Wish You Were Here
I was in Berlin,
By Richard Romano
Published: May 18, 2011
I was in Berlin, Germany, last week and while fleeing the throngs of psychopathic bicyclists, I took refuge in what I discovered was a tacky little souvenir shop. I don’t usually go for those sorts of things, but as I was browsing, I came across the racks of postcards. I was toying with the idea of sending out a few to friends and family back home, when I decided instead to experiment with a print application I had heard about a few months earlier, but had not tried out myself. That is, something called “mobile to print,” or a way to take your iPhone photos, import them into an app, upload them to a print provider, and have them print and mail custom postcards.
I discovered two iPhone apps for this purpose—SnapShot Postcard and Simply Postcards, by Simply Color Lab and NSN Solutions, respectively. These apps let you take any photo that’s on your iPhone, load it into a template, add a personalized message and a mailing address, and then upload it to be printed and mailed. It costs $1.99 per card (both apps charge the same per card and you buy credits via PayPal), and the process is pretty quick and easy. So I was able to stand outside the Brandenburg Gate, snap a photo with my iPhone, pop it into one of these apps, and send a customized postcard in seconds while standing on the streets of Berlin. (Well, in theory; there are three reasons to wait until getting back to one’s hotel before sending a postcard: data roaming overseas is infinitely more extortionate than hotel WiFi; I like to edit the photos in Photoshop first; and, most importantly, if you stand still on a Berlin sidewalk for more than a nanosecond the chances are excellent that you will get run over by a bicycle.)
Both apps are very quick and easy to use, and function generally the same way. Both let you modify or enhance the images in minor ways (lightening, darkening, etc.), and SnapShot Postcard lets you add a caption to the photo side of the card (like “Greetings from Berlin,” “Get Me Out Of Here!” “Ahhhhhh!!!!” or what have you). You an also add a message on the reverse side of the card. The font choices are about a limited as you would expect on an iPhone.
Since I had my laptop with me on this trip, I had taken a bunch of photos with a Canon Powershot camera (which produces decidedly better images than the iPhone), tweaked them in Photoshop, added my own captions to the front in the font of my choice, and then sync’d them to the iPhone for import into the postcard apps.
How did the actual printed cards come out? The Simply Postcards one arrived in less than three business days (yes, I felt a bit odd sending myself postcards), but had to go out of town again before the SnapShot Postcard one arrived (although I heard that some recipients had got theirs in a timely manner). As for image quality, it goes without saying that the iPhone is not a highly accurate, calibrated proofing device, and the streets of a European city do not provide the ideal proof-viewing condition. So the card I got was a little darker than I was expecting, but not egregiously so. There was some alignment problem, I guess, because there was a 1/16-inch strip of white along the left edge, and the bottom was a bit cut off from what the preview indicated. (I suppose it would be a little demanding to expect a free iPhone app to let me specify bleed margins.) But aside from that it’s pretty good.
All in all, I’m quite impressed with these mobile to print apps, and I like the idea of using my own photos to create postcards. If you’re traveling with a family or a significant other of some kind, you can easily put yourselves in the pictures. And with Photoshop, you can certainly have a bit of fun.
Neither NSN Solutions or Simply Color Lab are commercial printers per se. NSN is “a marketing and printing automation company,” says their Web site that makes “personal marketing and communicating easy by leveraging the magic of the internet, databases, digital presses, email, the US Post Office, and some real smart people.” Simply Color Lab is a digital photo lab that “strives to consistently deliver the best image quality available when it comes to all of our products. We have chosen the best mediums to print to (with archival guarantees) and have purchased industry leading print equipment to insure that your image will print as close to the original picture as technologically possible.”
The iPhone apps are free, and there are now iPad versions of both Simply Postcards and SnapShot Postcard. Other mobile to print applications let you upload your smartphone photos and create customized photobooks, a variation on what is already becoming a hot print product category.
All this was research for a forthcoming WhatTheyThink special report on mobile to print applications.