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Gift Ideas

By Mike Pasini, Editor
Imaging Resource Newsletter
"The only reason we get invited to family events is to take pictures."

We had a little chat with Santa's elves the other day (they usually decline to be interviewed, but a little eggnog goes a long way). They were a little concerned about how much you have to spend to get into digital imaging. Cameras, for instance, that cost as much as a refrigerator. Printers that eat more supplies than a team of reindeer.

We assured them, however, that there are great economies to be realized in the digital domain. "Take holiday gifts," we argued. "Please!" they joked. Olde elves, they are.

We thought you might like to know just what we told them. We gave them an incomplete but broad wrap-up of the various sorts of things you can do to turn digital images into gifts.

Some of these projects require the help of an online photofinisher, but others just need a quick visit to your local office supply store.

Electronically Wrapped

By now you've probably got pictures of everybody in your family on your computer. But just exactly how is everyone related to each other? Ah, the old family tree!

There's no law that says you have to use specialized software to build a family tree. You'll want to use your image editor to crop and resize faces, but then you can use anything from a word processor to an illustration program to create your tree. You just have to be able to draw lines, place pictures, and add type.

And (talk about economies!) you can give a copy to everyone in the whole family. Who wouldn't want one? Plus, version 1.0 will no doubt engender a few revisions for version 2.0 (filling out some missing dates, for example). So don't worry if it isn't complete.

The only reason we get invited to family events is to take pictures. But that gave us another gift idea. At the end of the year, we collect each family event on a family album CD. We burn a copy for every group in our family.

They seem to like it (no returns yet, anyway). And we don't have to burn CDs all year for them ("Wait until December!" we promise). The CD has even become a sort of right of passage for those recent graduates now living on their own. Old enough for their own personal copy.


A Bit More Traditional

"Why should Hallmark have all the fun? When you make your own holiday cards or ornaments. . . they'll be unique."

Why should Hallmark have all the fun? When you make your own holiday cards or ornaments with your images, they'll be unique. And you'll know where to get more if you need them.

Special card paper is available at any office supply store (but you can just fold a regular sheet of paper into quarters). And 4-1/8 x 5-1/2-inch invitation envelopes are just the right size.

To make ornaments, you can mount prints of your images on self-adhesive board or with double-sided tape, then cut them into holiday shapes, using a cookie cutter to outline the design. Don't forget to do something with both sides (another image -- front and rear views of someone or other might be funny -- or a personal message). Add a ribbon and you're hooked.

If you're entertaining over the holidays, consider turning your images into personalized place mats. You can adapt existing place mats to display an image of each guest (protected under a little Mylar) or make them from scratch, sandwiching the image between sheets of clear Contac paper.

If you use a calendar program, investigate its printing capabilities. You may find that you can print next year in an attractive monthly format that can be slipped into a double frame with a set of images to match.

Ink-jet Miracles

This is, indeed, a great time to tap the hidden talents of your ink-jet printer.

First, if you haven't already done so, splurge on some photo paper (office supply or photo stores). The special surface really makes a big difference, and it lets you create 8x10 enlargements at a fraction of the cost of custom prints. Toss in an inexpensive frame (we've seen 11x14 frames for less than $10) and you've got a very nice presentation of any special moment you've captured.

Ever notice how some people are very fussy about what they hang on their walls, but they'll wear just about anything on a T-shirt? Iron-on transfer media (in the ink-jet products section at your favorite office supply store) was made just for them. You can iron their image (it doesn't have to be flattering) on a T-shirt and even create a logo for them with your illustration program and some font tumbling.

Follow the directions, of course, but the big trick is to avoid the ironing board (it's likely too soft; although personal preference varies greatly here). Keep the iron steam-free and hot and apply a lot of pressure, going over the image evenly from left to right, top to bottom, just like reading this article.

Door knob hangers are just one of the oddball die-cut paper options you'll find in the same section. And business card magnets, resurfaced with your own hilarious outtakes, are great stocking stuffers (and can even get through the mail unabated as holiday greetings).

Well, OK, you don't have to make them all gags. Some could, technically speaking, be romantic or even, well, beautiful.

For the Person Who Has Everything

There's one in every family. You find out about their latest G-Whiz Gad-Jet just about the time they're auctioning it away on eBay. They've got everything.

"Business card magnets, resurfaced with your own hilarious outtakes, are great stocking stuffers."

Give them a coffee mug. Sure, they've got one. But it's gotta be dirty. They don't have time to scour their coffee mugs. These guys are too busy dealing and wheeling. So give them a clean one. Featuring a screen shot of their latest eBay auction.

If you've got a dye-sub printer and an oven, you can make your own. You simply print the image in reverse without a protective layer and wrap it around a white porcelain mug, clamping it evenly (ah, there's special equipment for this). Preheat the oven, warm the mug, and don't put it in a greasy pan. Follow your printer's instructions.

You can get mugs without special equipment by going to your corner drugstore and ordering one, too. And a number of online photofinishers offer the same service.

And remember, there's no law that says your digital image has to be all photo and no type. If you want to add "World's Best Dad" or "Loudest Mom in the Hood" to your Whistler, feel free.

Online Services

If you've signed up with an online photofinisher to share your pictures over the Internet, explore their imaging options. Just a few of the offerings we've seen recently include mousepads, calendars, mugs, memo pads, stamps, and cookies. Try for a few more (you wouldn't believe us if we told you), some with free shipping.

And if you're making prints for faraway friends or family, take advantage of your online photofinisher's framing options to complete the package.

Hold That Sleigh!

If this is beginning to sound like a lot of work (as if the holidays aren't busy enough), think of it as a high-tech alibi for avoiding one of those aggravating holiday chores (like stringing the lights on the tree or addressing envelopes). Some things you can delegate, after all, but digital imaging isn't one of them <g>.

The elves were delighted with our brief survey of the many ways digital images can spread peace and joy (and laughs and red faces, too) during the holiday season. We have a hunch that by this time next year they'll have invented even a few more ways to turn your images into gifts.

This article is reprinted from The Imaging Resource Digital Photography Newsletter,
Features Column, published December 1, 2000