Electronic Holiday Cards


A few years ago, I was putting away holiday decorations and trying to determine whether the million Christmas cards we received were recyclable. With a little research, I learned that they are not – photo paper cannot be reclaimed or reused, and color photo processing chemicals are highly toxic, so popping them into landfills is particularly odious. With the paper consumption for the envelopes and postal service environmental impacts, I realized with a sigh that we had to come up with something different. So, last year, we sent our first electronic holiday card.

First, let’s address the objections that have already popped into your head.

  • “My relatives don’t have email.” Take a look at your holiday card list. If there are at least 20 who have email, you have just saved yourself at least one box of printed Christmas cards. Last year, we ordered hard copy cards for about 30 folks who do not use email. The other 110 went out electronically.
  • “People will think I’m just being cheap.” Point well taken. If you are concerned about this, donate the amount you would’ve spent on cards and postage to a non-profit organization. It can be an organization that deals with environmental concerns, but it doesn’t have to be. This would be a pretty cool fundraiser if you can talk a lot of your friends into going green and donating what they would’ve spent on Christmas cards to your Cancer Walk team.
  • “People love having hard copy photos of my cats” (or kids or dogs or nutcracker collection – whatever you’re into). You can set this up so that people can click on your electronic card and order prints of their favorite photos through Picasa – check out the tutorial.

My partner is a techie nerd, so he did a bulk of the work last year and created a beautiful card posted to a website with lots of links and features. It was cool, I’ll admit, but a little more technical than most people want to get with their first e-card. So, here’s a simplified version for you to launch your very own electronic holiday card for 2009, using Picasa.

  1. Download Picasa software. Go to http://picasa.google.com The website will be able to determine what your operating system is and give you the option of downloading Picasa 3.
  2. Move the pictures you want to use for your card (pretty much an unlimited number – another advantage to sending an electronic card) into an album on Picasa. Click “Import” in the upper left corner. Then, click “Select Device” and then “Folder.” You should be able to browse your files to find the photos you want to import to Picasa.

    Look for the “Import” button in the upper left corner

  3. Open thePicasa folder containing your images. All of the images for this example come from Stockvault.net                                                                                                            
  4. Create collage – you may do this by either clicking the little icon next to the Play button at the top of the album     or by using the dropdown menus in the upper lefthand corner of the program. Click “Create,” then “Picture Collage”                                                                                                                    
  5. The collage tab gives you lots of options for layouts                                      

As you click on the dropdown box, it will give you a preview of what your photos would look like in each layout.

Dropdown list of layout options

“Mosaic” requires very little intervention on your part. Others, like “Picture Pile,” allow you to manipulate sizes, angles, and placement.

Adjusting size and orientation using the “compass”

5. Play around a little – you can shuffle the photos by clicking “Shuffle Pictures,” play with backgrounds, effects, and borders. You can always click “Undo” if things go horribly, horribly wrong.

With the click of a mouse, you can rearrange the photos, change colors, borders, effects, and lots more

6. Once you are satisfied with the collage, click “Create Collage” in the lower right corner of the Settings. This can take awhile. A pop-up box will let you know when the collage is finished.

Pop-up window at the lower right

7. Add text if you would like to do so. There is a “Text” option under the Basic Fixes tab that should be displayed on your screen once the collage is saved.

There it is, 3rd row, 2nd item – just click to add text

You can adjust text color, font style, effects, etc. Type the text into the box, then move it around and play with it until you like the way it looks. Click “Apply” at the lower left side when you are ready to move on.                                                                                                                     

8. Prepare your photos for uploading to the internet. In the lower left corner, you should see a box with a thumbnail pic of your collage. Click on the little green thumbtack next to it to hold the image on your clipboard.                                                                                                                                  

Do the same for all of the photos you use in the collage. Hold them all on the clipboard so they automatically upload into the same folder.

9. Upload your collage and photos to Picasa Web. You will need a google account to do this – it’s much easier to go to google.com and set one up before you try to upload – Picasa will give you the option to do this through Picasa, but the interface is a little difficult. Once you have an account, go back into Picasa and click “Upload” – it has a big green arrow.

10. A box will pop up, allowing you to name the album and determine whether you want this album to be a Public Album or an “Unlisted Album.” I usually go with private so that I can choose who gets the invitations to see it. Click “Upload” when you are ready.  

11. Once the upload is complete, you will have the option to “View Online.”

12. You should see the entire album on the screen.                                                       

13. Click on your collage, then click “Share” on the menu above.                                   

14. You will be able to enter the email address you want to send it to, as well as a message. This will send a link to the collage, which will then allow the viewer to access the rest of the photos in your album (for ordering individual photos later). This is effective, but I prefer to have the message come before the picture. So, I send this to myself, then copy and paste the link into a personalized message. Then, I can use my email address book and non-google account to create brief, individual messages to each person on my list. I give a quick overview of why we went electronic and how we will spend the money we save, then provide the link.

This will probably take a few hours the first time around, but it gets easier each time. We got terrific feedback when we did this the first time – most people enjoyed the card and the concept. Good luck with your new holiday tradition!

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