Photo Cards – Too 90s, Or Too Effective?

If you’ve created only one holiday card, e-mail is a perfect way to send it. But what about those other familial obligations? The incessant: “When do we get a new photo of the kids?” Or “How big is the puppy?” Or “I can’t wait to see the new house.” Admit it, you’ve already thought about building a Web page, e-mailing your URL to everyone you know, and then just sitting back and letting the family marvel at your creativity and technical acumen. If you’re like me, the only thing stopping you is time. Well, listen up: Some new tools can get your baby photos on the Internet faster than you can get off the telephone when that long-winded cousin of yours calls.

You know you'd love to receive this gem.

You know you’d love to receive this gem.

PictraAlbum from Pictra and Photo Creations All-in-One Studio from Creative Wonders let you compile photos into albums and publish them on the Web without any troublesome technical or design machinations. Say you just want to send some snapshots without a lot of cute extras. PictraAlbum is a bare-bones application with a single purpose: organizing your photos into albums. It assumes your pictures are ready to go; just pick one of 14 background styles, drag and drop the digital photo into your album, enter captions, and hit the Publish button. Your vacation album is uploaded to PictraNet. Now you can answer all those eager questions with one URL (www.pictranet.com). You can even password-protect the site if you’re worried about those photos of the dog ending up on some bestiality site. You can add new albums or update old ones whenever you want, as long as you don’t exceed your allotted storage space limit. 10MB (about 30 photos) costs $49.95 for a year; 30MB bumps it up to $99.95.

If you want something fancier, check out Photo Creations. It’ll make cards, banners, and other stuff, but its focus is photo albums. It has ready-made templates for wedding albums, baby books, and the like (complete with themed graphics), but you can also build an album from scratch. Drag your photos into place, type in captions, paste in graphics and clip art, even add sounds (you can record your own or use the ones provided). Piece of cake. Then you can either e-mail your album (a player is automatically attached) or upload it to the Creative Wonders Web site. Unlike with PictraNet, though, displaying your online album here doesn’t cost you anything, and there’s no limit to how many pictures you can upload.

Do It Up!

But if you really want to impress the gang with your computer savvy (that’s right, be proud of your inner dork), build your own Web page. Windows Draw 6from Micrografx has a Web Publishing Wizard that makes it hugely easy to create a site that looks like you hired a professional (it also has an extensive array of image editing and drawing tools). Say you’ve got a snapshot of you, the family, and the new dog together on your summer camping trip. Start with that, type in a caption for the photo, add a forest background and some outdoorsy clip art, and create buttons that link to other family members’ pages. Draw will save the whole business in HTML, letting you review all the links in the process so you know that everything works. All you have to do is upload the creation to your Internet service provider. When some important event happens, just update the Web site, complete with photos. Think of it–you can e-mail your in-laws the URL and never have to mail a photo again.

Of course, your in-laws might ask for reprints of those lovely photos they’ve seen on your Web page. But the Web can even help you there: Kodak recently launched its Picture Network, and PhotoNet from PictureVision has been around for a while. When you drop off a roll of film, simply check a box on the order envelope asking that your photos be uploaded to the Web. Within a week your newest photos are on the Web, in addition to being developed and printed. You can e-mail your in-laws a photo postcard from the Web, or simply send out the URL, and your family can see the latest picture of the baby and even order the reprints themselves.

Although PhotoNet’s basic service (30-day storage) is free and enables you to print photos on things like mouse pads, mugs, and calendars, Kodak Picture Network has some significant features that make it more useful. You can upload your own photographs to your personal site (although you can’t get reprints). It’s also available through more than 30,000 developers who already use Kodak. PhotoNet, on the other hand, is available only through participating stores (such as Wolf Camera and The Camera Shop).

Old Skool, New Action

Hilariously enough, I had a recent idea given to me by my friend Ashley March. She mentioned that a time may come when even you will want to resort to the arcane tactic of actually printing your cards or photo albums. Of course, almost any new ink jet printer turns out crisp color photos, especially if you use glossy paper. But recently there’s been a spate of those devices that claim to do everything from scan to fax to copy to print to wash windows. Xerox has just such a device: The Document HomeCentre. It combines a detachable color scanner, a color ink jet printer, and a color copier.

Whoever invented that detachable scanner is right up there with Einstein, as far as I’m concerned. It’s great to be able to capture images from bound books and magazines–no need to rip out pages any longer. It captures both photos and text beautifully.

The $499 HomeCentre also does an impressive, if slow, job of printing and copying in color, cranking out one vibrant color page per minute (black and white is four times as fast). Unfortunately, it doesn’t do quite as well with printing photos. Even after adjusting all the controls–color intensity, contrast, and so forth–the photos that scanned in so nicely came out fuzzy and discolored. Now, you may be a computer dork, but I’ll bet you still have some pride. So you probably don’t want to mail distorted copies of your photos. If you really want to print your own photos, I’d recommend investing in a top-quality ink jet printer. .

Here’s a warning: Your computer can save you the hours you once spent getting photos developed and mailed. But think twice before you tell everyone how easy it was to build your Web page. You could spend twice as much time handling the deluge of technical calls you’ll get from everyone in your family trying to do the same thing. But, hey, at least you’ll all have something to talk about at those holiday get-togethers.

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