Crane's Starcut Cards
As the holiday season is quickly approaching, people are scrambling to get last-minute gifts. Unfortunately, it's easy to forget the most important part: the card.

In the era of email, handwritten letters have almost become extinct. Sending a greeting card gives that personal touch and shows how you value the recipient.

Whether it accompanies a gift or takes the place of one, a holiday card makes an impression -- so it's essential to choose one with care.

A prestigious stationer since 1879, Crane & Co. sells several luxury brands including William Author, Kate Spade, Stacy Claire Boyd and Prentiss Douthit. " These brands have a sophisticated, modern look to them," says Karen Gilliland, chief marketing officer.

Crane sells both personalized holiday cards and boxed greeting cards, with and without photos.

The boxed cards ($30) have several seasonal designs to pick from, including engravings of Christmas trees, wreaths, flamingos and pears, and contain 10 cards each.

Personalized cards can make much more of an impact, however, and are significantly more expensive.

A box of Crane's starcut design, for instance, costs $2,722 for 500 cards.

This pattern features a laser-cut village scene, with a personal message printed in your choice of gold, regent blue or black. It also includes coordinating white envelopes lined in satin gold, and a return address printed on the flap.

Another option is engraving, which has a striking, three-dimensional quality.

This adds a significant amount to the final price, because it requires manufacturing plates and is very labor-intensive, notes Gilliland. For instance, 25 cards with thermography (a printing process involving heat) will cost about $175, while 25 cards with engraving can set you back almost $270.

For the engraving process, an artist sketches the original image.

This image is then etched onto a copper plate; next, the engraver uses a high-pressure weight that forces the paper against the plate to receive the ink, which raises the design off the surface of the paper.

Thermography can be a good substitute to engraving. It is not as labor-intensive but has a similar quality to engraving.

To create an image this way, the design is flat-printed, and the ink is dusted with resin powder while wet. The images are then subjected to heat, forming a raised surface. The finished image has a slightly shiny look and sits on top of the paper, without any indentation on the back.

People are moving toward photo cards, especially in the digital age, says Gilliland. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and photos quickly and easily add that unique touch.

Other popular embellishments on holiday cards are hand-applied gold leaf and sewn-on applique, says Melanie Nerenberg, director of communications at Kate's Paperie, a high-end paper supplier based in New York City.

Designs that sparkle and glitter are also always very popular. Greeting cards have become a fashion statement, adds Nerenberg.

Works of Art

If you're looking for a stunning card to send to your loved ones, try visiting some art museums.

Many institutions offer special holiday cards, such as the Museum Shop of Chicago, which sells cards in several different categories ranging from architecture to Asian and modern art to religious themes.

A couple of standouts include a card depicting a Japanese kimono from the late Edo period (1789-1868), and a modern-art inspired card featuring a painting of two candles by artist Gerhard Richter, with wishes for a "bright and happy holiday season" inside.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also sells holiday cards, such as a 1980 watercolor of Jerusalem by Israeli artist Tania Kornfeld and a seasonal still-life painting by the American artist Raphaelle Peale.

People are always looking for something special to put their name on, says Jacqueline Goldner, who recently started New York City-based Pampered Princess, her own line of textural greeting cards.

Customers often want personalized cards in order to stand out from the crowd, she adds.

Pampered Princess cards features faces of women, couples, teens and babies. The artist Charles Wissig draws the designs, which are then decorated with fabric, Swarovski crystals and feathers, says Goldner.

Another noteworthy producer is Sesame Letterpress of Brooklyn, N.Y., which uses vintage machines to produce its line of distinct, heavyweight cards. These feature intricate drawings of flora and fauna and can be customized to order.

But if you really want to impress your friends and family, how about actually making your own holiday card?

Belltech Greeting Card Designer ($40) enables you to design polished cards from a variety of templates, even if you've always had trouble coloring inside the lines.

You can then add desired text, photos or other art from various sources.

Yes, sending a greeting card through the mail requires a bit more effort than a mass emailing. But just imagine the smiles of those on your list as they open the distinctive card you've sent.

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