This holiday season, forego the traditional store-bought greeting cards and instead, make a lasting impression by sending your friends and family handmade pop-up cards. Not only do these creative cards pack an element of surprise, they also double as small sculptures when displayed on the mantel.

Although making pop-up cards requires a little more effort than simple two-dimensional cards, you can minimize the work required by letting your Mac do some of the heavy lifting for you. Use it to quickly make templates, experiment with different background designs, add photographs or decorative fonts, and customize each card for the intended recipient.

There are hundreds of different techniques for creating pop-up effects. For this project, artists from Damore Johann Design created three simple pop-up cards by using the center fold to punch out images such as clocks and snowflakes, or to create supports for raised text.

Once you master the basic technique of constructing a pop-up card, you can easily experiment with the card's design to create your own unique, eye-catching holiday greeting.

To start each card, the artists first created the card's inside design with their Macs, being careful to center pop-up elements such as the clock and star over the fold of the card A. When designing your card, it's best to leave the background simple to focus attention on the pop-up element. To help you remember where you'll need to cut once you print your card, draw black outlines B along the areas that will be cut out.

Creating pop-up text is slightly more complicated. First design the card with the text printed along the fold B. Decide how far from the fold you want your text to stand out and draw a temporary line A that far below the fold. The closer this line is to the fold, the closer your text will stand to the upper portion of the card. Now lower your text so that it sits on this new line.

You will use the text to accurately position each letter's supports. These paper "bars" will keep the letters standing up straight. Now draw parallel lines that sit on the baseline to create thin bars for each letter. These supports will be part of the back of the card: later, you will glue the letters to the supports.

Position the bars on the page so they will be concealed by the letters. For example, place the bar for a P behind the letter's long stem. When you have all the bars positioned correctly, transfer the text to a new document, removing it from this one. Then, delete the baseline altogether, so your first document is like that shown below.

Hang on to the document that contains only the text because you will need to print out the text on a different sheet of paper later, then cut out and paste each letter to its corresponding support.

When you are satisfied with your designs, it's time to print the inside of your card. It's important to choose a sturdy paper—such as 80-pound laser card stock—that can support the structure of your pop-up elements. Although most consumer printers can handle stock as heavy as 90 pounds, you should consult your printer's manual for specific limitations. (For a shimmery look, the designers printed the clock design on thin foil and then spray-glued the foil to a thicker card stock paper.)

Following your guides, use an Xacto knife to carefully cut your design. If you're making cards similar to the star or clock designs, be sure leave one point of your pop-up element connected on each side of the fold. For pop-up text, your card should have a series of parallel slits cut across the fold—the supports you created earlier.

Next, fold your card halfway, and push out the pop-up elements so they bend in the opposite direction from the rest of the card A. Then, carefully finish folding the card. When you reopen the card, decorative elements such as the star and clock should lift off the page.

The card with the pop-up text should now have a line of thin, popped-up rectangles with horizontal folds B. You can now glue the individual letters to the front of each support.

Cutting the pop-up designs from your card creates a hole in the background of your card. You can leave this as is, or you can add color to the cut-out shape by using spray mount to attach the card to a piece of colored paper.

Contributing Editor NANCY PETERSON has been making greeting cards even longer than she has been editing How-to articles for Macworld . Associate Editor KELLY LUNSFORD covers Web and graphics tools for Macworld and writes the Homemade Mac column.

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