If You Care Enough to Print the Very Best

I'm not exactly your greeting card kind of a guy.

When it comes to special occasions, I'm just as happy if my friends and loved ones call me on the phone, send me a personal note or even dash off an e-mail message. Yet I know a lot about the subject, because I'm married to someone who enjoys receiving and sending printed cards.

On several occasions, I've used my PC to custom-design a card for my wife, Patti, and other family members. Patti always graciously thanks me, but I've noticed that she doesn't get as excited as when I write a note by hand or purchase a printed card. When asked, she admitted that she thinks that printed cards look better and handwritten notes seem more thoughtful.

Professionally printed greeting cards do look better. But with the correct software, a good inkjet printer and high-quality card stock, you can do a pretty good job with a PC. With home computer-generated cards, you can create a more personal greeting and even add photographs. And they're great for procrastinators like me who remember they need a card after it's too late to go to the store.

I tested three of the leading Windows greeting card programs: Micrographx CreateaCard 2.0 ($49.95), the Print Shop Signature Greetings ($19.95) from Broderbund and Greetings Workshop from Microsoft ($29.95 for one-disk product; $49.95 for two-disk deluxe version).

All three programs come with a wide selection of graphics, designs, sayings and other elements that let you assemble a greeting card for just about any occasion. Each program also lets you import your own graphics--including photos--and enter your own text.

None of these programs use standard Windows pull-down menus. In each case, it took me a few minutes to figure out how to issue commands. None of them are hard to use, but they do require patience and perhaps some extra printer ink and paper for the inevitable spoilage as you're learning.

Speaking of paper, you can get better results if you use expensive, high-quality paper or card stock. But it's probably a good idea to print first on cheap paper until you're sure you have everything just the way you want it.

Micrographx CreateaCard 2.0, which comes with about 5,000 pieces of clip art, lets you choose from among thousands of cards designed by American Greetings. It also lets you create signs, awards and certificates, business cards, invitations, stationery, labels, postcards, calendars, gift tags and stickers.

You start by selecting a project. If you choose to make a card, you're asked to select an occasion such as a birthday, wedding/engagement or new baby. A series of additional questions follows to help you zero in on the appropriate card for the person, occasion and mood.

All of the programs allow you to send your greeting by e-mail. With CreateaCard, you must be signed on to the Internet to send a card. But once you're on, all the software you need is built into the program. The card arrives at its destination as a stand-alone program that the recipient just clicks to view. The catch is that the recipient must have a Windows machine, and because files can be pretty big, they might take awhile to send and download. Personally, I'd rather not have people send me large e-mail files without first asking my permission.

Microsoft's Greeting Workshop program opens with a "display rack," where you can choose to create a card (designed by Hallmark), announcement, calendar, invitation, poster, banner, sign, award, label or sticker. If you choose to create a card, you will be asked to select an occasion.

After you've created a card, you can print it, send it as a file via e-mail or post it to the Web. Posting a card to the Web doesn't require extra software or knowledge of HTML. Just click a button, and the program "uploads" it and sends the recipient an e-mail message explaining how to view it. Unlike an e-mail greeting card, the user isn't forced to download a long file, and it can be viewed by anyone who knows its URL.

Print Shop Signature Greetings doesn't offer as many types of projects as the other two programs, but it's the easiest to use and has the cleanest interface.

The program's desktop has clearly marked options for creating greeting cards, labels, postcards and envelopes and for setting up an address book. Once you pick a project, you get to choose the type of occasion (birthday, holiday, friendship, encouragement, events and thanks) and are then taken to a screen where you can preview 5,000 available cards and projects.

With this program, you must decide if you are going to send the card via e-mail before designing it. The other two programs let you design the card first and then decide how to send it. But Print Shop's greeting card is integrated into the message rather than sent as a separate file. That reduces transmission time and means that recipients can view the card from within their e-mail programs. Not all e-mail programs can view these cards automatically; those that can't are generally able to download the graphics so they can be viewed offline.

The Print Shop program comes with 90 fonts, which can be great. But fonts also take up a lot of disk space and can, in some situations, slow down your computer. Unfortunately, the program automatically installs all of the fonts and its "un-install" program doesn't remove them.

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Any of these programs can be used for wedding invitations. But Wedding Invitations (Windows, $24.95) from Creative Card/Ampad ([800] 258-4086) is designed specifically for that purpose. It comes with 25 blank invitations and envelopes and 50 response cards and envelopes, bundled with a free CD-ROM that walks you through creating and printing a wedding invitation.

Before buying a stationery program, take stock of what you have. A lot of PCs, printers and scanners come with greeting card programs, so you may already have one. Also, you can create cards using Microsoft Publisher, Broderbund's Print Shop and several other general-purpose graphic programs.

If all you want is to send greeting cards via the Web, you don't need to buy anything. Point your browser to http://www.pcanswer.com/greeting.htm for links to several sites that let you create and send free online greeting cards.

Lawrence J. Magid can be reached via e-mail at magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com

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