Friday, August 29, 2008

The HP Photo Center: Free Your Photos, Free Your Mind

I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of those photo kiosks in stores that allow you to make your own prints. I prefer to smugly believe that, as an art director, I’m perfectly capable of printing out my own photos on my expensive laser printer at home and then arranging them artfully and tastefully in an album that would rival anything you could create in an automated machine located in a store next to the antacids and adult diapers.

The problem is, in the ten years plus that I’ve had a digital camera, I think I’ve actually printed out photos maybe three times. As for creating an album? That’s on my list of Impossible Dreams, right underneath ‘make out with George Clooney’ and ‘get smell out of catbox.’

So when Maria Bailey of and HP asked me to try out the new HP Photo Center available in Longs Drugs, I immediately agreed. Even though I was a little skeptical, I though it would be a great opportunity to finally print out some of those shots that have been imprisoned inside my iPhoto program for the past decade or so. Besides, my mom had been bugging me for some baby pictures of my girls for quite some time, and I'm getting tired of moving just to avoid her phone calls.

I headed down to my local Longs drugs, and was a little disappointed to find a little old lady already using the machine. How long would this take? Five hours? Three days? She was a tiny thing and I probably could have taken her down, but I politely waited my turn, and was pleasantly surprised when she finished up in about five minutes. It gave me hope – surely I could work that machine as well as an 80-year-old in a pastel tracksuit.

And I was right - the system couldn’t be easier to use. Touch the screen, and it takes you through the process step-by-step. (Even going so far as to show you a diagram of the memory card dock and circling the slot you insert your card in.) Once your photos had been downloaded from your memory card, the system asks what you’d like to make: you can do anything from printing 4x6 prints to photo albums to 24x36 posters. I decided to make a min-book of pictures that I shot of my daughters and their friends at the Anime Expo last month. They’re all wearing furry hats, and I thought it would make a handy thing to embarrass them with when I bring it out and show their boyfriends in a few years.

Once you’ve chosen your project, get creative and choose from a variety of design themes and holidays, pick out which photos you want to include via the touch screen, and the HP Photo Center does the rest. It even gives you a preview of what the finished piece will look like, and allows you to go back and make design changes, add or delete photos or change the layout of your piece. I think the whole thing, from start to finish, took me less than ten minutes – around 960 minutes less than it would have taken me to layout and print the thing on my computer at home. And the price was incredibly reasonable - $7.91 for each booklet, which contained 26 photos. But the best part? No one would have to hear me cursing when I realized my printer was out of ink.

(One note: If you’re lucky you’ll have a Jeremy to help you out. Jeremy is the photo counter technician at my local Longs Drugs. Not only did he take me through a complete tour of the HP Photo Center, he was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the system and was available the entire time for questions, even when he was being asked every five seconds for the location of the restroom or which cat food was on sale that day. Thanks Jeremy!)

My girls were thrilled with their mini photo albums, and I have to admit I’m a little hooked on this whole photo printing idea. I’ve already promised to make our friends some albums of photos that I took when we vacationed together this summer, and it looks like my mom might finally get those pictures of her granddaughter’s first birthday. After all, my daughter turned twelve this past April.

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