Saturday, August 25, 2007

The job isn't done until the paperwork is finished

One of the advantages of being a "small pistol" station is that I don't worry about how to deal with the thousands of QSL card requests that some of the "big gun" contest stations and DXpeditions have to deal with. Over the past year, I made a bit over 1700 QSOs, which includes my operation from the Cayman Islands and any contests I've been in. I've never tried to figure out what percentage of stations I contact that I "need" for some award (DXCC, WAS, IOTA, etc.), but at this point in my ham career, I'm sure it's not a big percentage. (I should clarify that last statement: It's not that I don't wish that I had a higher percentage of "new ones", it's just becoming harder and harder to find and work them.)

However, one thing that I've always made it a point to do is to make sure that if I get a QSL card from someone, they get a card back from me. For those cards that come "direct" (which means that someone has mailed their card directly to me, just like you'd mail a letter to someone), they'll get a card back direct, usually within a day of my receiving their card. Often, the sender with include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) or at least an SAE (self-addressed envelope), though sometimes they don't. Again, I don't send out that many cards, so I don't mind paying the return postage; it's part of the cost of being active in the hobby. (One of these days I'll pull up my soapbox and complain about those stations who don't seem willing to return a QSL card to me, even when they are stations in countries, often the US, that have a reliable postal system so I know they got the card, and when I've included an SASE or SAE plus postage; but that's something for another time.)

When I receive a QSL card request for a contact that I've made from my home station, I just reach into the box of cards that I had printed (by The QSL Man, W4MPY, who I highly recommend), fill it out, and send it back, usually the same day that I receive the card. Because I figured that I'd eventually use up a bunch of my "regular use" card, I had a couple of thousand of them printed up professionally, which means that they tend to look nicer than they would if I'd printed them myself, plus the per-card price is cheaper. The only problem with having cards professionally printed is that if you aren't going to have it done in quantity, it winds up being pretty expensive on a per-card basis. There are a couple of companies that will do small runs (100; a normal printing run is 1000 or more) of cards, but they are usually limited in what kinds of designs they'll do. For my Cayman trip, I made about 120 total QSOs. I'm guessing that at most, I'd have no more than 50 or so requests for cards, so even doing a batch of 100 commercially doesn't make a lot of sense.

So, as with my previous trip to the Outer Banks and to Lido Key, I decided that I'd design and print up the cards myself. For those trips, I took a few pictures and made up cards using some pictures from the trips along with the appropriate text/ I use Adobe Photoshop Elements which is more than powerful enough for something like this. (It's gotten somewhat more expensive than when I first bought it; I think I paid something like $20 or $30 for version 2.0; looks like it's now around $80 for verison 5.0, but there are plenty of alternatives.) The front of the card just has the basic information, and I use a regular word processor to set up a QSO table and any other info that I want to print on the back of the card. Everything is set to print on inkjet or laser postcards that will print four to a sheet. I used some card stock from Staples, but I sure there are alternatives. The tricky part is getting them to run through the printer the right way so that I get the QSO info on the back more or less lined up correctly on the back so that it's centered on the card. After I've gotten the cards printed, I separate them and then I usually need to trim them a bit. A standard QSL card looks like it's about 5 7/16" (13.8cm) x 3.5" (8.9cm), but in order to fit my cards on the stock that I use, mine wind up as 5.25" (13.335 cm) x 3.5" (8.9cm). When I pull them apart, there's a little room left over on each card, which I trim off. Not only does it look nice, but it's then close enough to a standard size to fit easily into most envelopes.

I'd originally hoped to make a lot more QSOs than I did on my Cayman trip (for reasons that I've described ad nauseum in previous posts here), but the only impact that had on my QSLing is that it meant that I won't be having the cards professionally printed. So, as with the previous cards, the hard part was actually sitting down and doing the card design. I will freely admit that I am not the best (ok, I'm probably one of the worst) graphic designers in existence, but I've pretty much figured out a template to use, which is to use a large background picture and have one or more inset photos. I finally figured out what to use for this trip, and after spending a bit of time juggling the images around (plus with some advice from my younger son Brett, who is far less "graphically challenged" than I am, along with my older son Justin, KC2MCS, and of course my XYL Sharon), I've finally come up with a card design that I'm reasonably happy with, which is shown here. This is still a draft, and I realized that I needed to add in the IOTA reference, which is required in order to be valid for IOTA award purposes. I'll take care of that as soon as I finish writing this entry, set up the reverse side, and try to get the cards printed this week. I've got about a dozen folks who sent cards direct and I'm feeling a bit guilty that I haven't been able to respond yet.


  1. Those are some great looking cards! Just a quick note on the IOTA requirements. The IOTA number is encourage and always helpful but you must have the name of the island on the card to ensure the card can be used for credit. I know this because I goofed up my Boston Harbor Islands card (I put on NA-148 but no island name). I overcame this brain-cramp by ordering little red rubber stamps with the island name on it. For whatever reason, that fixes the problem. Go figure.

    Anyway, looks great. Congratulations on doing a 1st class job on the cards!

    -- Scott (NE1RD)

  2. Ah, you're right. Thanks for the correction. I looked it up in the official rules, and it says: "C.4.2 QSL cards submitted must have printed on them both the call-sign and the name of the island from which the operation took place." (and a lot of other stuff).

    I do now recall reading about someone in a situation similar to yours, where he didn't have the island name printed on the card, but apparently it's OK if the island name is printed on a label that's attached to the card, you just can't hand-write it.