8 Affordable Gifts You Can Make From Your Photographs
In the first of two articles, I told you all about some of my favorite gifts under $100 that you can get for the photographer(s) in your life. In this second article, I'll tell you about some of my favorite gifts you can make from your photos and give to others. We’ll start with a couple of traditional photo gifts and then move on to some of the newer things you can make or do with your photos.
Probably the most traditional photography gift is a framed print that can be hung on a wall or standing up on a table. You’ve got some options when it comes to the print itself as well as the mounting and framing of it.
1. Wall Art - Take a special photo and make hanging art out of it. You have a variety of choices when it comes to making fine-art prints. Along with traditional matte and glossy prints, you can get beautiful fine-art giclée prints made on different types of archival papers. Photographs can also be printed on canvas or metal for a truly unique look.
Canvas prints are well suited for landscapes, florals, travel, and portraits particularly as the texture of the canvas imparts a painterly look to the print. Canvas prints come in a variety of depths and many arrive ready to hang. I would divide the canvas print vendors into two tiers. You’ve got the cheaper ones like Canvas Discount who offer ridiculous prices on even large canvas printing and still have decent enough quality. But if you really want a special piece of hanging artwork, it’s worth it to go with the higher quality canvas prints offered by places like Diversified Lab, BayPhoto, White House Custom Color, etc. Not only are they higher quality prints themselves, but the materials and workmanship on the stretching and framing are likewise top notch.
Metal prints have taken the photo world by storm over the last 5-10 years. Metal Prints infuse dyes directly into specially coated aluminum panels creating brilliant images that shine with radiant color. The coating acts as a durable barrier against dirt, scratches and harmful UV rays, thus eliminating the need for protective glass or framing. The surface of metal prints beam with such vibrant color and visual depth that they appear nearly 3D. Metal prints do not require any sort of framing and can be purchased with mounting blocks and hanging hardware already installed. I have a number of large metal prints in my home and they never fail to turn heads. If you are looking for a really special print that can light up a room, metal is definitely the way to go.
2. Photo Books - Printed and bound photo books make wonderful keepsake gifts. A great way to collect pictures from a particular event like a wedding, vacation, or milestone like anniversaries and birthday parties. I make one after each major photography trip as a memento and a reminder. These kinds of photo books are available from places like Shutterfly and Blurb among others.
If you are using Adobe’s Lightroom Classic to manage your photos, there is a Blurb book layout module built into the program. You can use it to curate, assemble, and lay out your entire book without ever leaving Lightroom. Once you have finished your layout, it can be uploaded directly to Blurb and printed on one of six different paper stocks and five different sizes. Bonus tip: If you allow Blurb to add a very small logo on the last page of your book, they will offer you a significant discount off of your total book price. This can really add up with longer books. And when I say small logo, I’m not kidding. It’s literally the size of my thumb-nail. For most of the books I make, I’m happy to trade off a tiny bit of Blurb branding on the last page for a 15% or more discount on my order!
One other book vendor I want to mention is a place called ZNO (formerly Artisan State) that makes these really gorgeous books with thick, lay-flat pages. Perfect for a wedding album or for showcasing your favorite images. They have a really lovely high quality look and feel to them. If you are looking for an extra special gift, be sure to check out their offerings.
3. Unique Photo Gift Items - Websites like BayPhoto, Shutterfly, and Collage now offer a huge variety of gift items imprinted with your photos. These range from mousepads, magnets, and buttons to fleece blankets, playing cards, cell phone cases & chargers, and coffee mugs. Water bottles and stainless steel insulated travel mugs are very popular this year.
Photo ornaments make for lovely holiday gifts as do photo luggage tags. I have a luggage tag my daughter made from one of my carnival photos. It’s like having a tiny metal print attached to my suitcase and that makes it very easy to spot when I get to baggage claim.
Photo cellphone cases for all the popular phone models (iPhone and Samsung Galaxy!) are available from a variety of sources including Shutterfly and Collage.
Be sure to check out the complete listings at each of these websites as they are adding new products every day.
4. Jigsaw Puzzles - With so many of us stuck at home for the duration of the global coronavirus pandemic, jigsaw puzzles have soared in popularity. How many times have you looked at one of your photographs and thought to yourself “that would make a great jigsaw puzzle!” There are several companies making high quality custom jigsaw puzzles from your photos.
My two favorites are Venus and Ravensburger. Experienced puzzlers will recognize Ravensburger as one of the better commercial puzzle makers in terms of print quality and how well the puzzles are cut. Venus runs a close second offering well made custom printed puzzles and boxes. Our daughter has given us one for the past several years and we absolutely love doing them.
Puzzles are available in a variety of counts from 100 pieces all the way up to 2,000 pieces. Prices are comparable between the two companies. A 1,000-piece puzzle is $40 from Venus Puzzles and $45 from Ravensburger. The ones from Venus come in a custom printed box. The ones from Ravensburger come in a custom printed tin. 1,000 pieces seems to be the most popular size but if you are giving it to a serious puzzler, you might want to consider 1,500 or 2,000 pieces!
5. Mix-Tiles - A relatively new offering in the way of hanging photo prints is something called Mix-Tiles. These 8”x8” affordable framed prints come ready to hang with a non-damaging sticky strip on the back of them. At $11 each, you can get a bunch of them and make your own custom wall arrangement. You can pop them off the wall and replace or re-arrange them at will. According to the manufacturer, you can do this a few dozen times before you’d need to replace the sticky strip. So there’s a lot of flexibility built in from the start. You can upload photos from your computer or from your social media accounts like Facebook and Instagram. Orders ship in about a week.
6. Photo Maps - A company called Thunder Bunny Labs (great name, right?) has some fabulous specialty photo prints based on various national and state maps. You’ll find national ones for the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and All Seven Continents along with state ones for all 50 U.S. states. They even have a few map frames based on Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey stadiums, as well as a National Parks one, all customizable with your own text.
Load them up with your own images and make one of a kind gifts. These map prints/frames are a great way to document your travels with pictures. Show all the places you have been to or feature your own state with a single image. The photo maps are available with and without framing. All products ship within 2 days of ordering, but beware that delivery times may get longer as the holidays approach.
7. Digital Photo Frames - One of my wife’s absolute favorite holiday gifts from the last few years has been the Nixplay LED Digital Picture frame we gave her in 2017. These devices display a running slideshow of digital photographs that can be loaded directly into the frame or sent to it remotely over the internet from the Nixplay website or mobile phone app. Our daughter who lives in another state has a link to send pictures directly to the frame and we get to enjoy new photos of our grandson as soon as she posts them. A marvel of modern technology!
The unit we have includes a remote control and a built-in motion sensor that will turn the display off if there’s no activity in the room. The Nixplay can display the pictures in order or shuffle them randomly including a variety of transitions between each image. The quality is very good and you can adjust both brightness and color temperature on the display to suit your tastes.
Set up is fairly easy. Just connect it to your in-home wireless network and set up an account at the Nixplay website using either their free mobile app or your computer’s web browser. Once you’ve connected your picture frame to your account, you can start loading it up with photos from your computer or from your social media accounts like Facebook, Instagram, and Google Photos.
These come in several sizes and colors. We have the 13.3” “seed” model, but they make them in larger sizes and higher resolution screens. You can even create different playlists and choose which one to display depending on your mood. A really fantastic give for family members or friends who you might wish to share photos with on a regular basis.
8. DIY Photo Greeting Cards - For many years now, my wife and I have been making our own photo greetings cards and giving them out as gifts or using them in place of store-bought ones.
They couldn’t be easier to make and assemble. We start with a batch of 4”x6” glossy photo prints from Costco or our local pro photo lab. Using double-sided scrapbook tape, we adhere them to blank card stock. We are particularly fond of the ivory and/or white colored greeting card blanks from Strathmore papers that come with a deckled (i.e. “torn”) edge. These are available in packs of 10, 25, 50, or 100 cards with matching envelopes. The deckled edges are also offered in a number of bold colors like red, green, and blue along with the plain ones.
Check your local art and scrapbooking stores or find them online. Be sure to compare prices when online shopping as we have found there to be a wide variety of prices between the different websites. Amazon, Art Supplies Online, and Cheap Joes all have good deals on 50 and 100 packs of cards and envelopes.
If you are giving them as a gift, consider putting them together as curated card sets by theme. I’ve got one that is full of pictures from my various road trips across the USA. It’s got diners and highways and old cars and motels. I’ve got another that is all florals and plants and another that is Venetian carnivale masks. The possibilities are endless!
One year I took a series of photos of the various Santa and holiday figures that populate my mother-in-law’s Christmas village decorations. I made a card set out of the images and gave them to her as a gift for the holidays that year. Imagine my delight when I received one from her a year later as a xmas card! I make a new set for her every couple of years so she has a fresh supply! You are limited only by your imagination.
If you really want to get fancy, you can order card boxes with clear lids to package them in. Or you can tie a stack of cards and envelopes together with a colored ribbon and give them as a bundle.