Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it's time to get ready for the upcoming holidays. Your personal computer can help.
If you have a PC or a Macintosh with a color printer, you have a factory for creating greeting cards, holiday place mats, menus, name tags, gift tags and even paper Christmas tree ornaments. You can also use your PC to create personalized calendars, which can make wonderful gifts for family members, business associates and friends.
The key to all of this is the right software, good paper stock for your printer and lots of imagination.
There was a time when even I thought it was nerdy to use a PC to create greeting cards, but advances in color printers, scanners and digital cameras, as well as the availability of high-quality special paper, have changed all that. While I've yet to see a computer-generated card that looks quite as slick as what you can get at a store, the ones that come off my printer are nevertheless quite attractive. And they're more personal.
All the programs let you import photos. If you already have a good photo, you can scan it. If you don't have a scanner, take the photo to Kinko's or a photo-finishing service, which, for about $10, will scan it to a floppy or Zip disk. If you don't already have a good photo, consider getting one taken at a photo studio or a department store photo center and ordering the least expensive set of prints. Scan a print and you have a low-cost professional photo for your greeting cards.
Several greeting card programs are on the market, including American Greetings CreataCard Gold from Mindscape, Print Shop Pro from Broderbund and Graphics Studio Greetings 99 from Microsoft. These programs generally can also be used for other projects, including calendars, stationery, banners, invitations, announcements and business cards.
Greetings 99 doesn't create calendars or banners, but Microsoft also offers Home Publishing 99, which includes everything in Greetings 99 plus software for creating calendars, banners, posters, gift boxes (that you fold and glue into shape), labels, tags and a lot more.
Prices range from about $29 to $60. The more expensive programs come with multiple disks with lots of clip art and project templates. Personally, I prefer using single-disk products because I hate having to constantly swap disks.
Adobe Photo Deluxe 3.0 is primarily a photo-editing program, but it also has the ability to create greeting cards and other special projects, including holiday menus. You can also create greeting cards using desktop publishing packages such as Microsoft Publisher and Harvard Publisher.
Instead of greeting cards, American Greetings Crafts from Mindscape ($29) lets you create Christmas ornaments, bags, baskets, boxes, masks, hats and recipe cards. All you need besides a PC and a color printer are scissors, glue and a ton of patience. It also helps to have some kids around who enjoy this type of project.
Most greeting card programs also allow users to send greetings over the Internet. Microsoft Greetings, for example, allows you to create an animated greeting card, with sounds, that can be e-mailed to someone as a self-executing Windows program. When the recipient runs the program, it launches a Web browser that displays the animated greeting card.
Animated e-mail greetings can be fun but they have their downsides. For one thing, any e-mail message that contains a graphic image is going to be a lot bigger than an average text message. It will take you longer to send, and it will take your recipient extra time to download. Your goodwill gesture can be a white elephant if the person on the other end has a slow Internet connection. Besides, you can't place an electronic greeting card on your mantle.
Hallmark (http://www.hallmark connections.com) offers 1,500 free electronic greetings, including 300 free holiday greetings from its site. The night I tried, the Hallmark site was extremely slow. Kinko's also offers free animated holiday cards at http://www.kinkos.com/kinkocards. My favorite free greeting card site is Awesome Cyber Cards (http://www.marlo.com). The Rats2U Web site (http://www.rats2u.com) has links to lots of sites that offer free electronic greeting cards. Just click the Holiday link and scroll through the on-screen calendar to find Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. The site also has links to sites where you can download free clip art to use in your greeting card (http://rats2u.com/christmas/christmas_index.htm)
Links to lots of holiday sites, including all sites mentioned in this column, can be found at http://www.safekids.com/holiday.htm.
Larry Magid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web page is at http://www.larrysworld.com or keyword LarryMagid on AOL.