Thursday, 17 November 2011

'tis the season...

...for making photo presents.
Every year around about this time, I'm found more in front of the laptop editing photos in the evenings than anything else. My eyes are box shaped as I wade through the thousands of images of two beautiful girls and the occasional rare shot of their parents, grandparents, auntie and cousins. In this digital age, if it weren't for presents around this time of the year or the simple discipline of wanting to have a baby's first year book not just for Cubling but also for Snowflake, the photos would probably just rot away on some hard drive.

Thankfully, there's the wonderful world of sponsored blog posts and they hardly ever come as welcomed as when it's about photo products (because, you know, I'd be buying them anyway so to get them for free and then blog about them, which I would have done anyway, well, that's pretty cool).

Time is short though and what with being more than busy at the start of the festive season, there are two products I'd like to review in this post - and bear with me, there's even a special offer code at the end for anyone who wants to give this a go too.

So first up is the tried and tested Photobox. We have a sort of tradition of making A3 photo calendars for the grandparents. I love doing this because I can bring together the best photos of the past year and share them with my father in Germany, as well as my in-laws who are not so far away but always love getting some photos of their grandchildren. I use A3 calendars because they are perfect for celebrating photos. It's the biggest format, with least space spent on the actual calendar bit (which is just the way I like it, but of course, if you're more into having a calendar that actually gives space to make notes etc - there's other calendar products on that will work better, I just like big photos on black background). This year I also made up a baby first year book and thanks to the credits I was given, I splashed out on the biggest bestest beautifullest product: an A3 photobook with best paper and finishing. I added a good few pages so that the full whammy would have cost £61 including postage. Sounds a lot? Well, to be honest, we still regularly look into Cubling's first year book and I still look into my own! So for something that's made to last and such a special item, I'm quite happy to go for the best possible option. And if that's not your cuppa, you can get photobooks and calendars at Photobox for as little as £11.99 (or for free if you sign up).

As to the process - you're best to edit and select your photos first, if you have a good digital camera with large files, you're best to ftp the photos you may want to use overnight. In my case (with lots of large photos) the upload took a good few hours. Next day, you can design your book. There are preset designs such as Baby's First Year. I don't like to be boxed in by such presets, but they still work for me: they template gave me ideas that I didn't think of myself (e.g. to compile a page on bathtime, one on eating, one on the first holiday etc), and if I didn't like the design of the page, it's easy peasy to customise it. So working with a template gives you a head start but there's no stopping you changing every little thing about the template, which means you are in full control. There's a nifty little tick on each photo to indicate if you've already used it or not. And if you need more than one sitting to design your book (as I always do), don't worry, it's all saved and you can access it the following day. In fact, all of my old creations are still on my account - it's great to know I could print them off again or even share them with my family.

Effectively, you can go from letting Photobox compile your book in a few minutes to spending weeks on the perfect design (the latter would be me). And, a few days later, the masterpiece arrived much to the delight of the whole family. It looks good. I'm very proud of it. One thing I can't tell is whether the premium paper and finishing options actually make much of a difference - but they're not that pricey so I would probably do it again. In the past I've also made the cheaper version of photobooks, for less special occasions. For instance, I made a spiral bound small photobook at £13.99 about our two holidays which is great for sharing with the children and talking about what they did, who they saw and keeping in touch with the German side of our family through pictures.

Next up I was approaced by which is an American based company specialising in customised holiday cards. Initially I had reservations, what with distance and how long the postal way would take. But surprisingly, within 4 days of submitting the proof, the cards arrived. That's quicker than some mail I get from Europe! On the site, you can create your own special occasion cards using your own pictures. I'd always wanted to send Christmas cards with a photos of our family, so this was an ideal opportunity to try it out. As we send rather a lot of cards, I opted for the high quantity flat card version - which come at $100 per 50. I think that's a comparable price to what you'd pay for a similar provider in the UK. Minted ships internationally and has competitive rates.

The design of my card was reasonably quick - there are endless designs to choose from but because of the cultural differences maybe, I didn't find too many of them suitable. I'm old fashioned and if it's a Christmas card, I want it to say happy Christmas rather than Happy Holidays. There was still a great choice even amongst the traditional (or British?) worded cards but it was nice not to have to browse through absolutely all of the designs because it would have taken me hours.

I ended up choosing a simple, charming design, with just one photo and a simple message. A day later the proof arrived by email link and once accepted, the cards arrived really quickly and came beautifully packaged and presented. Although I went for the cheapest card stock, the paper feels great and I'm really pleased with the cards (and relieved that it is now definitely possible to make the remaining cards we need ourselves). The back of them is blank, which leaves enough space for personal messages. Folded cards are twice the price, so you get 25 for $100.

If you want to give Minted a go as well, you can get 15% off your order by using this code at checkout: READERS10 (orders must be placed by 28/11/2011).

~~~full disclaimer: this is a sponsored post and I received £50 worth of Photobox credits to create and review a photo gift and $100 plus postage to review customised holiday cards from Minted~~~

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