Hey there, busy families! The holiday season is quickly approaching, and as a Columbus Ohio family photographer, I know how important it is to share beautifully documented family memories with loved ones. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed about planning holiday cards or you’re confused about where to even start, you’re in the right place because I’m laying it all out for you! 

When to mail holiday cards

Postable published a handy timeline of when to drop your cards in the mail, taking into consideration any postal delays due to the holiday rush: 

Thanksgiving cards – Nov 7th – Nov 14th 

Hanukkah cards – Nov 25th – Dec 4th 

Christmas cards – Dec 1st – Dec 10th 

General holiday cards – Dec 1st – Dec 15th

Business holiday cards – Dec 1st – Dec 15th

New Years cards – Dec 1st – Jan 7th **most flexible**

For mailing cards overseas, as a very general rule international mail takes at least 14 days during non-holiday months. You’ll need to factor the individual country’s postal system on top of transit time for USPS. 

But how late is too late? Well, it really depends. A late Thanksgiving card is a “whomp whomp” moment because everyone has moved on to the next holiday. A late Christmas/Hanukkah card is generally fine. Most people are still in the holiday mood through New Years, so getting a card in early January is a nice surprise. 

Knowing the best timeframe to mail your cards is just one piece of the cookie, but it will help you figure out where to place everything else in your holiday to-do list. Which brings us to… 

When to schedule your photo session

In short: ASAP. Photographers – especially family photographers – get swamped with requests during the holidays.

To meet the mailing timelines above, and assuming your photographer has a 3-week turnaround time, have your photo session by the 3rd week of October. There are outliers in the industry, but photo delivery times can range from a few days to a few weeks, and it depends on what type of session you had (weddings take much longer to process than a family session, for instance). If you know you will use your photos in your holiday cards, ask your photographer about turnaround times at booking and save yourself the disappointment later on.

Another important detail to consider is the photo session location. If you’re hoping to be photographed outdoors and you live in a region with cold or unpredictable weather, there’s a higher chance of your session being rescheduled. It may be wise to plan your session in your home, or book with a photographer who offers studio sessions.  

Of course you may always book your photo session later, if you’re sending New Years cards or you’re OK with delayed holiday cards. Start by asking yourself how important on-time card delivery is, and then prioritize from there! 

When to order your holiday cards

Most major online print companies have a 5-8 business day window between ordering your cards, and when they arrive at your doorstep. Keep in mind that you’ll also need at least 5 days to address, stamp, and personalize your cards before sending them.

Where to order holiday cards


Even the most discerning eco-conscious buyer will be pleased with Paper Culture’s sustainability pledge. For this reason (plus tons of amazing customizable designs) it’s what I recommend for my clients, and where I purchase my own holiday cards each year! For every order placed with PaperCulture, they plant a new tree where reforestation is desperately needed. They also use sustainable materials such as recycled stationary or bamboo. The company has been recognized by the EPA as a Top 10 Climate Leader and they are a certified Green Business. Customers can also enjoy free return and recipient address printing, and free stamp application.

Other eco-friendly options

**Some of these only offer standard greeting cards, but you can tuck a 4×6 or 5×7 photo print inside!

Holiday card etiquette

The whole purpose behind sending ‘analog’ cards is to connect with loved ones and communicate that you’re thinking of them. Here are some things you can do to make the tradition extra-special: 

  • Add personalization. A heartfelt note or update about your family’s year (handwritten, whenever possible) will keep loved ones in the loop.
  • Don’t stress about perfection. Embrace the joy in the moment your photo captures. Imperfection, silliness, and even your kids’ grumpy faces will add charm to your card and give everyone a laugh.
  • Take your time. Double-check your mailing list for accuracy, and don’t forget to add people who sent you a card last year. 
  • Order more cards than you think you need. You can always hand-deliver cards to people who add joy to your life: perhaps the barista who always makes your drink extra special, or your UPS driver who is working extra hours this season.
  • Include return labels in case your recipients want to send YOU a card next year! 

Tips from an experience family photographer

  • Before your session ever happens, let your photographer know that you need a photo for a holiday card. Whether that’s a photo of all of you with relaxed smiles looking into the camera, or a silly idea to stand out from the rest, your photographer needs to know your goals so they can capture moments in a way that works for YOU.
  • When designing cards online, ensure you are uploading the original, high resolution file: not a copy, screenshot or a web-sized version.
  • De-select any color correction options before printing, and avoid filters or colored overlays. Your photographer has already edited your images to print beautifully! 
  • Make sure you have printing rights to the photos you are using. You can find a detailed explanation of your photo usage permissions in the Print Release document your photographer sent you with your files. 
  • Choose matte-finish papers vs. shiny photo papers. Not only will your cards LOOK better from all angles, but you’ll be able to write on them. 
  • Remember that a holiday card is generally 5×7”, and mass production printers do not print at the same quality as professional labs. Go with a design that includes 1-3 images for maximum impact and image integrity.
  • There is a lot of waste in the printing industry. Choose sustainable holiday cards, like those from PaperCulture.

Putting it all together…

So, we’ve talked about everything you could possibly need to know, but how do we make that happen amidst everything else going on around the holidays!?

Here’s your to-do list:

  1. Put each step on your calendar!!!
  2. Have your photo session
  3. While waiting for your photos back, research card retailers online and organize your address list (and don’t forget to include those who sent you a card last year!)
  4. Order your cards & buy stamps
  5. Write your personalized holiday messages
  6. Address & stamp the envelopes
  7. Put them in the mail
  8. Open a bottle of wine (optional, but recommended)

Hi there!

I’m Daisy, and you’re very welcome here.

I’m a documentary Columbus Ohio family photographer offering stress-free and fun portrait experiences. I hope you enjoyed When to send holiday cards: the complete guide, and if you’d like to chat about your own family photos, smash that button below. Can’t wait to hear what wild and wonderful things you’re dreaming up!

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