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The 4 Best Supplies to Make Handmade Cards for Friends and Family

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  • Over the course of the pandemic, I’ve started making handmade cards to keep in touch.
  • They let me be more present in my daily life while still prioritizing my loved ones.
  • They’re affordable and easy to make, too — I mainly use Sakura pens and blank Strathmore cards.

I am not a “good texter.” Sometimes, my daily missed messages pile up to 80. I can blame it on group texts and spam, but a more fundamental truth is: I simply hate texting.

Sure, I love the banter, and sharing memes, and instantly connecting with my loved ones. But when I spend all day typing on a computer, it can feel like I also spend all night typing on a phone, catching up on the messages that accumulated while I was at work.

To complicate matters, many of my closest relationships are long-distance; my family and my partner live across the country. I know how lucky I am to be able to reach them, but I also desperately want more free time to actively engage with my life — and less with a screen.

So during the pandemic, I started designing and mailing handmade cards for my family, friends, and partner.

It’s a relatively easy and affordable hobby to get into.

A few of the cards I made recently using Sakura Pens ($13) and Strathmore cards ($7).

A few of the cards I made recently using Sakura Pens ($13) and Strathmore cards ($7).

Mara Leighton/Insider


To start, I picked up some blank Strathmore cards—in both watercolor and regular paper. Then I stocked up on some other supplies: watercolor paints and brushes, thin pens perfect for line art, and, more recently, a personalized wax seal stamp kit. (Life is short, why not?)

If you’re new to drawing, it may be helpful to start with simpler designs. One trick I still use when I’m stuck is to break down the subject into sections of things you may recognize and know how to draw already – heads start as semi-correctly sized ovals, bodies as longer ovals, paws as small circles, and I’m on. Once they’re on the paper, you can edit them in sections (An online drawing class could be a great way to learn these techniques).

The two tools I typically use to make cards.  I worship the Sakura pens—they never bleed, clog, or feather (no matter how impatient I am).

The two tools I typically use to make cards. I worship the Sakura pens—they never bleed, clog, or feather (no matter how impatient I am).

Mara Leighton/Insider


Ultimately though, when it comes to handmade gifts, I think it’s your thoughtfulness and commitment that means the most to the recipient. Personally, I’d rather have the misshapen interpretation of my favorite flower from someone I love than a perfectly rendered version from a professional.

Drawing my own images helps me personalize my cards even more.

A drawing of a ferret

I drew a ferret for someone who’s inexplicably loved these fur slinkies for decades.

Mara Leighton/Insider


I draw pictures of animals they love, vignettes from my day that made me miss them, and comic strips starring their pets. I also fill the inside with a short letter or something else they might enjoy, like a poem or a joke.

It’s also made me think about my loved ones more than ever before. When I’m out and about, I notice the gaps where my family members would fit if they were beside me. My dad would like that swarm of birds at the park, each one eating gargantuan pieces of bread an old man with a Tolstoy beard is feeding them. My boyfriend always twists the tab on his drinks to the side, so I send him my pop-art homage of his habit of him. My mom, now the primary guardian of the indignant, three-pound rescue dog we adopted last year, gets a depiction of the tiny pup dressed as Napoleon.

It’s a cathartic activity for me that helps me unwind without a screen.

Handmade cards of a cat comic

A comic about the first time their pet stepped into the snow (and immediately despised it).

Mary Leighton


Beyond the obvious perk of taking me out of my phone and into my day, making the cards has had unexpected benefits. I get to spend more time creating art — something I used to love before inadvertently giving it up as a working adult.

I put on a podcast and I doodle for hours — focusing on delighting someone I love with an inside joke, a sweet moment, or something else I think they’d particularly enjoy.

The bottom line

A quick doodle on the inside of the card of their cat curled up — one of the everyday scenes they'd mentioned loving the most.

A quick doodle on the inside of the card of their cat curled up — one of the everyday scenes they’d mentioned loving the most.

Mara Leighton/Insider


In the end, drawing and mailing my own cards has brought me closer to my loved ones and helped me engage in the real, vivid world of my life more often — which has positively impacted my mental health. (From what we know about mindfulness and flow states, I’m not surprised). I still text my friends and family, but I don’t feel as much pressure if we go a week without one.

In fact, so far, everyone I’ve mailed a card to have responded with a text — and they don’t mind if it takes me a couple of days to reply. There’s no pressure for my friends or family to run out and get Strathmore cards; if a card makes them feel happy and loved, it’s done its job.

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