Create Customized Gifts With Your Digital Photos

Over the last month, I've shared some gift ideas to help you get some digital photography goodies for yourself or others on your holiday shopping list. I've recommended some cameras and flash accessories, for example, as well as photo editing software and photo-oriented iPhone apps. This week I'll finish off our look at holiday gifts with five ways to incorporate your photos into cool, interesting gifts for friends and family.

1. Photo Gifts at Shutterfly or Snapfish

You've probably seen custom-made calendars, T-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads emblazoned with personal photos. What you might not realize is that they're both easy to do and quite affordable. There are several photo printing sites that offer these kinds of services; if you're new to photo gifts, though, I suggest starting at my favorite sites: Shutterfly and Snapfish. These sites sell all the typical stuff--but you can also print photos on unexpected goodies such as blankets, neckties, kitchen cutting boards, canvas wall art, jigsaw puzzles, hardwood boxes, and playing cards.

2. Photo Clothing (and More) at Zazzle

If sites like Shutterfly and Snapfish suggest some of the limitless possibilities of custom photo gifts, you owe it to yourself to visit Zazzle. This site presents photo gifts on steroids: You can choose from a staggering number of pre-designed, ready-to-ship gifts, and you can customize any of them with your own photos. This site has all the usual stuff, plus a lot more. You can put a personalized photo on just about anything, including shoes, postcards, skateboards, key chains and buttons, kitchen magnets--and pet clothing. Zazzle can even make an acrylic sculpture from a photo.

3. Blurb Photo Books

Want to make your own book, or give someone a gift card so they can create a book? Blurb's on-demand printing service gives you professional, bookstore-quality books with your own photos and text. Unlike some of the book printing services (you can do something similar at Shutterfly and Snapfish, for example), Blurb specializes in bookmaking, and consequently has a broad range of options I haven't seen elsewhere. You can choose from seven different book sizes and formats, for example, from pocket-sized books all the way up to 12-inch square coffee table books. The quality is impressive. Check out Blurb's pricing page for more details.

4. Turn Your Online Photos into a Book

Here's another book idea: If you want to convert your photos into a book, but something like Blurb is too much trouble because you'd have to upload your photos, check out everything2print. This service takes photos you've already created and published online and converts them into a book with a minimum of fuss. You simply point the service to your blog, Facebook account, or Picasa photo album, and turn the uploaded photos into a printed book. Before printing, you can customize and edit your book as well. A 20-page soft-cover album costs $15, and a hardback costs $25. Additional pages are 25 cents each.

5. Print Photos as Postage

Looking for a truly unusual way to share your photos? Try on a postage stamp. PictureItPostage lets you upload a photo and convert it into a real, legal stamp that you can use to send letters anywhere in the US. This sort of service has been around for a while, and it's still one of my favorite photo gifts. There's no better way to make me smile, for example, than to give me a sheet of stamps that feature my kids or one of my cats. The postage comes in sets of 20 on easy-to-peel self-adhesive sheets. For a full price list for the various postcard, letter, and oversized package postage, check out the site's price list.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Bettina" by Joanne Popovich, Phoenix, Arizona

Joanne took this photo while vacationing in Austria, in the Alpine village of Mondsee, using a Canon EOS Digital Rebel XS.

This week's runner-up: "Little King of the Dahlias" by Marvin Mast, Tualatin, Oregon

Marvin says: "This summer, we found many Pacific Tree Frogs resting on our rose and dahlia blooms. I captured this one using a Canon 50D (on a tripod) with a 60mm macro lens."

To see all of this month's winners, visit the November Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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