Make a Holiday Photo Card Using Photoshop Elements

If you are looking for a way to showcase a favorite family picture or winter scene in your holiday card this year, you can make your own using Photoshop Elements. In this post I explain how to prepare your photo to be printed as a flat photo card.

Flat Photo Card


The process involves four steps:
  1. Select and size the picture you want to use.
  2. Add canvas to one side of the picture for your greeting.
  3. Add graphics to the canvas for more visual appeal.
  4. Include the text with any special effects for your greeting.
I'm using Photoshop Elements 12 in the Expert Editor mode, but any recent version will let you accomplish the same thing. You can also use Photoshop CC or CS6, though the menus and options will look different from the screen shots in this post.
    1) Select and Size the Photo
    You can use either a horizontal or vertical photo for your card. I chose a horizontal winter scene I photographed last January. A traditional flat photo card is 4 inches by 8 inches. Select the Crop tool in Elements. In the Tool Options, set the size of your crop to 4 x 6 inches and the Resolution to 300 ppi. This ensures you have the correct dimensions for the image and enough pixels for a quality print.

    Drag a cropping rectangle over your photo. If you shot the picture with your phone camera or a point and shoot model, you will crop off some of the picture. Be sure you are happy with what remains. If you need to make any adjustments to the exposure, color or sharpness, do that before continuing. Save a new copy of your picture with "4x6" in the name.

    Crop Tool Options set for 4 x 6 inches, Resolution of 300 ppi

    2) Add Canvas
    Since the finished card needs to be 4 inches x 8 inches, you need to add more "paper" or canvas to your picture so you have room for your greeting. Since I am using a horizontal photo, I can add my extra canvas to either the right or left edge. If you are using a vertical image, you can add canvas at either the top or bottom.

    Choose Image > Resize > Canvas Size. Be sure the units read inches and turn off the Relative checkbox. If you are working with a horizontal picture, make the width 8 inches. If you are using a vertical photo, make the height 8 inches. In the Anchor squares, click the position where you want your photo to be on the paper. In my case, I want the image on the left and the extra paper on the right. So I clicked the left center square. For a vertical image with the extra paper on the bottom, you would click the top center square.

    Adding Canvas to the right side of the picture

    You could just add white, black or gray canvas, but that is not very appealing. Instead, you can select a color from the picture for the paper extension.

    Click on the Canvas extension color list and choose Other. Elements opens a window where you can select any color from the rainbow. To pick a color that matches part of your photo, move your cursor over the image. The cursor changes to an eyedropper and any color that you click on in the photo appears in the color window. I clicked on the green of the pines for my color. When you are satisfied with the color, click OK in the color window and OK to add the canvas.

    Selecting a color for the extra canvas

    Now your photo should have extra space for you to put your greeting.

    Image with extra canvas

    3) Add Graphics
    I thought the blank green looked too dull, so I added some snowflakes to go with the frosty theme of my picture. You can add any kind of graphic shape by using the Custom Shape tool. In the Tool Options there is a snowflake shape under the default choices. But you can find additional snowflake designs by clicking on the arrow next to the shape and selecting the Nature category.

    Once you have a shape you like, be sure to set the size to Unconstrained and check the From Center box. You can also pick any color you want your shape to be. I chose white for my snowflakes. Then click and drag over the new canvas to add the graphics. I made the snowflakes different sizes and different positions. (Use the Move tool to reposition them.) In the Layers panel I also reduced the Opacity of each snowflake so they were not so prominent.

    Shape Tool Options

    Image with extra canvas and graphics

    4) Add Text
    Now it's time to add the message you want to include on your card. Select the Horizontal Type tool and in the Tool Options choose a font, style and color. I chose a script font in a very light gray with centered alignment. (Your font choices depend on what you have installed on your computer.) Then I clicked on the canvas to type my greeting. After typing the words, I felt the default leading (the space between lines) was too much. So I highlighted the text and reduced the leading.

    If you are including your name as well as the greeting, it's easier to make your name a separate piece of type so you can place it independently from the greeting. I clicked a second time to add my name and the year in a smaller size of the same font. Use the Move tool to reposition the words, if necessary.

    Image with canvas, graphics and text

    I felt the type was too boring just as it was, so I added several effects to make it stand out. If you want to do the same to your type, choose Layer > Layer Styles > Style Settings. I checked the boxes for Drop Shadow, Inner Glow and Bevel. Play with the settings until you like the effect and then click OK.

    To be sure your effect matches both text pieces, choose Layer > Layer Style > Copy Layer Style. Then select the other type layer and choose Layer > Layer Style > Paste Layer Style.

    Be sure to save your card as a PSD file. This lets you go back and adjust your choices later. When you are ready to take the card to the printer, choose Save As to create a JPEG version. Save at the maximum quality (12) and Standard format. Copy the file to a thumb drive and deliver it to your nearest photo lab or upload it to an online lab such as MPix for your own personal card.

    Save As JPEG Options for best print quality

    You can also print the card on glossy paper yourself. Two photo cards fit side by side on letter-sized paper. Choose Select > All, then Edit > Copy Merged to copy all the layers into one. Now create a new document: File > New > Blank File. From Preset, choose U.S. Paper. Elements automatically selects Letter for the size with resolution at 300ppi. Click OK and a blank page appears.

    Creating a blank document

    Choose Edit > Paste twice. Two copies of your card appear in your new document. Use the Move tool to position them side by side. Be sure to leave space between them for trimming. Then load glossy photo paper in your printer and choose File > Print for a completely hand-crafted holiday card.

    Two cards ready to print yourself