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Buying AirPods as a gift? Make it extra special with this freebie from Apple

We'll show you how to monogram Apple's AirPods, or add your own touch with emojis.

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It won't cost you anything to customize your AirPods case -- except a tiny slice of time.

Apple/Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET
This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

If you're buying Apple's new $179 AirPods 3 (the third-generation AirPods for 2021) directly from Apple's website -- or even the second generation AirPods, or the AirPods Pro -- I can't see many reasons you wouldn't want to take Apple up on the offer to customize the wireless earbuds case for "free" (that is, it won't cost more than the retail price). 

You can express yourself with an array of emojis, making it easier to track down your case at a glance. The engraving can also help differentiate your case from someone else's if you live with others, so you don't accidentally put someone else's gunky headphones in your ears. And not a whole lot beats adding some flair if you're planning to give AirPods as a customized gift (just read these tips before you do).

Personalizing a new pair of AirPods easy to do during the ordering process, but there are a few things you'll want to know. 

How to customize your AirPods case when you order online

Apple introduced AirPods case engraving with the second generation AirPods. The process is pretty straightforward when you order a new pair of AirPods online.

Step 1: Go to the AirPods preorder page (in this case, for AirPods 3).

Step 2: Scroll down slightly and click the words Personalize them for free.

Step 3: A pop up window appears. Scroll through the options for emoji, numbers and two types of letter treatments that you can engrave on your case. You must select by tapping or clicking each character or symbol -- you can't simply type. You'll be able to preview your emoji on this screen. Note that emoji don't come in colors.

Step 4: Click Save when you're done. You'll see your emoji selections on the preorder page. Continue to purchase your AirPods.

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You, too, can make your AirPods case whimsical and completely yours.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Will engraving delay my AirPods delivery?

In short, yes. In a test, we created orders with and without engravings. The AirPods 3 with the customized case had an estimated delivery time of almost three weeks. The non-customized pair, however, was available for same-day shipping (for a $9 shipping fee), or would ship in three days for free. Non-customized AirPods are also available to purchase in stores, or ordered online for in-store pickup. Customized AirPods need to be shipped. Depending on when you order and Apple's fulfillment load, your delivery time may vary.

Can I choose any emoji I want for my AirPods case?

In our test on the AirPods 3 case, emoji were limited and it looked to our eyes like the lettering style has also changed since Apple first introduced the feature. Apple didn't respond to a request for clarification.

Can I pick up my engraved AirPods case at my nearest Apple store?

Apple's preorder website indicates that store pickup for customized AirPods cases aren't available at this time -- Apple will ship your order.

Is there a catch if I buy the AirPods Pro with engraving?

Apple posts a retail price of $249 for the AirPods Pro. We've recently found them for as low as $190 or less (the price will drop even lower to $159 if you wait until Nov. 22). With Black Friday sales kicking in, prices on the AirPods Pro or even the brand-new AirPods 3 could drop again. If your heart isn't set on engraving, you may save some cash by shopping around. Check out our best Black Friday AirPods deals roundup for the latest prices.

For all things AirPods, here are all the new AirPods 3 features, what to know about trading in your old AirPods and one of our favorite tricks for finding lost AirPods. Here's everything Apple announced this week, including new MacBook Pros.