Creative Printing for . . . Remembering the School Year

Creative Printing for . . . Remembering the School Year


Spring brings more than warm weather, baseball games and blooming flowers. It also marks the end of another school year. As your customers prepare to put academic activities behind them, encourage them to remember the best moments of the school year by creating and sharing personalized photo products.

Introduce them to unique gifts for their favorite teachers, coaches and graduates, or help them design one-of-a-kind class yearbooks, photo albums and scrapbooks to share with classmates and team members. Every year brings faster, simpler online order technology, as well as higher quality products. Together, these features promise greater potential sales.

      Smart Photo Gifts provides creative photo gift ideas and services to photo retailers, pro photographers and wholesale customers around the U.S. The company’s specialty is creating gifts that best fit the image.

One example is its unique photo license plates. “One of our sports photographers asked us to design this,” says Cindy Levinson, president of “His company provides photo services for sports leagues throughout the state of Florida. Each season, we change the background logo on the plate to match the sport—softball, football or basketball—but they can be designed for any subject you want.” Made from either metal or plastic, the photo license plates can showcase a student’s favorite activity, from cheerleading to a young artist’s first masterpiece.

Photo cutout sculptures are another popular product, offering a creative alternative to conventional photo frames. They make up four gift categories: tabletop photo cutout sculptures; cutout holiday ornaments; cutout key chains; and cutout lapel pins.

“When we design our photo sculptures, each image is reviewed by one of our talented artists to give you the best possible cutout,” says Levinson. “The edges are so precisely cut that a sculpture of an animal, for example, could pass as a toy for a child to play with. The quality is amazing.

“Photo cutout key chains are one of my favorite gift products because they’re economical and they make great conversation pieces,” she adds. “We have customers who will order one key chain the first year and order four more the next, because once the parents receive their order, grandparents, aunts and uncles all want one just like it. It’s a very predictable pattern.”

Levinson suggested that a classic rectangular key chain, printed with a student’s class photo, would make a great teacher’s gift. All photo sculptures and key chains are sealed with a 1/8-inch clear Lucite covering and a 1/8-inch layer of white Lucite backing.

Creative problem solving is a large part of the business. “We’re very open to creative ideas from our customers,” says Levinson. “A lot of times our customers call to say they have a bunch of photos and don’t know what to do with them. We’ll work with them and say, ‘This product is best for this photo and another product is best for that photo.’ Or, we can create a whole new product for them. It’s a lot of fun and it’s helped create a pretty strong customer base, as well as a very strong wholesale base.”

Exposures is known to professional labs and photographers for its archival storage products, but its website,, also offers an extensive line of quality photo gifts. Selections range from tintype photo ornaments to custom pop art pillows, and their most popular items are versatile enough for graduation gifts, teacher thank-yous or gift swaps with a BFF.

Among the more practical products is a customized photo sticky note cube that’s printed on three sides with an image (or images) of choice. For about $25, customers can create a three-sided montage of class photos, sports shots or graduation pictures—perfect for a teacher’s desk, home office or dorm room. Exposures also offers frames in practically every size, including a beveled “school days” frame for displaying school portraits from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The frame comes with UV protective glass and two mats, so your customer has the option of matting the large graduation portrait in the center of the frame or on the left.

A less formal but very creative option is the Bali personalized frame that holds one 4×6-inch print. Available in two colors, horizontal or vertical format, Bali frames are decorated in a scrapbook-like style, with up to six lines of mixed type chosen by the customer. For example, if one line is dedicated to the recipient’s name, the other five lines can include a date or school year, plus short phrases to describe the person’s personality or interests.

Artsy Couture is a relatively new company that started with only one product—high-quality print wraps for professional photographers. Four years later, has grown into a full-service boutique photo lab, specializing in chic presentation products such as canvas cover photo books, custom presentation boxes and premium press cards, all reflecting the founders’ feminine and artistic roots.

Among their newest products is a tabletop version of their original canvas wraps, the “gallery stand.” These mini canvas prints are mounted on a wood base, with perfect 90º corners and a 1/2-inch wrap. Printed on metallic photographic paper and laminated for UV protection, each comes finished with an easel back for horizontal or vertical display. Currently, they are available individually in a 5×7-inch finished size (8×10 to come) or in sets of three ranging from 4×4 to 5×7 inches. They’re elegant and reasonably priced (starting at less than $50), making them a perfect gift individually or as a set.

The product that caught my attention was Artsy Couture’s custom USB drives. Available in natural wood or durable plastic, these flash drives are about the size of a standard business card, with a flip-out connector on the print side of the card. They come in 8GB and 16GB capacities—plenty of space to store memories of the school year. Developed as a companion product to Artsy Couture’s custom presentation box, the drive makes a perfect canvas for class or team photos, individual school portraits or student artwork.

     Custom Yearbooks

Digital printing technology has created vast new markets in personal publishing. It was only a matter of time before the revolution hit schools.

In addition to its classic school-related photo products, Shutterfly offers an extensive line of colorful school memory books and yearbooks.

Employing exclusive design features like custom paths, smart autofill and storyboard, customers can create professional-looking yearbooks from one of dozens of templates available for pre-K through college-level students, as well as a variety of sports themes. The books range in size from 8×8 to 12×12 inches and accommodate from 20 to 110 pages—making them perfect for small schools, home-schooled students or anyone who wants to create a personalized yearbook focusing on specific classrooms, students or activities.

Anyone can order a custom yearbook at Shutterfly’s standard photo book prices, but large school groups have the advantage of quantity incentives. Prices go down for 10 or more books, and they don’t have to be identical on the inside. As long as all of the books have the same cover and the same number of pages, groups can personalize individual books with the student’s name, photos and other content. To qualify for discounts, the book coordinator simply requests a quote up front, prepays the order and the price remains valid for two years. For retailers who promote Shutterfly products and yearbooks through its affiliate program, this could be a very lucrative opportunity.

Compiling photos and information for even a small yearbook can be daunting. Shutterfly helps facilitate the project with an exclusive community program called Share Sites. Hosted on, it is a social network for groups that want to share images and information in a community forum. Anyone can create a Share Site using customizable templates designed for the type of group it’s serving. Individual sites can be open to the public or restricted.

Among the benefits of creating a Share Site is that any member can post material. The group can keep calendars, post team rosters or host forums. All of this information, along with photos and comments shared by members, can be used to create a Shutterfly yearbook or photo book. Members can share their creations with others to view and order copies—a feature that leads to more potential sales.

“Share Sites are a great way for people to stay connected with friends, family, groups and teams by sharing pictures, videos, messages and more,” says Erik Weitzman, vice president of Products & Services Strategy at Shutterfly. “More than six million sites have been created since its inception in 2008, and the feature has experienced consistent and steady growth—especially with mobile users after launching the iPhone app in 2012. Given its ease of use and connectivity, we anticipate Share Sites will continue to be a successful part of the Shutterfly business in years to come.”