Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review of Photo Card sites

Normally, we create our own Christmas cards.  I will often buy something that looks nice, sign them, and ship them off to friends and relatives.  We've done a newsletter or two, usually after big changes in our lives, like getting new jobs or moving.  This year I decided to go high tech (as I should, with a name like Geeky Mom!).  Everyone's always clamoring for pictures of the kids, so I thought a nice card that had a few pictures would be a nice treat.  We don't take many pictures.  We certainly don't do formal pictures (though now I kind of wish we did).  But I gathered a few photos together that I liked and ventured off looking for a place to produce a good card out of them.

I originally started making a newsletter out of them with Pages, which, from a technical standpoint, was working well.  From a personal standpoint, I felt "ick" about it, so I dropped that idea pretty quickly.

After a Google search, I started at Tiny Prints.  (Confession: when I am searching for products or companies, I really do click on the sponsored links or the ads.  I figure if they're smart enough to advertise on Google, they're worth my checking out.)  Tiny Prints had some truly lovely designs and plenty that allowed several photos and so I selected one I liked and began designing.  It was easy to upload photos and I could even connect to Flickr and import photos from there, so I was cruising along.  I dragged and dropped my photos on the front and even had the option of putting more on the inside (which I did).  The whole process was very intuitive.   I wanted to have them mail the cards, so after reviewing my results, I checked the option to have them mail them.  All I needed to do then was upload a CSV file with all my recipients names and addresses.  I readied the file and went through the upload process.  It didn't say much about what to do except that I needed to tell it what column was what.  I had combined first and last names in the first column, so I just told it that was a first name.  I had combined city and state, which it balked at, so I put them in separate columns.  But it wouldn't overwrite my old data.  So, one by one, I deleted my old contacts and imported the newly corrected file.  It finally recognized all my contacts.  I added them to the order and then clicked the "go to cart" button.  Cart was empty!  I did this a few times and never got the cart to fill up, so I went to another site.

Next up was Shutterfly, a site I've used before and from which I've received many a card.  They do nice work.  They had nice options, though they didn't have one with more than 4 photos.  I had 6-8 that I wanted to include.  At this point, I didn't really care.  I just wanted to be done.  I created the card quickly and then when I got to the point of mailing out the cards, I was going to have to enter each name and address by hand.  No thank you.  I moved on.

So then I hit Kodak Gallery.  The designs there were fabulous--lots of options and plenty with more than 4 photos.  Like Tiny Prints, I could put photos on the inside and even on the back!  Very cute!  Like the other two sites, Kodak offers a "mail it for you" option.  But it, too, required hand-entering each address.  Again, I moved on.

I landed at the one of the most venerable card companies in the US, Hallmark.  They had photo cards and plenty of designs, including the one I chose, which had many photos, inside and out.  Since I'd been through the selection process and had a good idea of what kind of card I wanted, I settled on this one quite quickly.  I imagine that if you don't know what you want, you could spend quite a while searching through the selections.  Tiny Prints offers the option of narrowing by number of photos, type of card, and even color.  Kodak did as well.  Hallmark didn't.  You had to look through the 5 pages of designs, so that was one drawback.  But, when it came time to put address in, I easily uploaded my csv file and bingo, all my addresses were there.  And they're there for the future, too! I can enter birthdays and anniversaries and mail cards right from Hallmark.  I like that.  So, I ended up ordering from them, even having a few extra cards shipped to me in case there's someone I forgot.

So here's the summary.  None of the sites really sucked.  They all had good designs and were easy to use.  Where some of them failed was in the addressing to recipients section.  I'll give Tiny Prints a pretty big break since this portion of their site was in beta.  I'll definitely be returning to check them out.  Generally speaking, when someone is ordering en masse, they need to send to a lot of people.  Uploading a file, or importing from any number of contact programs (as several sites offered) is an absolute necessity.  I used to be in the greeting card business, and I'm quite impressed with the offerings now available online.  Most of these sites offer all types of products besides cards--books, calendars, mugs, and more.  Some sites might be better at those things than others.

One thing I noted on all the sites was that it was geared toward people without hyphenated names or multiple names in the family (true of both the creator and the recipient). For example, I wanted to put Blank/Blankenship in the return address, but it balked at that.  And there was not enough room on most designs to put something like this, even if hyphenated.  Note to card companies: give more space for the family name. Maybe people who hyphenate or keep maiden names don't send cards!
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