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How to Make Beautiful, Personalized, Watercolor Christmas Cards

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RedElf (Elle Fredine) is a photographer, published author, and educator. Life-long learning is key to adding value to life.

Every year, it seems I find boxes of beautifully detailed Christmas cards in our local stores. The clever, intricate designs and quality workmanship draw me like the proverbial moth is drawn to the flame. The designs seem to be cuter each year, with appliqué elements, embossing, cutwork, and all manner of card-makers artistry.

But beautiful, personalized Christmas greeting cards can be expensive, and it is often difficult to find exactly the right one. Making unique, personalized Christmas cards is not as hard as you might think, and making your own Christmas cards is certainly cheaper than buying several boxes of cards and using only a few from each.

Even rationalizing by promising to use them up "next year" doesn't always work— especially if you forget where you safely stored them to use "next year."

Simple pen and ink sketching, combined with watercolors, will produce beautiful, handmade, watercolor Christmas cards. So many patterns are available in every style of Christmas greeting card, from Country style cards to traditional Christian Christmas cards, as well as modern and vintage designs.

Even if you have never drawn anything before, you will be able to make lovely cards by using these techniques. And choosing your own patterns and adding your own verses and sentiments to the inside of your homemade cards will allow you to personalize your cards to suit everyone on your mailing list.

This article contains information on the tools and materials you will need, as well as step-by-step instructions on tracing, and inking and painting your Christmas cards.

Beautiful Christmas card

Beautiful Christmas card

Gathering Your Tools

The first step, as always, is to gather up your tools. To make your personalized Christmas cards, you will need watercolor paper or watercolor cardstock, two graphite pencils (H and HB), a pencil eraser, cotton swabs, paper towels, masking fluid - clear or tinted, your choice, a set of watercolor paints, watercolor brushes, tracing paper, graphite paper, a drawing pen with waterproof ink, clear tape, watercolor paper-tape or artist’s tape, and your pattern of choice.

You will also need two cans or jars for holding clean water—one for washing your brushes, and the other for painting.

Some artists prefer to draw their designs freehand on each card. If you do not wish to draw your own designs, or simply want to repeat the same design on several cards, creating a pattern is your best choice.

I prefer a good quality watercolor card-stock - using a pre-folded, pre-made card and envelope is always simpler. If no card-stock is available though, you can use watercolor paper that has been trimmed to the right dimensions to fit a standard Christmas card envelope, and carefully fold the paper using a bone folder, or any good scrap-booking card stock folder.

Instead of cutting the watercolor paper into the dimensions you need, try creating a decal-edge. Lightly mark the edges of the finished card on your paper with a fine-point pencil. Dip a finger in clear water and trace along the line, moistening the paper evenly. Then, place a steel ruler on the card at the line and press down to hold the card firmly in place. Remove the excess paper using a firm, even tearing motion.

Once you have torn or cut the paper to the correct size, measure and lightly mark the center fold-line. Score the line with the edge of the bone folder, using a ruler to keep the score-line straight. Then fold along the scored line, and press the fold flat with the edge of the bone folder.

Basic Supplies - photo from RedElf

Basic Supplies - photo from RedElf

Card Patterns

Holly Card Pattern - Redelf

Holly Card Pattern - Redelf

Christmas Balls Pattern - Redelf

Christmas Balls Pattern - Redelf

Transferring The Design To Your Card

Step 1. Copy the Design

Once you have either drawn or chosen the design for your Christmas cards:

  1. Place a sheet of tracing paper over top of it. You may need to make a color copy of the original so that it can be resized to fit your card. Most color copiers include this feature, though it may take a bit of experimentation to find exactly the right size.
  2. Once you have correctly sized the design you wish to use, tape it to your work surface with a small piece of clear tape at each corner.
  3. Tape a piece of tracing paper over top of it, and tape down a top and bottom corner.
  4. Carefully trace the outlines of the design onto your tracing paper using the H graphite pencil.
  5. Lift the paper often to check that you are following the contours correctly.

If the design you have chosen will fit onto one area of your card, no further prep is necessary. I suggest one further step if the design will fill all or most of the card: watercolor paintings usually have a white border around the painted picture.

Using moistened watercolor paper-tape, or blue artists’ tape, create a ¼ inch deep border around the outside of the blank Christmas card. Once your finished card is dry, you can remove the tape, and your card will have a pristine professional-looking white border.

Step 2. Transfer the Design

  1. Tape the card to your work surface with a piece of clear tape in each corner. Place the tracing paper pattern over the card, and position the pattern where it is most pleasing. Holding the tracing paper in place, apply a piece of clear tape to the top corners.
  2. Carefully slide a piece of graphite paper under the tracing paper, and tape down one side. Then, raise it briefly to check the pattern is still in position, and tape down the remaining corners of the tracing paper, fastening it securely to your work surface.
  3. Using an even pressure on your HB pencil, carefully trace the outlines of your tracing paper pattern. Lift the tape on one corner periodically to ensure the design is transferring to the card.
  4. Check your card once you have finished tracing all the outlines to make sure you haven’t missed any lines or details, and then remove the tape completely. Your Christmas card is now ready for inking and painting.

Inking Your Design


  • Hold the pen almost straight up and down, turning the nib often. This will give a more even weight to each stroke, and prevent uneven wear on the pen nib.
  • Use a gentle, flicking stroke to release the pressure on the nib towards the end of the stroke. This technique will feather the stroke. Maintaining an even pressure through to the end of each pen stroke will result in a heavy, solid line that has little texture or lightness.
  • Be sure to have a piece of scrap watercolor paper handy to practice each section of the design, before attempting it on the card.

Each design is built up in successive layers of strokes to achieve a gradation from light to dark. Never try and achieve a dark area by pressing hard or concentrating on one area.

  • The best result is always obtained by working the drawing as a whole, building up the dark areas with layers of texture, rather than heavier strokes. This will also prevent an area from looking overworked or having too much contrast in comparison with the rest of the design.

Most of the designs I use for Christmas cards use some shading, but many of the designs rely on simple outlining and watercolor washes to achieve a lovely finished result.

Once you have inked your cards, you can prepare for the next step—watercolor painting.

Some prefer the simplicity of a beautiful Pen & Ink design, and choose to skip the painting step for some of their cards.

You can finish your inked cards without painting them, in a variety of ways. Follow the instruction near the end of the article to hand-letter your message on the inside, or use one of the many beautiful stamps available in scrap-booking and craft stores.

Tools and Supplies for Watercolor Painting…

You will need:

  • watercolor paper or watercolor card stock
  • 2 graphite pencils (H and HB)
  • a pencil eraser
  • cotton swabs
  • paper towels
  • masking fluid - clear or tinted, your choice
  • a set of watercolor paints
  • watercolor brushes
  • tracing paper
  • graphite paper
  • a drawing pen with waterproof ink for inking your design
  • clear tape
  • watercolor paper-tape or artist’s tape
  • your pattern of choice
  • 2 cans or jars for holding clean water - one for washing your brushes, and the other for painting

Preparing to Paint Your Inked Design...


1. Once you have completed inking a design, set it aside. I have found it is better to leave the inked design for a couple of hours, so the ink can “set-up.” Even waterproof ink might run if you apply too much watercolor right away, or apply too watery a wash. To avoid this problem I usually ink several cards in a row, and then go back to the first one to begin painting.

2. The size of brushes you use will depend largely on the size of your project. For Christmas cards, I generally use a ½ inch flat brush, for background washes, and a couple of #1 round brushes with fine points.

3. Preserving the white areas of your finished designs is important in any watercolor painting. Leaving areas of white allows the color of the paper to show through. The white of the paper will function as the brightest areas of your finished painting - the freshly falling snow, the dazzle of sunlight on dancing wavelets, the glint of reflected light on holly berries…

4. Dip a fine point round brush in dish detergent, or rub it on a moistened bar of hand soap, and allow it to dry. Using the previously soaped brush, carefully apply masking fluid to the white areas you wish to preserve. Allow the masking fluid to dry before applying watercolor.

5. You can reinforce the highlights with Chinese White watercolor paint, but it is an opaque color, so I prefer to use it for corrections in very small areas, or for very small highlights.

Painting Your Christmas Card…

I love a variety of Christmas designs, but I especially love these two because though these designs are traditional in theme, they go so well with Country Christmas decor.

Holly and Bells card:

  1. Apply masking fluid to bell and berry highlights.
  2. Apply light green wash to leaves.
  3. Apply darker green wash to undersides of leaves.
  4. Dry-brush the same shade of darker green into the center leaf fold and along major vein lines.
  5. Wash ribbon with light blue.
  6. Add small wash of darker blue along one edge.
  7. Wash berries with light fuchsia.
  8. Add dark red was to undersides of berries.
  9. Wash bells with medium yellow.
  10. Wash undersides of bells with coppery or golden yellow.
  11. Add small touches of dark yellow on middle “joins” and to one side of each piercing.
  12. Allow to dry, and then rub gently to remove masking fluid.

Holly and Christmas Balls Card:

  1. Apply masking fluid to Christmas ball and berry highlights.
  2. Apply light green wash to leaves.
  3. Apply darker green wash to undersides of leaves.
  4. Dry-brush the same shade of darker green into the center leaf fold and along major vein lines.
  5. Wash berries with light fuchsia.
  6. Add dark red was to undersides of berries.
  7. Wash first Christmas ball with medium yellow.
  8. Wash its underside with coppery or golden yellow.
  9. Dry brush dark gold or orange around its middle.
  10. Wash the second Christmas ball with light blue.
  11. Wash its underside with medium blue.
  12. Dry brush violet around the middle of the second Christmas ball.
  13. Allow to dry, and then rub gently to remove masking fluid.

Finishing Up

1. Once your cards are completely dry, carefully rub off the masking fluid. Rub only those places where you have applied the masking fluid, so as not to remove any of the rest of the watercolor paint.

2. Leave the white spaces on the leaves untouched in the finished "Holly and Christmas Balls" card, but try adding small, light watercolor washes in pale yellow-green to the leaves in the "Christmas Bells" card.

3. I rubbed small amounts of metallic powder to enhance the color of the ornaments (balls) - violet to the top of the blue ball, and copper to the bottom of the yellow ball. Then, I added small, metallic gold paint highlights to the bells and ornaments.

4. To finish the "Holly & Bells" card, I added decorative lettering to the front, and a holiday greeting inside. Finishing the "Holly & Christmas Balls" card required a bit more effort.

5. I had damaged the card stock slightly just below the ornaments, so I cut out the ornaments, and dry-mounted the painting on colored card stock. Then I added decorative lettering to the front and a Christmas greeting inside.

Holly and Bells: finished card

Holly and Bells: finished card

Holly and Christmas Balls: finished card

Holly and Christmas Balls: finished card

Country Angel

In painting with watercolors, the easiest way to get a white object to show up on a white card is to brush in a colored background. For added texture, you can also spatter the whole card with a fine spray of masking fluid before washing in the colored background. Then, when the card is dry, you can rub off the masking fluid, to reveal a pattern of white specks - instant snowfall.

Cute Country Angel Card:

  1. Using masking fluid, cover the trim band on the angel’s skirt, all the holly leaves and berries, and the stars.
  2. Place a dot of masking fluid on each of the decorative black dots.
  3. After the masking fluid has dried, mix a light blue wash, and lightly cover the angel’s wings, bodice, and the area on her skirt above the scalloped line.
  4. Carry the wash out to the sides of the card, and towards the top on either side, letting the wash fade out to white by the time it reaches as high as the tops of the wings.
  5. Once the first wash has dried, add a deeper shade of blue to the wash to make a medium blue.
  6. Wash the angel’s wings, bodice, and skirt with the medium blue.
  7. Using a cotton swab, lift out the wash on the dress above the scalloped line, the center of the bodice and in the center of each wing, as shown.
  8. Let the card dry.
  9. Mix a dark blue, and wash the angel’s collar, wing trim, and the bottom dress trim.
  10. Let the card dry.
  11. Gently rub the masked areas to remove the masking fluid.
  12. Mix a gold wash and paint the angle’s hair, and the stars.
  13. Apply pure red to the berries.
  14. Apply medium green to the holly leaves.
  15. Let the card dry.
  16. Dry brush dark green over the evergreen branches, following the ink lines.
  17. Add a tiny circle of pink to the angel’s cheeks.

Finishing the "Country Angel" Card

1. Once the cards was completely dry, I reinforced the red of the berries and added dimensional glue to all the dots and stars. Before the glue started to dry, I sprinkled it with sparkle dust, tapping off the excess once the glue had set up (about 1/2 hour).

2. Then I added decorative lettering to the front, and a cheery Christmas greeting inside.

Country Angel: finished card

Country Angel: finished card

Finishing Touches

Once your cards are dry, you can hand letter your message on the inside.

Stamping a message on your Christmas card is also fun, and will add color and texture to your completed card. Many lovely and fun stamp sets in Christmas designs are available from your local craft and scrapbooking stores. I like to experiment with different colors of ink, to find just the right shade for each of the different watercolor cards. As well, a variety of specialty inks allow you to add both color and texture.

You can also have fun with your computer by printing out your message in a decorative, colored font and printing it on plain heavy paper or card stock. If you’re not sure exactly what you would like to say, look at some old greeting cards you have received for an appropriate sentiment, and then adapt it, or change it slightly for each card recipient.

You can print several Christmas greetings on one sheet of card stock, and cut them out with scrapbooking scissors to give each one a different, fancy scalloped or decaled edge.

Apply double-sided tape to the back of each message to fasten it into your completed card. You can also fasten the printed messages into the cards with decorative brads, and dainty ribbons, for a festive touch.

Making your own Christmas cards can be cheaper than buying several boxes each year and only using a few. And kids love making their own handmade Christmas cards.

With some adult supervision for little ones with paints and scissors, creating beautiful handmade cards is a wonderfully kid-friendly Christmas activity. …and who doesn’t love to receive a Christmas greeting card they know was made especially for them?

© 2010 RedElf


RedElf (author) from Canada on October 15, 2014:

Thanks so much for commenting. Glad you enjoyed the hub.

Barbara March on August 31, 2014:

Loved reading all the instructions, now I hope I will get down and make some of them,Thank you so much .

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 21, 2011:

The Dirt Farmer, thanks so much for stopping by to comment. It's easy enough with practice. :D

Jill Spencer from United States on November 21, 2011:

Gorgeous! You make it seem so easy. This hub is a real winner. Voted up and awesome.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 19, 2011:

Thanks so much, luckyfind. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting - always nice to meet another painter.

luckyfind on November 19, 2011:

You have a really well done site, I do some water color, but I know I can always learn from others. Thank you for the ideas great instuction.

RedElf (author) from Canada on October 29, 2011:

Thanks so much, katherinethorell. You are most welcome - hope you enjoy trying out the ideas.

katherinethorell on October 29, 2011:

Thank you for the great card idea! Your work is beautiful :)

RedElf (author) from Canada on September 10, 2011:

Thanks so much, rosettaartist1. I love to make cards every year, so it's always nice when others appreciate them, too.

Rosetta Ceesay from United Kingdom on September 10, 2011:

Beautiful, inspiring.

RedElf (author) from Canada on December 10, 2010:

Once again, thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, Hendrika! The sprinkled on glitter does have a softer effect, but the pens can be easier for little fingers to handle.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on December 09, 2010:

Once again thank you for the detailed instructions. I also love the video showing how to make the glitter snowflake to hand on the tree. This year my granddaughter and I simply used the glitter glue that gave reasonable results, but nothing like the result you get here.

RedElf (author) from Canada on December 03, 2010:

Hh, you are most welcome. Thanks so much for stopping by to comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on December 03, 2010:

Your painting are so livelike and that shows a good artists. They you write down how to do it makes it sound so easy. Thank you for the joy of reading.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 20, 2010:

Thanks so much, akirchner! That is high praise indeed.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on November 20, 2010:

Both your hubs are wonderful and speaking from someone who loves water lovely!

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 19, 2010:

Thanks so much, Enelle - like I said, I never seem to have enough hours to get the crafts done AND all the other stuff - like housework.

Enelle Lamb from Canada's 'California' on November 19, 2010:

I would have a ton of fun making these, but I would never get any other work done! LOL Great instructions and another great creative Christmas hub!

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 19, 2010:

Hi, Judy - nice to see you here! so glad you found the directions clear enough to follow. ;)

Judy Schmoetzer from Indiana on November 19, 2010:

Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for writing such detailed step by step instructions. It makes it so much easier if I decide to try this project.

RedElf (author) from Canada on November 18, 2010:

Thanks so very much, ogw - it's always fun to come up with another project.

onegoodwoman from A small southern town on November 18, 2010:

Oh my gosh!

How creative you are!