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Ordering Online Photocards


Ordering Online Photocards

ONLINE SHOPPER; Our Smiles Are in the Mail

Published: November 25, 2004

ACROSS America, many people face the same quandary when designing holiday cards. A nation wonders: Which family photo should I choose?

What made my situation unusual last week was that in the photos under consideration, the look on my family members' faces was not one of good cheer. A more accurate description would have been abject terror.

I am a very bad photographer. This year on vacation I took photos my family later called the Fear Series after I posed them at the edge of a cliff on Maui. As I peered through the viewfinder, urging my children to take just one more step backward, the littlest one asked if she was too young to write a will.

Other choices from my holiday portfolio include blurry shots, poorly composed shots and pictures in which my children's faces are partly obscured by a thumb over the lens.

Yet like a growing number of card senders, I cannot imagine a holiday season in which I do not widely distribute a current photo of my family. Nearly 40 percent of Americans expect to receive a personalized photo card this year, according to a recent nationwide survey of 1,000 adults that RoperASW conducted for the online photo service Shutterfly.

And I do not want to deny them.

''Photo cards are a growing trend, and it's because it's becoming easier to do more things with images than ever before,'' Bridgette Thomas, a Shutterfly spokeswoman, said. ''Upload images and you can send photo mugs, photo albums, framed photos. It has a viral effect. You receive this good-looking photo card and you think, 'Oh, if my friend can do this, I can, too.'''

Unless you're my friend. Then you think, That poor little girl on the left is about to fall off a cliff.

Not to be deterred, I turned to the Internet last week for help in designing a holiday card with a photo. At (where I bought holiday photo cards the past two years),, and about a zillion other sites, I could browse a huge selection of photo cards. I could choose cards as simple as the classic flat photo card (58 cents apiece at or as elaborate as one by Royal Imprints from ($8.40 a card, described as a pearlized fold-over card mounted atop a flat silver card with a silver sheer ribbon).

Although Ofoto still had the trusty, budget-conscious designs I'd chosen previously ($19.99 for a set of 20 cards and envelopes, $14 for each additional set), I was intrigued by the possibilities at

Among Shutterfly's selection of photo cards (prices vary by quantity; they are 61 cents each for 50 cards if you order by the end of the month) and photo greeting cards ($1.43 each for 50 cards if you order by the end of the month) were more than 50 new holiday-theme borders like snowflakes, reindeer and Santa.

This year Shutterfly has made it easier to send cards directly to recipients. Customers who use the direct mail service, which costs an additional 49 cents a card, upload their address books and can specify personalized messages for each card.

Of all the styles at the Shutterfly site, I was partial to the no-border fold-over greeting card.

My plan was to upload a few photos to see how they looked online after I cropped them and played around with various effects like turning them into black-and-white or sepia-toned images.

The Fear Series and the rest of my portfolio of thumbnail images were stored online at (I mailed film to Ofoto for developing months ago). I chose a few, then saved the thumbnails to my computer. From there I uploaded them to Shutterfly.

The process was seamless until I started designing the card. Trouble started on the page that said, ''Click here to choose a picture.'' did not like my photo. ''Not recommended for printing,'' it told me.

I clicked on Why?

''The resolution of your image is too low for the card,'' told me.

Although this didn't come as a total surprise -- after all, for years people have been rolling their eyes at my blurry pictures -- I was disappointed. The picture, which depicted my husband and three daughters against a backdrop of palm trees, looked pretty good to me.

In fact, the more I looked at the picture, the more I decided it was the perfect image for my holiday cards.

Could I get away with using it in a smaller print size? This possibility led me to, a site that sells cards and stationery from nearly four dozen manufacturers. More important, it offers customized design advice.

''The first thing we do with a photo after you place an order is to hand-adjust it in our graphics department,'' Lauren Marrus, the chief executive of the Chelsea Paper Company, said. ''We may suggest different cropping, or play with contrast or coloring to sharpen the image, and then we send you a proof. Our paper is really nice. And savvy customers know they can ask for all kinds of things that aren't shown on the site, like italics or two different fonts.''

Among Chelsea paper's selection of holiday photocards I found a small postcard (4 1/4 inches by 5 1/2 inches) on which my photo would be reduced to a size that looked no bigger than 2 inches by 2 inches.

The price was steeper, $125 for 50 cards, but the design was simple and classic. And maybe the graphics department could save my photo.

I placed my order, which totaled $129.95 (including $4.95 for shipping), and crossed my fingers.

But the low-resolution problem still nagged me. The next morning I phoned Shutterfly to ask why the quality of my photos was so low. Could I really be that bad at taking pictures?

After I explained the situation to Ms. Thomas, she said: ''Here's the thing: When you get the film developed, they don't put the high-resolution version of the picture on the site because the site is easier to use if there are not a lot of cumbersome files. The thumbnail version is low resolution, but if you order photos, the prints would be at an appropriate resolution.''

I said: ''So, if I had sent you an actual print of the photo, it would have had better resolution?''

She said: ''Yes. You need a photo with 300 dots per inch.''

I hung up. I had a bad feeling about my pending order.

Sure enough, I had an e-mail message waiting from Chelsea Paper's graphics department.

''Hello, Michelle,'' it began. ''I have attached two PDF proofs of the front and back of your custom photo card. As you will see, the size of the photo on the page is not that large. That is because the quality of your photo is not as high as I would normally recommend. If you have a version of the photo that is higher resolution or bigger in size, I can easily substitute it.''

All was not lost. One of the proofs attached to the e-mail message had a great design that repeated the photo, filmstrip style, across the card.

I wrote back to say that I had ordered a higher-resolution print from Ofoto and that I would send it to Chelsea Paper as soon as it arrived.

I received a prompt response: ''That's good news about your photo. Also, I am really glad you like the proof. There will be no additional charge to use the repeated photo design.''

The cards are going to look really great. Emboldened, I started thinking ahead. Maybe next year I can persuade my family to do a group skydiving shot.

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