You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Turning Your Vacation Photos Into Works of Art

The New York Times logoThe New York Times 27/06/2017 STEPHANIE ROSENBLOOM
A photograph of the Perito Moreno glacier in the Austral Andes in Argentina that was printed on a peel and stick fabric poster. © Stephanie Rosenbloom/The New York Times A photograph of the Perito Moreno glacier in the Austral Andes in Argentina that was printed on a peel and stick fabric poster.

It’s the season for family travel and photos — and perhaps enlarging some of those images of snowy landscapes or tropical getaways to decorate your home.

There are, of course, the usual print services and methods. You can choose a glossy or matte finish, print a photo on canvas, or make it into a poster with a few clicks online at photo sites like Snapfish and Shutterfly, professional photo shops like Adorama and Mpix, or drugstores and big-box chains like Walgreens and Costco. But the web is also home to many lesser-known printing services, as well as uncommon surfaces on which to enlarge photos for display, be it burlap, wood boards, acrylic or stick-and-peel fabric. Why not try some fresh sites and methods?

Sign Up For the Morning Briefing: Asia and Australia Newsletter

I recently sent some ho-hum quality iPhone vacation photos to a handful of companies that I’d never used before and had them enlarged to various sizes and printed on different surfaces. I’ve also offered some guidance about bulk digitizing those boxes of old travel photos sitting in your closet or basement so that you can begin the New Year if not with a vacation, then with a clutter-free home.

Engineer Prints

Of all the ways to turn photos into wall art, I was most interested in trying engineer prints, named for the large, lightweight prints used by architects. For less than the cost of a couple of movie tickets, you can make huge enlargements. Mind you, it’s a particular aesthetic, one that’s most likely to appeal to people who are after an industrial, shabby chic or bohemian look. The paper is thin and the lines of the images are softer than a fine art print. And engineer prints need not be formally framed. People stick them to their walls with washi tape, a crafting tape that comes in innumerable colors and prints; or they hang the prints using wood poster rails or skeleton clips. For a while, engineer prints from photos were primarily available in black and white, but now you can find them in color, too.

One of the easiest ways to order them online is through Parabo Press, which is run by Photojojo, an online photography gear shop, and Zoomin, a photo printing service in Asia. As with all printing sites, you upload your image, zoom in closer if you like, and then click to buy.

The site’s engineer prints are 4 feet by 3 feet, and cost $20 in black and white, and $25 in color. I sent out two different photos to be made in black and white, and they came out, to my surprise, beautifully. I was impressed that they were able to be enlarged to such a degree and not look blurry. And the paper (while so thin I was worried about accidentally tearing it) lends it an artful, careless look rather than the expected framed print over the couch.

Parabo Press is a breeze to use: It’s clean and easy to read, your options are straightforward, and there are no annoying upsells. The site also offers prints on metal, glass, newsprint and Zines (handmade magazines); calendars; photo books; and prints from its Risograph machine, which uses soy-based ink and is described by Parabo as having “a cult following since its invention in 1980s Japan.”

The Tokyo Tower in Japan, printed on a wood board. © Stephanie Rosenbloom/The New York Times The Tokyo Tower in Japan, printed on a wood board. Fabric Prints

A fabric print — not soft like a bedsheet, more like a place mat made of matte woven fabric — is another departure from a traditional photo enlargement. Order one from a site such as SnapBox and instead of framing it, you can peel and stick it on your wall. The site’s fabric posters adhere to (and can be peeled off) smooth surfaces such as untextured walls, glass, ceilings, tile and finished wood surfaces (avoid surfaces like stucco, concrete blocks, brick, unfinished wood, canvas or freshly painted walls). SnapBox offers fabric posters in more than a dozen sizes from 4x4 to 36x54, from less than $2 to about $80.

I ordered a 24x36 fabric poster for $34.99, a discounted price thanks to a holiday coupon — not cheap (you can buy fine art prints on other sites for less), but you’re printing on special material. Regardless of the cost, I expected the finished product to look like the sort of cheap thing one might see in a dorm room (it sticks to walls, after all), but I was pleasantly surprised. The fabric was durable and the details in the photo — crevasses in a glacier; onlookers on a bridge — were nicely defined.

SnapBox is a user-friendly site with clear instructions and pricing. In addition to fabric posters, it also offers fine art prints, photo books and prints on canvas and pillows.

Wood Prints

While many places can print photos on hard surfaces such as metal and acrylic, printing on wood boards is less common. The grain shows through your photos, which, thematically speaking, seems to make sense for certain subjects, like nature photos taken at, say, the beach or in a park. But what would something more modern, like a skyscraper or a tower, look like on wood? I decided to give it a try and put an image of Tokyo Tower on an 8x12 board ($65). I sent the photo to PhotoBarn, a family business that makes its products by hand in a “barn/warehouse” in Tennessee. The result was a lovely departure from framed prints and from canvas, which can sometimes make striking photos look like amateur paintings. The wood was smooth and thick, and the image was crisp with a slight sheen — a perfect complement to the steel of Tokyo tower and the silver and glass of surrounding skyscrapers.

For the most part the site is intuitive, though a few too many holiday sale buttons on the home page made for a disorienting start. PhotoBarn will also print your photos on canvas, burlap, and other wood products, like ornaments. I noticed a number of complaints about PhotoBarn on Yelp and the Better Business Bureau website regarding shipping speeds and customer service. I didn’t have a problem, but if time is of the essence, you may want to check with the company before placing an order.

Scanning Services

Once you’ve turned the best of your travel photos into art, it’s time to store the rest. If boxes of prints are taking up closet (and psychic) space, there are plenty of sites online that will scan your old photos (as well as negatives, slides and videos) so you can store them digitally. But there are several things to keep in mind.

In general, these sites are a pain to navigate. They’re cluttered with too much text and fine print, and they offer so many options — Do you want your photos scanned in order? Do you want both sides of the photo scanned? — that if you don’t have a goal in mind before you go in, you can quickly be overwhelmed. Decide ahead of time what exactly you want to scan, how many photos you have and how you might use whatever you scan. Also, note that some of these companies by default send DVDs or CDs of your digital files. Not everyone has a CD or DVD player. If you want a thumb drive instead, be sure to select that option (if it’s offered) or call the company and see if it will provide one. Be aware, too, that it’s not unusual for these companies to have long lead times. A number of them digitize your photos in other countries, so it can take weeks to get your images back.

For affordable bulk scans, ScanMyPhotos.com is an old standby (you can read David Pogue’s review on nytimes.com). The company will scan about 1,800 photos at 300 dpi for $145 at its headquarters in Irvine, Calif.; the cost of sending the photo box to you, as well as the shipping of the box to ScanMyPhotos and back to you again is included in the price. That’s one of the least costly and most uncomplicated deals around. Other companies charge for shipping photo boxes. I asked a photo editor at The Times if 300 dpi is sufficient for scanning and she said that to print photos at larger sizes, a higher dpi is preferable. ScanMyPhotos has such an option: a prepaid box for $259 for the same number of scans at 600 dpi instead of 300 dpi. A thumb drive is an additional $15.95 a box.

To find the best all-around place to scan photos and film, the Wirecutter, a consumer review site owned by The New York Times, researched 37 different scanning services and tested the top 12 contenders. Memories Renewed took the number one spot. The company, based in Minneapolis, Minn., offered “the best combination of price, quality, and turnaround time of any service we tested,” Wirecutter said. I was planning to try the service however, according to the Memories Renewed site, demand is so high at the moment that the lead time for most projects is more than two months. Scanning photos of any size up to 8.5x11 is 60 cents a photo; a thumb drive is $10 for 8 GB or $15 for 16 GB.

Scan It Yourself (at No Cost)

Let’s say you don’t want to ship your irreplaceable photos in the mail. Or maybe you’d rather that strangers not see your photos and home videos. You could buy a scanner and scan your photos yourself, perhaps doing a batch for half an hour each day. Personally, I don’t want machines around my home collecting dust (and fast becoming outdated). So I decided to try the new PhotoScan app by Google Photos. It’s free and enables users to scan prints with a smartphone.

First things first: These are not professional-quality scans. If you have prized photos in need of restoration, then go with a professional. However if, like me, you have a bunch of travel photos — landscapes, food, monuments — that you’re keeping simply because you want to remember where you were when, you may want to consider trying the app instead of giving up some privacy and spending upward of $150.

By and large, PhotoScan is simple and quick, with almost no learning curve. If you try it, just make sure to hold your phone level when asked to move it over the image. Remember these words: Don’t tilt your phone! Most of the scans I made looked as good as the prints in terms of color and clarity. That said, this is unlikely to be your solution if you want top-notch prints or have thousands of photos to scan.

Once you get the hang of PhotoScan, using it becomes a repetitive, vaguely Zen-like activity. That is, unless the app crashes, which it did several times. But I was still glad for it. Even when it crashed, it took only the tap of a finger to begin again. And you can’t beat the price.

More from The New York Times

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon