We tried 5 holiday card services, and this is the only one worth your money

Holiday cards openerCaroline Praderio/INSIDERNot all holiday card services are created equal.

The INSIDER Summary:

• There are lots of services that let you design holiday cards online.
• I put five of the most popular sites to the test.
• Paper Culture was the best, but Tiny Prints wasn’t far behind.

Choosing, designing, ordering, addressing, and sending out cards is no one’s idea of holiday fun.

But tradition mandates that we all ship out cheery year-end dispatches to our friends and family each December. So which online card-designing service will make the process as smooth as possible? I picked out one very awkward close-up of my face, opened up my laptop, and found out.

I designed simple holiday cards on five different sites and rated each company on five criteria: price, card quality, available designs, ease of website use, and speed of delivery. Each company could get a maximum of two points for each category, resulting a total score from 1 to 10.

Here’s how each printing service fared, from worst to best.

5. Vista print is low-cost for a reason.

Vistaprint holiday cardsCaroline Praderio/INSIDERPrice: 2/2; Designs: 1/2; Quality: 0/2; Ease: 1/2; Speed: 1/2

Vistaprint‘s biggest pro is low pricing. My pick cost $1.40/card for the minimum order of 10 (but it gets as low as $1.05/card if you order large quantities).

The site is easy to use, the designs are nice (not remarkable), and the cards are easy to customise. Delivery was speedy, but the cards themselves left a little to be desired. Vistaprint’s default glossy paper feels thin and cheap.

TOTAL: 5 out of 10

4. Snapfish has a clunky website.

Snapfish holiday cardsCaroline Praderio/INSIDERPrice: 1/2; Designs: 1/2; Quality: 1/2; Ease: 0/2; Speed: 2/2

Snapfish boasts a wide variety of designs, but the site lacks a nifty feature that’s standard for others: On Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, and Vistaprint, you can upload your photo right at the start of the search process and use it while you browse.

Here’s how browsing looks on Vistaprint, for example. This makes it a lot easier to select a design.

But here’s how it looks on Snapfish, where it’s harder to know how your photo will look in each layout:

That’s not the Snapfish site’s only weakness: The convoluted process of uploading a photo and placing it into the design took way too many clicks for my liking.

But there are some strengths to mention: For one, lots of Snapfish cards are available in both horizontal and vertical layouts, so if you happen to like a vertical design but have a horizontal photo, you might still be ok. Plus, my Snapfish order arrived before all the others. Both paper quality and price fell in the mid-range: The card I picked cost $1.70/card for the minimum order of 20 cards (larger orders can be as low as $1.25/card).

TOTAL: 5 out of 10

3. Shutterfly is best if you need a small order.

Shutterfly holiday cards backCaroline Praderio/INSIDERPrice: 1/2; Designs: 0/2; Quality: 2/2; Ease: 2/2; Speed: 1/2

Shutterfly gets points for its minimum order size: While some sites force you to get a minimum of 20 cards, with Shutterfly, you can order just 10, 5, or even 1 (that’s what I did!). The simple site offers lots of custom options: You can choose different colour schemes and trims (rounded corners, scalloped, etc.) for each card. Plus, Shutterfly’s default paper is sturdy and high-quality, and delivery was timely.

But I wasn’t thrilled with Shutterfly’s designs. There are thousands available but they start to look the same after a while — suffice it to say that there is a lot of swooping gold script font going on. If you’re looking for a unique, eye-catching design, I’d look at one of our higher-scoring options (see below). The price is a bit high, too: My single card cost $2.68, although it does get as cheap at $1.46/card for large orders.

TOTAL: 6 out of 10

2. Tiny Prints offers great value and sleek designs.

Tiny prints holiday cardsMegan Willett/INSIDERPrice: 2/2; Designs: 2/2; Quality: 1/2; Ease: 2/2; Speed: 0/2

Tiny Prints is owned by Shutterfly, but they’re run as separate websites — and they’re surprisingly different.

For one, Tiny Prints has an excellent and wide-ranging collection of designs, with eye-catching type faces and bold graphics galore. Everyone should be able to find something they like, from traditional to ultra-modern and everything in between. And, like Snapfish, Tiny Prints offers many designs in both horizontal and vertical layouts.

Their cards are on the low end of the price range, too, from $1.99/card for the minimum order of 1o cards all the way down to $0.99/card for bigger orders. The default card paper is good quality, but I had to wait a long while to find that out. My Tiny Prints cards were the very last to arrive by several days.

TOTAL: 7 out of 10

1. Paper Culture is pricey, but high-quality.

Paper culture holiday cardsCaroline Praderio/INSIDERPrice: 0/2; Designs: 2/2; Quality: 2/2; Ease: 2/2; Speed: 2/2

If you know you want an ultra-modern card, pick Paper Culture. The designs are airy and minimalistic with lots of options for colour customisation and an easy-to-use site. The finished product also felt thicker and higher-quality than any other card I ordered. Plus, they arrived quickly.

The one major con is price. Even this basic design was priced high at $2.59/card for a minimum order of 10 (though higher-quantity orders can be as cheap as $1.49/card). And Paper Culture suffers from the same setback as Snapfish: You can’t preview your photo in the designs as you browse them.

TOTAL: 8 out of 10

The bottom line:

Paper Culture’s luxurious paper, fresh designs, and quick delivery won me over. But if you’re not looking to go modern, Tiny Prints is an excellent second choice — just know you might have to wait a bit longer for the cards to arrive.

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