden gate bridge. The  outside black border is 20 pixels and the inside "framing" is 10 pixels.

You might notice a blank black area on the far left side which seems unused. This is a actually a buffer area to make sure the text won't get cut off during printing. The size of buffer you need depends on who you're ordering prints from. With pictures, having the edges cut off is not not the worst thing in the world, but text becomes unreadable with missing letters. I would say a good rule of thumb is to reserve 6% of the total width and height for a buffer. That is, 3% of the total width reserved on both the left and right and 3% of the total height reserved on both the top and bottom. Trust me, it's better to be safe than sorry (see below):
Edge text cut off on prints=FAIL!
How to put it together? I'm no GIMP expert, so perhaps someone can offer a better way to do it. But I simply created a black "frame" layer with transparent squares at the photo locations. This part took a bit of planning and some back-of-a-napkin calculations, but it wasn't too hard. As a sidenote, I found "Guides" to be especially helpful to line things up appropriately. Try selecting one of the transparent squares and going to Image>Guides>New Guides From Selection. This will create four Guides; one for each side of the square.
GIMP-tastic photo editing fun
Once you have the frame completed and the pictures you want picked out, open the pictures as new layers. Then you need to adjust the pictures to the right size and frame them in the square the way you want.

The main paragraph of text is simple - just use the text tool. One tip: make the fancy text stuff on a separate GIMP canvas and import the final product into your card canvas. I did that for the "Thank You" header and the major and school overlay at the bottom.

Where to print it? It was surprisingly hard to find a site that will make 4x8 custom prints. I finally stumbled upon and ordered from them. They have an elaborate client card designer, but all I did was upload my image, place it on a card and select "Apply to All." I ended up ordering 30 cards and it cost about $15 including shipping.

I received my package in the mail about 2 weeks later, sent from an address in Hong Kong. The package included all of my cards, nicely wrapped and 30 envelopes to send my cards in. I was very satisfied with the whole process.

Did it save money? No.

Did it save time? No.

Was it worth it? Yes.
Another view of the final product


  1. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  2. Great idea for a thank you card. It's beautiful!

  3. So nice idea. I really appreciate it. Have you work before as a designer?

  4. Occasions like Graduation Day will become more memorable if you will be able to create stuff that will symbolize the day without losing your personal touch. This idea is awesome!

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