There was once something special about the effort that went into making a holiday card featuring a snapshot of the family in front of a snowman or the kiddies dressed in their seasonal best.
Then big box retailers and specialty stores with a presence on the Internet -- from Target and Costco to Ritz Camera -- let everybody in on the tradition. They enabled us to shoot a holiday picture with our digital camera, upload it to the Web and start sending custom cards in a flash.
Now the folks at Photoworks.com are taking it to a new level, offering a new line of cards featuring those same snapshots.
The company's line of premium cards -- which means they cost $2 to$3 per card instead of mere pennies like other sites -- are taking those holiday photos and creating keepsake gifts that could last years on the refrigerator door.
Take, for example, the Poster Card, which sells for $3.95 each. It's a clever foldout that, at first look, seems to be a traditional 4.5 x 5.5-inch card. But then opens to 11 x 17 inch es, featuring 11 different snapshots of your choice. It also has space for blocks of customized snippets of text that will (hopefully) replace some of the snoozer "here's what happened in our lives this year" newsletters.
Sure, it will involve spending some time creating the card on the computer and it's definitely pricier than the generic "Season's Greeting" cards you'll find in a box set at the neighborhood drugstore.
But, it could also take the place of the more expensive store-bought card that you might normally send to Grandma and other special folks during the holiday season.
For someone like Lynn Lailas of Great Falls, the cost and effort are worth it. "I discovered PhotoWorks.com this fall, and now I'm a huge fan," said Lailas, a second-grade teacher and mother of two. "I can be creative and the products are high quality. Besides, the older I get, the more often I find myself choosing quality over quantity."
Her first project was party invitations for her daughter's birthday, featuring a snapshot of 10-year-old Alexandra during a vacation in Maui. The invitations were an instant hit.
"A bunch of women in my neighborhood called to tell me they loved the invitation and needed details so they could create their own PhotoWorks cards for the holidays," she said.
Capturing the mom market -- women who are creative and want to set themselves apart from the crowd but are too busy to whip out the paper and markers to make their own cards -- is exactly what executives at PhotoWorks are banking on.
"We have two goals," said Philippe Sanchez, chief executive and president of Photoworks.com. "When customers use our Web site we want them to leave saying, 'Wow, that was easy.' And when they receive their products we want them to open the box and say, 'Wow, these are gorgeous.' If we can do that, we'll have a booming business."
His strategy, he said, is not to position his company as a leader in the greeting card or printing business. Instead, he wants to be the leading site that uses digital photographs to tug at emotional heartstrings.
A strong offering of premium cards -- along with a variety of other photo-related products -- could help.
Beyond the Poster Card, Photoworks.com is also offering: the $4.95 "Round About," which features three photos on an individual circular card bound with a grommet; the $3.95 "Joy," a die-cut card that lets your photo peek through the letters; and the $3.95 "Reveal," a tri-fold card that unfolds to showcase a photo and enough room for a newsletter-like message.
And, of course, there are plenty of color choices for the cards.
It takes a few minutes to click around and figure out exactly all that the site has to offer and a few minutes more to determine that the system only likes photos that are a minimum 480 x 640 pixels -- a relatively easy requirement to meet with today's multi-megapixel digital cameras.
The Web site -- www.photoworks.com -- features plenty of sample images of the cards and instructions on how to create your own. And shipping is free through Dec. 14 on orders of $30 or more.