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Greeting Card Business

Updated on September 8, 2010

The photographer has the opportunity of producing original greeting cards which will appeal more to the recipients than the mass-produced cards sold in the shops. He can make Christmas cards, birthday cards, baby arrival cards, bookmarks, gift cards, wedding congratulation cards, wedding anniversary cards, or "get well" cards. They can be produced in many ways and range from straightforward prints to those made by photomontage, or from black-and-white to color. Simple Cards. The simplest greeting card can be made by pen lettering a greeting with opaque ink on the back of a film negative, and then printing by contact or enlarging. This can be done by anyone, and is easier than trying to write a greeting in reverse on the film side of the negative, or making a copy negative of the combined greeting and illustration.

Another simple method is to put the photographs in commercial printed folders. This, however, can hardly be claimed as making greeting cards.

A development of this idea (and one which is attractive) is to use master masks for the greeting part of the card. These can be obtained commercially and with a wide range of designs, but it is not difficult to make them at home. An original is first drawn in Indian ink on white paper to conform with the size of the finished cards. A space is left where the illustration is to be printed later. The surround can be decorated with a fine line or fancy bordering, or the whole area can be left completely blank, so that the picture has a white border when printed later.

A copy is now made on a process or line film and developed in a maximum contrast developer to obtain a good contrasty negative. This copy can be made on one of the special thin base process films, and then later an opening can be cut out to allow the film negative to be inserted below. The combination when printed by contact will be perfectly sharp. The size of the copy negative will depend on the size that the finished card is to be. If the illustration is 2 x 3 inches, then half plate size would be suitable for the master mask negative. This idea is also useful in that a few copies can be printed from each of a selection of different negatives, instead of having to keep to the same illustration on every card.

After the film is dry, the opening for the subject negative is cut out, and the negative taped in place. A piece of cellulose tape is ideal for this purpose and, as the background negative has great density, it will not show. The opening for the illustration negative can be cut with a sharp penknife or a razor blade, and a steel rule and set square. It is important that the edges are clean, square and straight.

If glass plates are used for the background negative instead of film, the window for the illustration negative can be cleared by scraping off all the gelatin emulsion from the glass base. When the film is placed on this and printed by contact, there will be some very slight softening of the background design unless a great deal of pressure is used to secure optical contact. The cards can be printed from such a multiple negative, however, by projection in the enlarger. It may be necessary to shade either the illustration or background negative during exposure to give the same printing density to each part.

Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian
Photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian

Folded Cards

A variation on the above method of making photographic greeting cards is to use a much larger sheet of photographic paper for the greeting card background and then double or four-fold it, to improve on the ordinary flat greeting card. This looks effective, but, if expense is a consideration, the large size photographic paper needed for this method is costly. For example, to produce a four-fold card size 4x5 inches needs a piece of 8 x 10 inches photographic paper for each card.

If a two-fold or a four-fold card is made it can have a touch of color added with a bow or knot of ribbon tied at the side. Selecting the color of the ribbon to blend with the picture can add extra appeal- e.g., by combining a tartan ribbon with a highland scene, or using regimental colors on a soldier's camp photograph.

The manufacture of the two-fold or the four-fold card does not require much special description, but there are one or two points to watch. First, the illustration and greeting must be so placed on the paper that they come into correct alignment when trimmed and folded. Again, the prints should not be dried by heat, otherwise the gelatin emulsion may crack when folded. While single or double weight photographic paper can be used, the larger sizes of single weight paper may crease when wet unless handled very carefully.

Where greeting cards are to be made by the more complicated methods- e.g., photomontage or photograms- it is better to prepare a key original and make a copy negative from this, for the making of a number of photomontage or photogram cards by direct methods can be costly and tedious.

Anyone not an expert at lettering, can use stencils, nursery, cut-out letters, cine titling letters, or draw the letters with a pantagraph, to word the greeting. Another way is to use the actual handwritten signatures of the people in the photograph, or to put the greeting in script lettering. Illustrations for the background can be traced, stencilled, or caricatured, methods which call for very little drawing skill.

Mounting and Coloring

Where photographs are to be mounted on to board to make a greeting card, they should be dry mounted and not wet mounted, to avoid cockle. Cover boards can be purchased from art supply shopes. They should tone with the color of the photograph to show the picture off to best advantage. Boards which are ornate in finish, or glaring in color, should not be used. Pastel shades are generally preferable. A white board is best for black-and-white prints and ivory or cream toned board for the sepia and warm tones. Tinted base photographic papers can also be used with advantage for some subjects- e.g., photographs of sunsets, cornfields, autumn scenes, or golden sands.

Color can be introduced either by using actual paper color prints, or by making use of the less costly hand-coloring methods. Where a number of hand-colored prints are to be made of one subject it pays to cut stencils out of waxed paper for the principal objects, or the "rubbing-on" oil coloring method can be used. Here, all one part of all the cards is colored at one time- e.g., skies or sea. This method also saves coloring time. Color can be introduced into the background of the cards by drawing something in the illustration suitable for tinting- e.g., holly and berries, a lantern, the traditional robin, bluebirds, thumbnail sketches of flowers, windmills, etc.

If a large number of greeting cards are required in color, genuine color photographs made by the dye transfer color process are quicker to produce and relatively cheap.

Suitable Subjects

As subject matter for the illustrations, either general pictures can be chosen or those with a personal interest. For Christmas cards, such subjects as snow scenes and old buildings and churches are suitable. For birthday cards beautiful scenes or subjects which have some personal associations for the recipient are quite apt. For baby arrival cards and wedding anniversary cards, have a family motif. A good camera study of the church where the pair were wed would provide something which no commercial card could give. Gift greeting cards should be of pleasant, decorative subjects. Greeting bookmarks offer unlimited scope for both ideas and subjects, and "get well" cards can be treated seriously or in lighter vein. Humorous table top photographs or happy snapshots can do much to cheer up a depressed patient.

All types of photographic greeting can be improved by a little originality in presentation.

Deckled edged mounts can be made by clamping the mounting card (in bulk) between two pieces of plywood or hardboard, the same size as the cardboard, in a vice and drawing the point of a large nail cross-cross over the edges of the card.

Hand torn edges can be made by placing the card on a flat surface, putting a steel straight-edge on the top of it, and pulling the surplus of the paper edge upwards, while holding the steel rule very firmly on top of the photographic paper or mounting card. At least 1 inch extra must be allowed all round the board to grip while tearing.

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