Sunday, March 31, 2013

10 things you can use to make a postcard

Joyce recently left a comment about needing a sturdier base for her postcards next time.  If you're new to postcard making, here are a few tips on materials to get you started. You don't need to go out and buy anything special or expensive to create the base of your handmade postcards.  Below are 10 cheap or free things I frequently use for my postcards.

1. Cereal box  (or cracker box, or pasta box...)
Any time I finish a box of cereal I immediately pull apart the glue, cut off all the unsightly flaps and trim to an appropriate postcard size.  I can paint right over them, or glue on collage materials, or cover both sides in gesso before any other technique.  This is probably my most used substrate.

Wheat Chex, covered in gesso

2. Advertising postcard pulled from your junk mail.
During election season I was getting 3 or 4 big glossy campaign postcards every day.  We already know these are sturdy enough to go through the mail - why not use them again?

I'm decades away from a retirement community.  No point in hanging onto this ad.  It will make a great 6"x8" postcard.

3. Watercolor paper
I found pads of inexpensive watercolor paper at "job lot" (one of those fell-off-a-truck kinds of stores).  It doesn't take watercolors very well, but it's a great sturdy base for postcards.

4. Postcards
I realize how dumb this sounds; use a postcard to make a postcard.  But perhaps you've got a bunch of tourist postcards laying around, sent by vacationing friends that you can't seem to throw away.  Or maybe you bought a bunch of postcards on vacation one year and never got around to mailing them (not that I would know anything about that from firsthand experience).  Or maybe you found a bundle of random cards at a flea market.  Or maybe you raided one of those displays full of free advertising postcards in some lobby somewhere.  Reuse them.  Once I found a whole box of graduation invitations at the thrift store.  Gesso is the single most used art supply I own.  Cover those pictures up and start over!

No really, please cover up this picture.

5. Corrugated cardboard
If you like a nice thick postcard, you can't go wrong.  And it's abundant.  If you never get anything shipped to your house, you can always raid your neighbor's recycling bin.

6. Book covers
I long ago got over my aversion to ripping up old books.  Yard sales, library book sales, thrift stores, and flea markets are a great source of cheap old ratty books.  I've used the covers of both paperbacks and hardcovers as postcards.  Sometimes I gesso them first, other times I incorporate the features of the book cover into my art.

Collage made on the cover of a Reader's Digest Condensed Book. Address and stamps were stuck on the other side and it was mailed just like this.

collage made on the cover of a paperback book

7. File folders
If you work in an office, you can probably rescue bundles of these from the recycle bin.  Kind of floppy, so not great for really heavy collage, but sturdy enough for many other purposes.

8. Magazine pages glued and stitched together
Cool technique I learned here.  

This is 6-8 magazine pages, stuck together with glue stick, run through the sewing machine in crazy patterns, and then covered in gesso.

Here's a bit of a magazine canvas postcard after it had been painted.

 9. Flashcards 
Check your dollar store - I have found all kinds of educational flashcards or jumbo playing cards that can be turned into postcards.  If they are super glossy you can use a little sandpaper to dull them down so that paint or glue adheres better.

The dollar section at the entrance of Target is another great place to look for flashcards.  These are 4"x6" and 5"x7"

okay - I'm out of ideas.  Your turn.  What else have you used to make postcards?  Leave a comment.


  1. My husband works in a pharmacy and they have flimsy cardboard between paper. He saves me the cardboard and I glue 3 pieces together - perfect postcard material, free and recycling too. I also love to use cereal boxes and often leave a bit of the original box cover showing through the paint.

  2. Balsa wood would makes cool postcard

  3. Karen, thank you, I really appreciate you for doing this. You gave me some really good ideas that probably i wouldn't have thought of on my own.
    Another question, if you don't mind: If you send a card the size of a Reader's Digest book cover thru the mail, how much would the postage be? Seems as tho the size would require more postage than a regular sized postcard, right?

    Thank you again...and have a great Easter.


    1. It definitely costs more to send something stiff like a hardcover. I think they had to classify it as a "large envelope" because it was too big/thick/stiff/heavy to be classified as a letter. I'm going to guess it cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50.

  4. This was such a great list; I'm new to postal art (and cross posting). Reading your list at times produced a number of "DUH" moments. Thanks for the suggestions.

  5. I've used the thick paperboard dividers from packing boxes used to keep a set of glasses from bumping each other. Some came with my new set of spice jars, and I just cut them to size. When I moved, I got my boxes at a liquor store, and they had a bunch, so I grabbed extra.

  6. I've been recycling USPS priority envelopes as postcard bases lately - they are kind of floppy like the file folders, but so far have worked well. I've also recycled the front and back covers of 12x12 scrap booking paper stacks, cardboard backing from notebooks, sticker packaging inserts, blow-in cards from magazines, card board inserts from dress shirts, all manner of food boxes...

    Also, when you order postage stamps from they send them with chip board inserts that make great art substrates - I've used 'em for postcards, ATC's, twinchies...

    A word of warning if you use corrugated card board: you might get charged package price because of the stiffness. That's what happened to me at least. My cards basically ended up like little planks of wood.

    1. good point, Steph. At a minimum you'll need $.66 of postage since it's stiff, but I guess if it's big and lumpy and heavy enough it gets classified differently.

    2. Not flexible immediately bumps it up to package rates, but a one ounce package still isn't that expensive to send in the states. You can always check for size, thickness and flexibility requirements. You can send almost anything as long as you add enough postage. Woo Hoo!!! Mail on, Everyone!

  7. yup, all those and more..! i would only add that any shiny/glossy pieces be sanded so the additions stay put. oh and sometimes i have found it quite easy to separate or peel the front from the base, say of a postcard or other such "fodder"..that is good too because you have a nicely porous surface.
    take any out-sized mail art to the post office,so you can add your postage where you want it if like me you have a very nice delivery person who will add stamps to underpaid items! (she then leaves a special collection envelope in the mailbox for reimbursement, isn't that cool?!)

  8. When I was in Portugal in June 2011 I bought a pad of Fabriano/acquarello watercolor postcards, not having any idea what I'd do with them. Needless to say, I used 'em up real quick and have moved on to some of the things you've mentioned above. I love being able to use cheap, humble materials and still get great results.

  9. Great ideas Karen! I love the stitched magazine pages and re-used postcards/advertisements. Thanks for sharing your infinite wisdom xx

  10. Here is a link to the USPS guidelines for dimensions and thickness...

  11. This is a very fun post, Karen. I shared it on my mail art FB page. Love all the ideas. I think you got it covered.....I use all the same stuff as you but darned if I can think of anything else...
    And big mamabird -- how cool is that about your postal worker??? Adding postage and letting you pay later in the box??? Now that's the spirit!

    1. isn't it?!? she leaves a special envelope on which she can check off what's needed ie extra postage signature, it's like stepping back in time,seems...

  12. Wow, more ideas, thanks, y'all!! I found some old greeting cards from people in my past that i don't even remember, and plan on cutting them in half and using those...gesso gesso gesso. And I also have some fairly heavy card stock that I had forgotten about,

    Happy Easter!


  13. Karen--Love all your ideas (as usual). I do pretty much all the same things and darn--I can't think of any other ideas but I did share this post on my mail art FB page.....very fun post.

  14. All brilliant ideas. I often grab handfuls of freebie cards/invitations etc. whenever I visit a gallery. Great for mail art.

  15. I started my response last night but hit a wrong button, being so tired; so happy to see others added to the list! :D Here's some more:
    Excellent for big collages to cut down into postcards:
    -Voting posters in my neighborhood the day after Voting Day
    - Movie, play, speaker posters in store/cafe windows after the event date
    - Calendar pages (also excellent for making envelopes)
    - Old game boards & their boxes & their cards/currency, etc., that just aren't getting played anymore (? Masterpiece ? Monopoly ? Risk ? Life ? Candy Land ? Clue ? etc.)

    Also - I paid the extra money for the USPS postal scale, and it is has been totally worth it for me and my guy for my MailArt and his EBay & postal packages under 10 pounds.
    I then check what my postage rates would be based on the weight on my USPS app on my phone and/or computer!
    Most of the time I just pop things straight in the mail with postage attached versus going to the Post Office if I won't have the time to do so that day!

  16. Great post, Karen! I tweeted it. ;) Lately I've been using 9x12 pieces of Bristol board to paint and collage on. Then I cut that sheet in four and work into each of those pieces separately. That's not recycled, of course. For recycled I think my favorite is cereal/cracker boxes. And I'm going to need more gesso soon. ;)

  17. All marvelous suggestions, but I agree with you, cereal box chipboard is my fave too. xox

  18. So many wonderful ideas! Thank you for sharing!
    Feeling very creative today! :D

  19. Great ideas from everyone - the only other 'original' thing I've used as a substrate is pieces of wood veneer. I even have my husband trained to save every remotely rigid piece of paper/chipboard that comes into the house!

  20. It's maybe not "original", but I didn't see this above, so ... I print my photos 4 to a page of 8 1/2 x 11" paper ... when cut into equal fourths, they meet the minimum postcard size of 3 1/2" x 5" ... they end up at 4 1/4 x 5 1/2. :-) Sending out some of them today as part of my National Letter Writing Month group ... I also made some bookmarks out of the bigger blank bookmarks from Michael's, Joanne's, etc ... painted, collaged, stamped on one side - rubber stamped & wrote on 1/2 of the back, added the address and the postage, tied ribbon in the hole at the other end - and voila! mail art that SHOULD meet postal requirements. I used clear packing tape to "laminate" the side with the artwork on it. made it safer, and a little stiffer, even. Hope they arrive!

  21. Such a great post, Karen! I will bookmark it so I don't let anything with postcard potential slip past my notice. I can't think of anything beyond your list and the suggestions in the comments. No one ever need go postcard-substrate-less again!

  22. Does anyone wear pantyhose anymore? I remember that when I'd buy "nylons" they often came with a white, glossy cardboard insert, sometimes with nicely rounded corners! Depending on the type of pantyhose or tights you buy, the cardboard insert can either be long and skinny (like a business envelope size) or more like a greeting card size. Cool for slightly different sized cards (vs. standard postcard size) and the nice rounded corners.

  23. yeah for recycled ideas!
    These are wonderful and some I hadn't thought of before.

  24. Paper back book covers and magazine pages are on my list to try now. I just always keep my eyes open for unique packaging but cereal boxes are plentiful and one of my favorites to use.