My father asked me a couple years ago how to send out a letter from his computer directly to the mail.
I told him that was a service called email.
He gave me an annoyed look.
(My eighty-year-old dad is quite tech savvy for his generation.)
He politely replied that an email can get lost in the deluge people receive.
Plus they don’t carry the gravity of a physical piece of mail.
(He had a point.)
Dad is still quite focused on the golden days when telegrams ruled the world of instant communication!
The idea of creating and sending out a physical piece of mail through your computer may seem more quaint than critical, but it’s not an unreasonable request.
At the time, Apple’s Cards iOS app had just launched.
The service was designed to mail out customized cards with your photos via your iPhone/iPad as opposed to using a desk-bound computer.
Cards was a great idea and a nifty time saver, since you didn’t have to schlep to the post office. Apple did all the heavy lifting.
Suddenly ‘quaint’ became ‘cool.’
But it wasn’t quite right for my father, as he didn’t have an iPhone
So Cards was a near miss.
I think I then got consumed with my life as a new parent.
And I never did come up with an answer for my dad.
Fast-forward two years…
Cards… We Hardly Knew You!
Cards wasn’t that cool after all.
Amidst all the recent fanfare of the iPhone 5S and 5C launch,
Apple also killed off Cards.
Yes, On September 10, Apple quietly acknowledged its Cards service had been discontinued, pushing customers towards iPhoto instead.
…And also pushing people to get off their tushies to find a mailbox!
(iPhoto won’t mail out your cards for you.)
Three Choices Take Center Stage
Apple’s Cards obit got me thinking back to the unfinished project for my dad.
Today, there are plenty of ways to send out a greeting card online, even using photos you’ve uploaded.
The problem is the massive overload of design options and targeted ‘themes’ for your card.
You’ve got hundreds… sometimes thousands of choices.
My father is looking for something simple:
- No anniversary
- No graduation
- No congratulations
- No happy retirement
- There’s no event to celebrate!
He wants to avoid all the fanfare and just write and send out his own little notes.
So I began my research again…
And with the vacuum created by Card’s departure, the competition was happy to remind everyone they’re out there…
Sifting though them to find the ones that still stuck to the basics wasn’t easy…
But I found three choices I think my father will like….
So of course, I started with Shutterfly, because it’s such a well-known brand.
That said, I realized it’s become quite the sprawling mall of photo-related products.
Believe me, finding the right page to create and mail out a singular card wasn’t easy.
Shutterfly Photo Cards
Shutterfly doesn’t offer the option to mail out old-school post cards or individual single-sided photo cards.
(They only sell single-sided photo cards in bulk.)
Shutterfly Flat Stationary Cards
But wait… you’re suddenly in luck if you morph the aforementioned photo card into a ‘flat stationery card.’
Yes, Shutterfly will mail out individual flat stationery cards that you can customize with your photos:
(5 x 7, 5 x 5, 6 x 8, and 4 x 8…but not 4 x 5!)
- $2.47 for most of the sizes (They’ve got a sale running.)
- $2.44 for the 6 x 8 (They’ve got a bigger sale running.)
- Plus 99¢ to mail ($1.49 for international)
The only downside, and it’s a big one is all of these cards are tied to a theme.
So you may have trouble making your simple message fit if its not tied to some big ‘event.’
Are you getting a headache yet?
Shuddering with Shutterfly
I’ve got to tell you all my Shutterfly research was exhausting.
I could have driven back and forth to the post office five times by now.
Touchnote comes closer to hitting the sweet spot.
Most importantly, it’s so simple by comparison.
- You can quickly send out a postcard or greeting card
- They also offer a mobile app for Android and iOS, so you can do all your work with your smartphone (like Apple’s former Cards app)
- You can send your postcard anywhere in the world
And you can’t beat Touchnote’s pricing:
- You pay in ‘Credits.’
- It costs 1 credit to create and send a postcard
- 2 credits for a greeting card
- A credit costs $1.49
- But it’s cheaper if you buy in bulk…
- If you buy a pack of 5 credits, you get the 6th for free
- If you go crazy and get the 50-credit pack, they give you 25 more for free, which brings the price down to the low/low price of 99¢/credit
I picked up the 5-credit pack, which meant I would be sending out my postcards for $1.25.
I only encountered one problem:
When I first loaded up my vertically oriented image, I rotated it into portrait mode from the default landscape setting.
But unfortunately, I realized you can’t use the clever text and thought bubbles they offer in portrait mode.
Otherwise, it was a snap.
The postcard goes out the next working day, and they say it will arrive in 1 to 4 working days (within country).
These guys are the green alternative.
They also promote the quality of their paper stock. But you’re not killing trees when you use Paper Culture.
In fact, quite the opposite…
All of their products are printed on 100% post consumer recycled paper.
Plus, a part of every order placed goes towards planting a tree.
(They’ve got a goal of planting 1 million trees, and they’re almost a third of the way there!)
- $2.59 for a standard card (6 x 4.3)
- $3.19 for a larger card
After that, they just charge the cost of the stamp to mail your card for you.
So all in, that’s $3.05.
(though I got a 15% discount on a deal that’s ending soon)
For your 3 bucks, they also provide free designer assistance and offer you up to 2 proofs for free.
And they’ve got a line of personal stationery that allows you to send out a classy-looking note (with a photo if you like), just like my father asked about!
What’s not to like?
Well I did run into one disappointing detail in the fine print on the final order page:
“If you approve your proof today, we will ship your card(s) no earlier than 6 calendar days before and no later than the date you select below.”
The earliest date I was allowed to select was a whole week out.
So that means they can take their time being all green.
And delay up to a week putting my card in the mail.
I just had a flashback to the old Orson Welles commercial.
“We will sell no wine before its time…”
Of course I checked out the grandfather of all greeting cards.
Hallmark offers a similar online card service that pops your card in the mail…
Their pricing structure is more complicated:
- $1.29 for a 3.9 x 5.3 flat stationery photo card
- $1.99 for a 3.9 x 5.3 folded stationery premium paper card
- $3.49 for a 5 x 7 folded photo card
- $5.99 for 5.5 x 5.8 folded song card
Yes, the one with the little music chip and speaker
(And yes, you can choose a song from their relatively extensive though super clichéd song library)
Like Paper Culture, they’ll mail out your card for the price of a stamp.
But they only mail to the U.S. and its territories.
I went with their simple flat stationery photo card for $1.75 all in.
Again, I ran into one little snag…
I first uploaded a photo of my father and me enjoying a Vietnamese coffee at an outside café in New York City.
Then, Hallmark’s spell check program went into Red Alert mode.
Something about ‘Anytown’ not being spelled correctly.
(That was strange, as I had not typed in any text!)
But then I realized the spell check was referring to the back of the card, which I hadn’t gotten to yet!
It had populated a default ‘Anytown’ address.
The earliest mailing date Hallmark offered was two days off, which wasn’t bad compared to Paper Culture, but not as fast as Touchnote.
So how do these competitors stack up?
I’d call it a relative draw.
All three online card services did a solid job.
Yes, they all had their own minor hiccups, but only deserving a minor ding.
Other points to consider:
- Easiest to use, but the others aren’t far behind
- If you’re interested in helping Mother Nature
- You still can’t go wrong with a Hallmark card
Price (including stamp):
- Touchnote: $1.25 (postcard)
- Hallmark: $1.75 (flat stationery photo card)
- Paper Culture: $3.05 (note card)
(Note: These aren’t entirely apples-to-apples comparisons, but they’re close.)
Dad- you really can’t go wrong with any of these services.
Just stay away from Shutterfly for this particular use.
Happy letter writing…