In some cases, starting from scratch is justifiable (see: freshly ground coffee). But in a lot of cases it’s wholly unnecessary—even if your aim is to create something original.
If you’re getting paid by the hour to design a customized holiday card with no cap on your budget, then by all means take your time and reach for your set of watercolors. But if you’re like most of us and often find yourself forgetting to breathe between mid-November and the first of January, you should probably save yourself the time (and money) this season by reading on . . .
Below is a completed design I started and finished this morning over half a cup of coffee by utilizing stock elements:
Designing a card like this from the ground up can take the better part of a day—or it can take a few minutes, depending on your resourcefulness. And in both cases you can still walk away with something supremely individualized and organic if you leverage a few easy tips for repurposing royalty-free content:
Tip #1: Sharpen Your Search Terms
The first key to any composite project is to start with the right images—and to do this, you first need to find these images (ideally,
with some efficiency). Before you start searching through vast libraries, take a moment to consider your search terms. For general holiday cards, terms like “Christmas” are too restrictive and leave room for a lot of great content to fall through the cracks.
I knew I wanted to start with something wintry for this card, so I simply searched for “winter” and found these fantastic snowflakes on the very first results page:
The same image is also cross-indexed under “Christmas,” mind you, but I would’ve had to search through pages of elves and reindeer to find it, so try general terms first and then narrow from there.
Oftentimes, I’ll start with even wider search terms like “icons” or “seasonal” to find matching content in bulk. I didn’t end up using the image below this project (as I later stumbled upon something I liked even better, which I’ll get to . . . ), but it was a great thematic find that came up on the first page of my “icons” search—and I’m going to keep it in my library for future projects.
*Stringing terms together like “winter icons” or “seasonal icons” is another great way to narrow your results.
Tip #2: Select and Modify
I loved the snowflakes in my wintry background find, but I didn’t want the deep blue or the vertical layout; instead, I downloaded the vector file (.eps) and grabbed the white layer only—then pasted this onto a horizontal layout, added softer colors, and stacked the snow for added depth. (Using .eps files makes it easier to grab individual elements, but you can also use .pdf, .png, or .jpg files and employ your favorite selection tool to grab an element.) By stacking the layer twice, I was also able to feature only the more interesting part of the snow—just the accumulating flakes without the solid border of white—and add more depth.
Remember that you don’t ever have to yield to the boundaries of an available download (color, size, orientation, etc.); just take what you want and leave the rest.
Tip #3: Look for Pre-Styled Text Too
Career designers amass libraries spanning thousands of fonts (most of which they’ve had to either purchase or create themselves)—and, consequently, they have years of experience and education in selecting these fonts. That doesn’t mean, however, that you have to settle for Times New Roman, Comic Sans, or whichever stock fonts you have available; oftentimes you can find the text you need pre-styled.
I searched “Happy Holidays,” for example, and immediately found these banners—and, as a bonus, decided to use the snowcapped tree branches instead of the icons I found and referenced earlier.
After grabbing the branch layer, I grabbed the text as well and turned it red to accent the birds—and then, once again, I stacked the image and turned the second layer white to create a quick “snowcap” effect.
It’s really that simple. Fifteen minutes of playing around + one background + one banner = a whimsical customization I’m really quite happy with.
If you’re already a member of Graphic Stock, this content is already yours for the taking—along with 150,000+ alternate images. And if you’re not yet a member, take advantage of their 7 Days of Free Downloads . . . with up to 140 downloads during the trial by my calculation that is enough to create about 47 of these cards, given you don’t sleep much . . .
About the Author
Andy DiGuiseppi is the creative consultant behind DiGuiseppi Studios, where he specializes in branding, graphics, and all things design. Connect with him at www.Diguiseppi.com.