Our Homemade Holiday Card Tradition

Did you know that our holiday card is handmade? We spoke with the artist all about it.

Most people may not know that the annual Am-Tran holiday card is hand printed with love and care by Helen Hobbs. Helen, wife of Am-Tran president Jim Hobbs, designs and produces a new card every year on a small platen press.

Each year, we look forward to our holiday card tradition (now in its 10th year!) as a way to connect and build relationships with our customers. It is Helen’s tangible gift to the company, and is representative of the personal touch we believe is integral to great customer service.

I think hand printing each card is an act of love and it shows that there’s care and time taken. These are like gifts and, to me, they represent how hard Am-Tran works. 

This year Helen featured a dispatcher. Our dispatchers, many of whom have been with the company for years, are a critical part of the delivery process. Their intimate knowledge of our customer facilities and the products we deliver contribute to a high quality delivery experience when every minute counts.

“It’s not your typical store bought card and we do this because our customers mean so much to us!” says Unna Edmonds, Am-Tran General Manager.

“The minute you see and touch the card, you know it’s different,” says Business Development Director Ted Heller. “I never put in an envelope—I hand it to the customers with a little backstory to celebrate how special it is. Our customers appreciate the effort.”

We sat down with Helen to talk about the tradition.

When did you start making the holiday card?

10 years ago, I believe.

How did you decide on a hand printed card?

I can tell you exactly! Jim and I were at the Fillmore Auditorium to see Cake and they’d set up a tiny printing press in the bar area for people to check out (one of the guys really liked printing). We tried it out and loved it so much. For Christmas that year, Jim got me the same tiny press. 

Years before, Jim and I would receive a holiday card from Lang, an antique jeweler in San Francisco, that was a reproduction of a painting or drawing they did each year. It was so fun to look at with a lot going on in the image and all inspired by the holidays. It was more than just an advertisement, it was art, and I think I saved them all.

When we were trying to decide what to print, we thought, “Oh it’d be really fun to make an Am-Tran holiday card!” inspired by Lang. And that’s where it all started. 

It’s very typical of Jim to put together somebody’s skill with the business and let them run with it.

How do you pick your design?

Every year is a little different. First, I talk with Jim about what went on that year. What was new, exciting, different, noteworthy? Then I design around that theme or idea. During COVID, for example, we did a reindeer with a mask on. 

From there, I think about how I can convey that theme in a way that ties into the holidays. I’m drawn to things that are funny. And Santa Claus. And all the gifts! 

What is the printing process from start to finish?

I start with a bunch of small sketches and pick the one that captures my mind. I refine that sketch until I’m satisfied with it and then I transfer it to a carving block. 

The image has to be transferred and carved in reverse to render the right way when it’s pressed onto the paper. This step is really tricky! I’ve had a lot of issues with it in the past. 

Once the block is carved, I ink it and put that whole image upside down on a piece of paper and press it with my tiny press. Sometimes I test the print before it’s done to see where I am and go, “Oh, that’s pretty nice! I like what’s happening.” Or I decide to make adjustments to the carving.

Printing the blocks takes a long time. Registering the press is finicky. And if there are multiple colors, the block has to be printed multiple times. Some years I do 600 or 700 printing rounds to make 200 cards! 

The cards dry between printing rounds on long pieces of string I nailed into my workroom. This year, I’ve written a note on each card after they’re done and dried. It’s a lot of time and work, but it’s nice to spend the time to create the gift. It’s out of respect and honor for the company.

Scenes from the printing process this year

How long does it take to make the cards each year?

I’d say about 40 hours across 2 weeks. Each stage takes a different amount of time and each year it depends on the design.

Why do you print them all by hand?

I think hand printing each card is an act of love and it shows that there’s care and time taken. These are like gifts and, to me, they represent how hard Am-Tran works. 

Tell me a bit about this year’s card

This year’s card is a shout-out to the dispatchers! As I print them, I’m thinking about our dispatchers, like Eric and Davin, and all the work that goes into being a dispatcher. You're juggling all kinds of things! And the chair you’re sitting in—hopefully it's comfortable! Then traffic comes along and a package gets delayed—how do you juggle all that? I wanted to honor that hard work.

This year's card, featuring a dispatcher hard at work

What are some holiday cards from years past that stand out?

One year we had an Am-Tran van with a Christmas tree on top with a Santa-esque driver. Another year, we had the logo surrounded by garland and lights. One that I really loved was a lovely, old-fashioned Christmas tree ornament with the logo on it. 

My hardest card was a 4-color job that involved a sleigh and reindeers flying over the golden gate bridge. For that block, I carved the image away, progressing from lighter to darker elements. 

What do you like about printing?

Printing is a wonderful medium because you don’t totally know what you’re gonna get when you peel off your first print. And it’s looking in the other direction! So it’s really fun.

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