Holiday Shout-Outs Via E-Mail

I can't wait to start getting this year's holiday cards. Any day now they'll be shooting through my mail slot, chock full of news and photos of what's been happening with friends and family. Or will that even happen this year? A close family member hinted recently that her holiday greetings would be arriving by e-mail. I was surprised at first and then I remembered spending nearly $100 last year on custom photo cards and stamps. It was a mad dash to get them in the mail so they would arrive before Dec. 25. A lot of effort and money for a card that probably ended up in the trash along with used wrapping paper and bows. So whether you're trying to be more environmentally friendly or watching the budget, here are a few cheaper and even free ways to send a shout-out to your friends and family this holiday season:

Hallmark.com and AmericanGreetings.com offer plenty of free e-cards that you can personalize and even drop photos into. But if you want an e-card without advertising flashing around it and a little more design quality, you can pay Hallmark.com a few dollars to use its Smilebox service. After downloading the program, you'll have access to hundreds of traditional to cutesy cards, including nearly 70 holiday cards. For about $3 you can send a card to as many people as you want that has no advertising, it fills up the entire computer screen and can include a long holiday letter, as well as photos of you and the fam. I found the service super easy to use. AmericanGreetings.com and its affiliate BlueMountain.com offer an annual service for $30 that gives you access to a whole chest of e-cards but they get sent with advertising and I didn't find the designs as appealing.

Plenty of artists have launched e-card services, most of them requiring a small membership fee to send their creations. Some of my favorites include Ojolie.com, whose artist uses Flash animation and hand-painted watercolors to create interesting e-cards for a wide range of occasions and holidays. You pay a $10 annual fee to personalize and send the cards. The site, which has about 50 cards, adds one or two new ones every month. One of my favorites is a card that featured a set of birds putting together a wreath made of berries and pinecones with a soft classical tune in the background. Your personalized greeting would then appear in the middle of the wreath.

I've also been a fan of Jacquie Lawson, an artist in England, who, along with her niece, nephew and neighbor, has designed more than 100 e-cards. Many of her cards, which require a $12 annual membership fee to send, feature animals, including her own dog Chudleigh. One of her newest holiday cards is an animation of a black cat that tries repeatedly to knock a red ball ornament from a Christmas tree. After the cat gives up to clean its paw, the ornament falls on its head and breaks. The card, which also includes a soft classical tune in the background, ends with the words, "Have a smashing Christmas." Both Ojolie.com and JacquieLawson.com let you sample each of their cards before you become a member.

If you have a really good printer, consider a free holiday card template that you can download from a number of sites. Shutterfly offers several designer templates that you can print out at home and then add your own photo. Southworth, a paper supplier, also offers several free templates. Just make sure you get some nice paper for the project.

If you really must send a custom card in the mail and you want a little photo of the family in it, Snapfish.com has the best prices when compared to Shutterfly.com and Kodakgallery.com. A set of 100 4- by 8-inch photo cards will run you $45. Add another $42 for 100 stamps.

What are you doing about holiday cards this year? Which e-card services have you used? How else are you cutting back this holiday?

By Tania Anderson |  December 4, 2008; 12:00 AM ET General Interest , Holidays and Special Occasions
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I still send out my "snail mail" cards, but I helped my mom design our Christmas card at hallmark.com. Instead of the big group picture we found a design that had seperate slots for each kids' face. They printed them and mailed them to my mom for about $45, and they look fantastic.

Posted by: choirgirl04 | December 4, 2008 9:05 AM

Here are a few precaution that one needs to be aware of when one receives ecards.

* Make sure you recognize the sender's name. The sender's FULL name should ALWAYS be included in the subject line (and sometimes in the "from" field) of the email.

* The web site should be easily identified in one or more of the following places: the "from" field, the subject line, or in the email itself.

* Do NOT click any links with simple IP address. In a fake ecard email, the IP address may be hidden and can only be seen by hovering your cursor over the link or right clicking on the link to view properties. The link should not be a series of number (e.g. 169.180.1.15, commonly referred to as an IP address).

* An ecard email should NOT have any attachment of any kind. The recipient will go to the web site to "pick up" (i.e. view) the ecard.

* Legitimate ecard emails will always include an option to pick up the ecard by typing the web site address and enter a code.

* Use a webmail or email application that has good spam filter. My experience with Gmail has been very good. It filters out almost all spam mail.

Posted by: netwashington | December 5, 2008 1:14 AM

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