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Season’s Greetings – A brief history of Christmas cards and top tips for card designs

Who doesn’t love a greeting card? Nothing says Christmas more than receiving a classic greetings card. And yes, while greeting cards are popular all year round (for birthdays, celebrations and to say thanks), they really are a staple of the festive season.

We dive into a brief history of the Christmas card, then offer you some top tips for your classic Christmas collection designs. We’re sure they’ll be a sell out if you stick to our handy and helpful pointers!


A brief history of the Christmas card

Exchanging a written greeting as a celebration of an event goes back to the origins of writing itself. Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs wrote sentiments on papyrus scrolls, and New Year well wishes were swapped in Chinese emperor courts. In the Middle Ages the upper classes began fashioning romantic cards as a way of wooing and proposing marriage. Using ink on woodcuts and their own handmade artwork, cards were also used to celebrate saint’s days and birthdays.

However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the postage stamp in 1840 that affordable posting became an option. Before the postal service a merchant, traveller or courier was used, meaning sending greeting cards was really only an option for the rich. 

Three years later, Sir Henry Cole, an eminent civil servant, art patron and educator, was struggling with his unfeasibly long Christmas card list, so he commissioned his friend John Callcott Horsley, who came up with a design showing a Victorian family eating and drinking a toast to Christmas and New Year, flanked by scenes of festive charity. A thousand of the cards were printed lithographically in black and white, then coloured by hand, kicking off the craze for mass-produced Christmas cards.

By 1870, greeting card printing had truly taken off, and hundreds of European manufacturers were producing cards to sell at home and in the US. The story of American business giant Hallmark Cards began in the early 1900’s when the three Hall brothers started selling postcards. They recognised the need for privacy with greetings and began making cards with envelopes.

Greeting cards have also been a nice earner for many independent artists. In 1890 Beatrix Potter found her first commercial success with the creation of six designs for greeting cards using her rabbit as a model. So if you’re a freelance illustrator, a greeting card range may well be up your street.

 

Top tips for your designs

There are such a range of options for creating the perfect Christmas card – retro, photographic, illustrative, animals, fine art, humorous etc. Here are some quick tips to consider when planning your design. 

Strategy 

Cards that tend to stand out are ones that have a simple, impactful design – particularly online. This can be difficult when you think of Christmas cards as some are so detailed, so the best technique is to have a clear cut idea of what you want your message to be, and then plan the design around this feeling. When working on an Xmas collection, decide what sort of message you want to send, as well as the potential audience of the card.

Images

Now, not to completely contradict the less is more concept, images on cards need to be eye-catching to get attention, but also compliment and not detract from the message. The majority of information the brain processes is visual, so the image will be the deciding factor when purchasing a card. Quick tip – animals always go down well. 

Right paper choice

We offer a large variety of paper stocks so whatever festive message you’re connoting, we are sure we can transmit that with our paper. Gesso is very touchy-feely and would suit detailed and intricate work, while Pear Polar or Pearl Oyster is perfect for a luxe card needing a bit of A-list sparkle. There’s always Silk for when you want the image to do all the talking, as well as a whole host of other stocks.

Your brand

It’s important to stay true to who you are as an artist, designer or illustrator. Then you have the opportunity to create a loyal fanbase of your work, who come back for all-year-round greeting cards. Another good idea is to pop your logo or company name on the back of the card so the recipient can look you up. Maybe even consider having a strapline or website link on there too!

Photos

We cannot state how important it is to take a good photo of your card – especially if you’re selling on an online marketplace. A bad photo of your card can really cheapen its look and all the effort you’ve made. Consider natural lighting, a decent camera and lens, and make sure the photo is true to the card they buy.

 

If we’ve inspired you to start crafting your own Christmas cards, please check out our options on greeting cards and get creating! 

Comments

David Fleming
21 Sep 2016 00:04
Loved the "A Brief History of the Christmas Card". Really interesting.
Hannah
21 Sep 2016 11:29
Love the cards, great article. Thanks for the paper tips!
Su Mwamba
04 Oct 2016 08:43
Just preparing 2 new Christmas cards right now - will be sending to print very soon so thanks for the tips! :)
John
10 Dec 2016 08:59
very interesting :)
Jack
04 Mar 2017 13:22
excellent advice, interesting what you say about design strategy - I agree sometimes less is more

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