Thanks to Wes Spence AC5K for the following:
Since I was active in amateur radio before even having a driver’s license, money was always tight for buying radio stuff. One way I saved money was by making my own QSL cards.
Homebrew QSLs used to be quite common years ago. Even though it started that way, I still make most all of my own QSLs over 40 years later.
In The Beginning:
My first serious effort to make my own cards in quantity, started with a project in High School art class. I used a technique called Block Printing: You carve the image you want to print IN REVERSE on a block of wood or linoleum.
You print by first cutting thick paper in to QSL size blanks. There is a thick ink that is used for block printing. You put the ink on a piece of glass and roll it on to a roller and then apply the ink to the printing block. Carefully align and place the paper over the inked block and then press it down either using another roller or a special press made for this. I have a standard report form rubber stamp and an address stamp I use on the back for the “report side” of the cards.
This method is probably more trouble than you want to go to, and it takes quite an effort and special tools to carve the blocks. It is also sort of crude because you cannot carve great detail in linoleum. You also need to carve deeply and add a border for easier printing.
A Better Way:
Later on, when computers came onto the scene, new possibilities opened up for homebrew QSLs. My main method currently of creating QSLs is by using one of my old block print borders scanned in the computer with a rough sketch of what I want to do and use Microsoft Paint to create the artwork and refine it. Paint is NOT a great art program, but it is usable for QSLs. You can try different ideas then erase and try something else. You just have to remember to save you work before you change it, as Paint does not have a “go back” button!
One of the first QSLs I did using the computer was the card I currently use for mobile contacts. I printed, then scanned the horse and cowboy card in to the computer (the original was a linoleum block print and had my old call sign on it), cleaned it up using MS Paint, and the result is the QSL that I still use for mobile operating.
I know that some people have a problem with anyone signing /m, /p, /QRP or whatever. The best solution would be to adopt the standard the rest of the world uses: XXX/AC5K/YYY, where “XXX” is WHERE you are and “YYY” is WHAT you are. (e.g. FY7/AC5K/p, would be AC5K operating portable in French Guiana.)
Homebrewing your QSLs will also let your creative side express itself. My QRP QSL is the best example of this: QRPers have always been looked upon as amateur radio’s “counter culture”. QRPers are making world wide QSOs with power levels that would not even light the meter lamps up in a decent amplifier, operating outdoors, and otherwise being nuisances to ‘normal’ amateurs. What better representation for a QRPer than a space alien?
There is also a “NORCAL Zombie” badge scanned and shrunk down hanging on the tree on this card. The origin of that badge (there were actually three different versions produced) is rooted deeply in QRP lore! If you look closely, you might even see the Star Trek type badge I put on the alien!
On the saner side, I created a multiple QSO one sided QSL using MS Paint that is straight up with no frills for answering a QSL that comes in with multiple contacts on it for the same station. I just looked at many examples of similar cards I have received over the years and combined the best parts of each of them to create my own card.
My most recently created QSL is the one I use to confirm contacts on 6m meteor scatter based on “Spy vs. Spy”. You can make QSLs all day long with this method with your computer, but there is one more alternative you might like even better:
Using Computerized QSL Maker Programs:
There are several computer programs available for making your own QSLs . The one that I have used is by WB8RCR and is simply called “QSL Maker”. It is completely free to download and use. You can Google the program under WB8RCR or “QSL Maker”. There were lots of broken links to that program. The last time I found it was on a site in Italy.
QSL Maker is a very nice program, and has several card formats already done for you where you just type in your call and other information that is unique to you such as your address, and print as many as you want using your computer. You can change the locations of the where it puts what on the card, change the colors, etc. The program will also allow you to import photos or other art work (bitmap format only), and it will automatically size it to proper QSL dimensions for you. You have to be careful with the sizing though, because if your photo is some other size it will shrink and stretch it to fit and sometimes create a funhouse mirror effect! I used this program to make a photo card for my bicycle QRP CW Mobile QSL, so people would see that it was for real! I also used this to make a Tesla QSL (for his 150th birthday) with artwork “liberated” from the Internet.
While QSL Maker is fairly flexible, there are limitations such as not having a way to import logos for groups you may belong to, but it is a great “cheap and dirty” alternative to store bought cards.
Some home brew QSL Suggestions:
- Print in black ink on colored paper to save money if needed.
- Colorful stickers can be added to enhance the cards.
- Do NOT use exotic fonts that might be misunderstood by DX stations.
- Use WORLD (not US) standard dating format, and label it D-M-Y.
- Don’t try to over fill the card with stuff. Leave some blank space too!
- Storing a blank border of proper size really helps with MS Paint.
- A good trick for sharpening up the image is to actually do the artwork at twice the finished size and then shrink it down.
The internet can be a great source of ideas and artwork. Be fair about copyrighted material. I mostly drew my “Spy vs. Spy” characters free hand and just used the Internet for ideas and examples.
Use your QSLs to express what is individual about you or show your interests outside of amateur radio.
Making your own QSLs can be very rewarding and especially useful to operators that do not get many QSL requests. Be creative, have fun, and show everyone how weird you are!
73, Wes, AC5K