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Photo greeting cards make excellent personalized gifts for nearly any occasion. A photo card may be as simple as a flat print with borders and text or a more elaborate, multi-fold design like those available from online printing services. This article explores the different photo card printing options to help you decide which will work best for you.
Note: Depending on the service or printing method you use, you may or may not be given envelopes with your cards so be sure to find out ahead of time.
There are a quite a few ways to print a photo card. The table below explains a few of the more popular options:
|Online Printing||To print your photo card online, you connect your camera or digital media to your computer and then upload your photos to an online printing service that will print your photo cards and ship them to you or directly to your recipient.|
|Local 1 Hr. Photo||In this case you bring your digital media to your local retailer’s one hour printing service and they will print the images on-site usually within an hour. In many cases you can head to the photo counter, plug your media into a kiosk, order your prints, do some shopping, and then pick up your photo cards when your done so you don’t have to make a trip back to the store again.|
|Local Store w/ Off-site Printing||With off-site printing, you bring your photos to your local retailer, plug into a kiosk and order your cards the same way you do with one hour service, but they are printed off-site and you have to come back and pick them up a few days later. In some cases they may give you the option to have them shipped to your home.Off-site printing is usually cheaper than one hour printing and has more creative options such as folding cards.|
|Home Order w/ In-Store Pickup||With home order and in-store pickup, you upload pictures from home and then pick them up from your local retailer. Usually you can pick them up within just a few hours of uploading and ordering your pictures.Because the prints are done in-store, you have less creative options and will likely be limited to non-folding, photo paper cards (not card stock).|
|Local Self-Serve Kiosk||To use a self-service kiosk, you bring your digital media into your local retailer and plug it into a kiosk. The kiosk will download your pictures from your digital media and give you several printing options to choose from.Photo kiosks may print your pictures immediately via a printer located inside the kiosk or may be connected to a higher volume printer in the store’s photo department. In either case, you can usually pick up your prints within a few minutes.|
|Home Printing||In the case of home printing, you connect your camera or digital media to your computer or even directly to a printer and then print via your printing software or by using a console on the printer.Although home printing offers instant gratification, often quality is not as good as online printing or even in-store services and you have to worry about the printer breaking and running out of ink or photo card media. There are also some limits to what kind of cards you can create since a home printer can’t handle all the media formats a printing service can offer with specialized printing equipment.|
The following table shows how each method rates for cost, quickest for getting a card to your recipient, convenience and other features:
|Online Printing||Local 1 Hr. Photo||Local Store w/ Offsite Printing||Home Order w/ In-Store Pickup||Local Self-Serve Kiosk||Home Printing|
|Non-Folding Photo Paper Cards|
|Folding Cards on Card Stock|
Before you print any photo cards using any of the described methods, you will need to get your photos off your camera. You can find an article explaining how to do this using a card reader here.
This section will cover each printing option in-depth and explain the comparison scores in the table above.
Printing your photo cards online using a photo card printing service is cost effective and convenient. Many services will send your photo card directly to the recipient so it is also one of the quickest ways to get your card to where it’s going. You don’t have to go to your local retailer which can be quite a convenience around the holidays. In addition, you don’t have to buy a printer or any ink and card media.
Generally creating a photo card using an online printing service involves the following steps:
- Setup an account with a printing service
- Upload your photos
- Select a card design
- Select and position the photo(s) you want on the card
- Enter your custom text greeting and adjust the font size, color, etc.
- Enter your recipients and how many cards you would like
- Place your order
Prior to uploading your pictures, most online printing services want you to setup an account with them and specify a username and password. Often they will ask you for your e-mail address and use that as your username. These credentials will give you access to your account where your pictures are stored each time you return to the site.
Many services allow you to share your photos with your friends and family. If the photo service offers this feature they will also generally allow you to control which photos are shared.
Once you have an account setup you can then upload your images. Most services now offer applications you can install on your desktop or browser plug-ins to make the upload process a little easier and allow you to upload several images at a time. When in doubt just go to your favorite printing service website and click the “Upload” link. They will provide you detailed instructions from there. Once you have upload your images most online services will keep them in a gallery so that you can reuse them for different printing projects.
Now for the fun part. Choose your design! Online printing services generally have a variety of creative options. Many offer multi-fold designs where you can place multiple pictures on different pages. Some offer some unconventional designs such as the “Peapod” and “Round About” designs offered by PhotoWorks. Kodak Gallery offers designer cards by famous names such as Eric Carle and Martha Stewart.
The one downside I have found with online printing services is that they only offer non-folding, photo paper cards in packs of 10 or 20. Usually plain, photo paper cards are very cheap (less than a $1 each) so if you were able to buy just one the shipping would likely be more expensive than the card. Folding card-stock cards are typically available in quantities of one or more but if you just want a single photo paper card then one of the in-store printing options is probably your best bet. If you do need 10 or more photo paper cards then an online printing service is the way to go because it will likely be cheaper and they usually include envelopes unlike many of the in-store printing services.
Generally photo card printing services have a user interface where you can customize your card once you have selected a design. Many designs are intended for more than one photo so you can select a couple images from your gallery of uploaded pictures. In addition, you are often given the option to manipulate the position of the photo and which parts of the photo will be displayed in the final design.
You will also need to enter your greeting message in one or more places on the card. Most services will allow you to choose a custom font size, color, position, etc.
At this point your card should be ready to print. Many services allow you to enter addresses for each of your recipients so your card can be sent directly to them. After you have added your recipients you are ready to checkout!
To use a one hour photo service, you bring your digital media to your local retailer and plug it into a kiosk at the photo counter. You can design your card at the kiosk much the same way as you would using an online service. Your photos will be printed on a high volume photo printer. The in-store printing systems often use a chemical/exposure processes much like non-digital photos so the quality is very good.
When you use one hour retail printing, or any printing option where the prints are made in the store, you are often limited to non-folding, photo paper cards because the in-store processing equipment is only setup to do traditional photo paper prints. Typically the two formats available are 4″x8″ and 5″x7″. They are really not too different than a regular print except that your picture is framed inside a background with some room for your message. The back side of the print is just the white photo paper backing. Envelops may not be included so be sure to check in case you need to pick up some while you’re out.
A benefit of one hour photo is that you don’t have to pay shipping. If all you want it a flat, non-folding, photo paper card and you only need one or two then a one hour service may be your best bet.
Retailers that have in-store printing often have an off-site printing option. This works much the same as one hour services except that it is usually priced and little cheaper and has more design options. This is because you order is printed off-site, much like if you had ordered your prints online.
The downside of off-site printing is that you not only have to go to the store to place your order, you also have to go back to pick it up. Some services may offer to ship to your home so you don’t have to make the second trip.
For home order and in-store pickup, you upload your photos to a printing service that has a partnership with your local retailer. They will give you the option to have your photos printed at your local retail location so you can pick them up a few hours later.
This is quite a convenience but like the one hour photo option, you are typically limited to simple one-sided, non-folding, photo paper cards. This is because the in-store printers don’t handle folded and more complex card designs.
Most retail photo centers now have kiosks where you place an order through the kiosk and it is printed on a large printer behind the photo counter. In some cases however, the kiosk itself can make prints using a built-in printer.
Usually the photo card options are even more limited than the larger in-store printing systems and prints may be a bit more expensive.
You can also print photo cards at home using your own printer. For home photo card printing you will need a few things:
- Software to Design and Print Photo Cards
- Photo Printer
- Printer Ink
- Card Media
Unless you are reading this from work, school, or a library, you likely have your own computer already.
To design your card you will need printing software that will allow you to layout your card and and print it. There are a few software packages available to do this and one example is “The Print Shop” which, has been around for many years. This is an area where home printing photo cards may have an advantage because you can get a little more creative with your designs. Often the software packages will include some clip art so you can supplement your own images with themed, clip art images.
Unless you have a digital printing press you will need a photo printer. A typical home photo printer is usually just an ink jet printer. A few printers now have built in card readers so you can plug your digital media directly into the printer and skip the computer. If you are producing a photo card however, you will probably want to use your computer so that you can customize the card design in some sort of printing software.
When choosing a photo printer keep in mind the cost and quality of the ink. Each line of printers usually has its own set of ink cartridges and they are often very expensive to replace. In some cases replacing a full set of brand-name print cartridges may be costlier than the printer itself! Ink cost is such an issue that Kodak sells a line of printers on the premise that the ink is cheaper.
In addition to the cost of ink also consider the quality. There are few characteristics to consider:
- How long does the ink hold its color?
- Will the ink smudge if it gets wet?
- Cartridge reliability
Most inks fade with time, particularly if they are exposed to a lot of light. Some inks hold their color better than others. Ink jet inks are water based so they are susceptible to smudging if drop of water is spilled on them although there are some types of media that help make the ink more resistant to smudging.
Overall, photo cards printed on ink jet printers will not last as long as those printed through in-store labs and online services that use a photo chemical process. This is because the dyes in photo-chemical prints are are suspended in three three layers of gelatin below the surface of the paper. With inkjet prints on the other hand, the dyes are right on the surface directly exposed to the elements. The following article featuring an interview with Henry Wilhelm, an expert on photographic preservation, regarding imaging fading: New York Times article.
Last, but not least, you will need special media to print cards on your home printer unless you are happy just folding some regular printing paper. Avery makes a variety of photo cards with different folds and finishes with envelops included. Unfortunately, ink jet printers will only accept certain kinds of media and so you won’t be able replicate all the formats available from many of the online printing services.
If you want to print one or more folding, card-stack cards or need 10 or more photo paper cards then an online printing service is tough to beat. If you just want one or two photo paper cards then you might be better off using one of the in-store printing options.
Happy photo printing!