If you plan to send Christmas cards this year, now is the time to start preparing, particularly if you’re thinking of giving a customized greeting card. Creating customized holiday cards may seem daunting, but thanks to easy-to-use websites the process is simpler than ever and will yield far more impressive results than generic store-bought options. 

When should I send Christmas cards? Christmas cards should ideally arrive in mid-December, according to custom card printing site Tiny Prints. So it’s a good idea to begin planning your cards in early December. The distance a card will need to travel -- especially if it’s going overseas -- should be considered when deciding when to send. Keep in mind the U.S. Postal Service is usually swamped around the holidays, so factor in extra time.

Who should I send Christmas cards to? Going back to previous holiday mailing lists, if you have them, is a good time-saver. If you don’t already have a list, compiling one can be fairly simple. Consult your cell phone contacts list, social media accounts and email contacts, both personal and professional, and use these to cull a list. Check if you have any cards lingering around from years past for names you don't want to forget to include. Also, check with your contacts for any address changes.

Should I send different Christmas cards to different people? Once you have a working list, organize recipients based on how personalized you want to make their cards. Close friends and casual professional acquaintances are not likely to require the same level of personalization. You can use a customized template for casual acquaintances and put more effort into personalizing those for closer friends and family. The more generic customized template also allows you to account for different holidays celebrated.

Where can I buy customized Christmas cards? A number of sites offer card customization, printing and delivery. Deciding on your particular card-making needs -- and your budget -- is a good way to approach navigating these options. Here are some recommendations:

  • Paperless Post: Despite its name, this website offers several customizable paper cards, including many free ones. Sending digital copies of the cards is a great option, especially if you’re short on time.

  • Snapfish: Though prices vary based on the kinds of cards, Snapfish still boasts relatively affordable choices and gives you a number of customization options, including a very simple online tool for editing photos.

  • Zazzle: Another good cost-saving service, Zazzle features a great selection of vintage-looking holiday cards if you’re less inclined to do your own photo editing.

  • Shutterfly and sister site Tiny Prints: Both offer mailing services, which can make sending your holiday greetings more convenient, but the drawback is that you can't personally sign the cards.

What should I write inside Christmas cards? Thoughtful handwritten messages are always preferable. However, if the recipient is only an acquaintance, just a short message or phrase is fine, according to etiquette expert Lisa Mirza GrottsIf you opt for a photo card, use a professional or creative photograph of yourself or your family, recommends Tiny Prints. Also, be aware of whether recipients celebrate certain holidays. If you’re not sure, a generic “Season’s Greetings” card is still appropriate for a wide range of friends and acquaintances, according to the etiquette experts at Emily Post. Most importantly, keep in mind that sending a holiday card is about spreading good cheer. A heartfelt message, even if short, can never go wrong.