Card design: As Easy as 1,2,3


Holiday Photo

Holiday Photo


It’s easy as, 1 2 3
As simple as, do re mi
A B C, 1 2 3, baby
You and me girl.

I’m gonna teach you how to cut it out
Come on, come on, come on
Let me tell you what it’s all about
Photoshop, AI, MTC
Are the branches of the learning tree
hey, hey, hey….

OK are you still with me?  My apologies to the Jackson 5 there, but I was just looking at Susan Mast’s post “It’s Electrifying” and it brought back memories of John Travolta in Grease, and that got me thinking about the Jackson 5.  But I digress.  This post is about how to design and make your holiday card.  The process takes a few steps, so  we are going to go over three different areas, in three different posts.  Each post will teach you something that you can use in many different areas of your design process, they are not “card” specific.  It is just that we incorporate them all in this one design.


There is also a video to take a look at that is helpful.  Just click on the YouTube link above.

  1. Designing your card using Adobe Illustrator (AI) to facilitate design and font modification (today’s lesson).
  2. Using Make-The-Cut (MTC) software to print and cut the card without using the “print and cut” feature ( October post).
  3. Using Photoshop and MTC to insert a photo into the design (November).

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

finished card open

Designing in Adobe Illustrator for use in MTC

Over the few years  I have found myself using / learning the KnK software, the MTC software,  Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.  Each has it’s purpose and strengths.  But blended together, they can offer some simple magic which is what happened when I sat down this past weekend to make a holiday card.

This first part will give instruction in:

  • using Adobe Illustrator to plan your design
  • Modifying fonts to be easily cut out without having to “stencil”
  • the importance of artboards when using AI with MTC

Lets start with the design process.    First, I wanted to have a holiday design where a photo would be framed by a snowflake cutout with text that was both written on the card and cut out.  I sized the card to fit in an A6 envelope which meant that two could be cut from a standard 81/2 x 11 piece of paper.

A mock up really helps to get the basic format and design elements down.   A mock up helps you visualize the four sides of your card:  outside front, outside back, inside front, inside back.  You can see below my original artwork, which was the one I finally choose after several others.


While your card will have four parts once it is folded, for design purposes it has only three:

  1. print on the front
  2. print on the back
  3. cut areas on top of cutter

Front and Back of single printed sheet to make two cards




Front and back of single printed sheet cut (now two physical cards; one sheet)


Adobe Illustrator and Artboards

Now that I had an idea of how the front, back, inside and outside would look, it was time to go to the computer and open Adobe Illustrator.  I pulled open a new file and set my artboard size to my paper size, 81/2 x 11.   I created three artboards :

  1. Elements to be cut out
  2. Elements to be printed on front of paper
  3. Elements to be printed on back of paper

Planning your artboards so that cutouts are separate from text is important when you make the transfer to MTC software.  You’ll want to separate the text from the cutout area when you print from MTC.  Basically, you will move your artboards into MTC individually, as separate layers.  Of course artboards in AI can have multiple layers, but when you put the single artboard into MTC, it goes in as one “layer” .

Once my artboards were in place, I used the rulers and pulled the horizontal and vertical guide lines in place that I needed for the format.  These were my margins  and guide lines for the design elements and fonts.  These guides held true for each artboard.  I also put labels on them so I could remember them.  You’ll see this in the video

Next, I found a snowflake in vector format that I liked and modified it to carve away the inside so that I could make a scalloped design to frame my photo. The eraser tool was simple to use and closed my paths.  I used the shape builder tool to clean things up and make a continuous design.  This is best viewed in the video.

I am not going to get into the details of how to modify vector shapes with AI, there are plenty of YouTube and other tutorials on the Web that explain this much better than I can.  So I will assume you can do this yourself, either in AI or with MTC.  Using my guides, I scaled the design down and placed it on my artboard.

Font Modification with AI

The main message in the card is “Wishing you a season of Peace”.  The font for all of the words is the same, but PEACE is cut out and “wishing you a season of” is printed.  Obviously the P and A in Peace were problematic for cutting out, and our solution is to “stencil” these letters so that the inner piece remains intact.  Here is where AI comes in and makes font modification REALLY easy.  Easy as 1, 2, 3.

1.  Type your text using the text tool.

2. Click outside the artboard and select the group selection tool, and select your text.  Now go to the TYPE pulldown menu and select “create outlines”.  See all those little squares that show up now?  Your text now has become a vector.

3. Go to your toolbox and select the eraser tool.  Define your eraser size, and just erase where you would normally stencil.  Hint:  If you hold down the shift key at the same time, you’ll get a straight line.  Making the font and the background the same color helps you see where the nodes have been erased.  The eraser tool closes your nodes for you, vs. the knife tool, for example.  We like closed nodes.

I’ve just showed you how to use the eraser tool here, but of course, once you turn your font into an outline, you can do any type of easy modification to it, not just “stenciling”.  Again, the video helps.

Create your printed text artboards

The last thing in your AI design is to create an artboard for the print that you want on both the front and back of the card.  Looking at your mockup, determine where your font needs to be.  As you can see from my example, some of it is upside down, because that is how it will have to be printed out.  When it is folded, it will be right side up.  Do a separate artboard for each side that will have print.  Once you have the font in place, make sure you convert it to outline so that you have nodes.  Even though you might not need nodes in MTC, I’ve found that some fonts don’t translate over well, and having nodes gives you the ability to fix them easily in MTC.

OK, now we are done with the design of the card.  Next month we will take a look at moving the design in AI over to MTC.  Until then, happy designing!

10 thoughts on “Card design: As Easy as 1,2,3

  1. This excellent and educational. I will have to get those programs now so I can learn to do stuff like this!! Thanks

    • Once you understand vectors, life becomes much clearer. Unfortunately, for me at least, it has been a very long road to get there, but the more I work with it, the more I learn.

  2. Looking forward to designing something in Make the Cut. Great tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

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