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Everything I Use to Make (Better-Than-Hallmark) Greeting Cards at Home

Photo: Leica Lucien

Every greeting card I’ve ever received lives in a box under my bed. The truth is, when times are tough, a card with a cat holding on to a branch for dear life that says “Hang in there!” can actually make me feel better. And these days, the sentiments inspired by greeting cards — whether for birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, or just to say hello — are even more appreciated as many of us still are (or feel) disconnected from one another due to the pandemic. Like many people, I saw our socially distant times as an opportunity to connect with loved ones this old-fashioned way, with a physical card and a pen. But the more I looked for greeting cards, the harder it became to find the right ones.

The best greeting cards speak to a recipient’s identity and personality, but I couldn’t find a lot that are inclusive to all ethnicities, cultures, or people with disabilities. As someone who’s never shied away from an arts-and-crafts project — I studied and work in the visual arts — I figured I could learn to make my own greeting cards the way other folks are learning to make candles or ceramics or pressed flowers or needlepoint. (I’m not talking about those clip-art cards your grandma used to make for every birthday, either; you can see some I’ve made in my Etsy shop, The Sticker Bodega.) But what I didn’t know (yet) were the best tools for the job. Between paper and printers and other gadgets, there are countless supplies you can use to make cards and things to decorate them with, with very little information about what stuff works well together. The only way to find out, I reasoned: Try as much of it as possible. And that I did, diving deep into the different types of paper, printers, and cutting machines I could use to make professional-looking greeting cards at home.

Below, you’ll find my favorite cardstocks and sticker paper for most any greeting-card project. When it comes to cutting machines and printers, my time testing supplies taught me that some are best for beginners, while others are suited for more experienced crafters. So, beneath my favorite papers, I have outlined two different greeting-card projects I recently completed (beginner and advanced), noting the machines and other smaller tools (paper trimmers, glue runners) I used for each. This way, you can better determine what supplies sound right for you.

Before I get to the supplies, though, I want to talk a little about my process. First, I suggest any aspiring card-makers — especially true beginners — check out the YouTube tutorials from Elan Creative Co., It’s Me, JD, and Nasayi that I watched (and still return to). Being an artist myself, I usually begin any project with a quick hand-drawn sketch of what I want my card to look like. Once I have the general idea, I’ll sometimes use Adobe Photoshop to design any decorative elements like stickers. If you don’t have Photoshop or don’t want to pay $10 a month to run it on your computer, I suggest checking out the free service Krita, which has many of the same design features as Photoshop, including tons of preloaded, customizable brushes you can use to make your drawings look more unique. After I complete a card’s design, I print and cut everything. I’ll use a cutting machine first to cut out the base layer of a card and score it in the middle, so it can easily fold. If I am making something more elaborate, I’ll use a printer to print embellishments like stickers or illustrations, cut around their borders with a cutting machine, and attach them to the base. I usually have my original sketches close by so I can compare them to the final product as I go.

My favorite paper for making greeting cards

Cardstock for card bases and accent layers

Whether I’m making something basic or advanced, I always start with a cardstock base. The best base cardstocks weigh between 80–110 pounds. (To the unfamiliar, cardstocks are often described by their weight; an 80-pound cardstock means that 500 sheets of that paper weigh 80 pounds.) I often use one of these white cardstocks from Neenah as a base. Whether I am combining it with another (colorful) cardstock or stickers, the white helps whatever it is pop. The Classic Crest has a smoother finish, while the Classic Linen has more texture.

As you’ll see in some of the greeting cards I made, you can combine a base of white cardstock with an accent layer of color cardstock to create a stenciled effect with words and images. I like the colorful cardstocks from Paper and More, not least because you can get envelopes to match most. There are tons more shades to choose from in addition to this navy Blue Blazer and bright Red Pepper, both of which have a textured linen finish. You can, of course, use colorful cardstock as a base, too. Whether it’s a base or accent layer, I’d again recommend using colorful cardstocks that weigh between 80–110 pounds.

Cardstock for embellishments

Advanced card-makers may also want to use cardstocks to make designs or shapes they stick on to their card’s base to embellish it; for that, I recommend something lighter, like a 60- or 65-pound cardstock in any finish. For something matte, you could try the pack of colorful cardstocks from Neenah; for more texture, consider something like Paper and More’s Antique Gold parchment paper. To attach extra cardstock embellishments, I’ll use runner tape.

Sticker paper for embellishments

Making stickers to embellish a card is also more of an advanced technique, too. But to anyone who likes the sound of it, I like to use sticker paper from Online Labels. The gloss will give the stickers a shinier look; the matte, a more muted effect. Printing stickers on these full sheets makes it easy to use a cutting machine to create both kiss-cut stickers (with a border around their design) and die-cut stickers (no border).

Online Labels also sells full sheets of colorful sticker paper (like these blue, green, and yellow sets), should you want to experiment with printing a sticker design on something other than white paper.

The tools I use for simple (but not basic) cards

Photo: Leica Lucien

The birthday card shown here, which I made for my sister, is one of the simpler styles of cards I’ve created. It is essentially two pieces of cardstock (a white base and a colorful accent layer) glued together with an adhesive runner. All of the detail work was done on the Cricut Joy — a small and mighty cutting machine — but I used the machine’s compatible card mat and pens, too. I like the card mat because it’s designed with templates to make three different sizes of cards; it is also sticky, so it holds paper in place as the machine is cutting it or drawing on it. This stickiness wears off, though, so you will have to replace a mat eventually. To cut the cardstock to size, I use a paper trimmer, because you get straighter lines than if you use scissors (but you can use those, too).