Back in May, merritt k pointed out how much it sucks to buy a physical copy of a video game in this day and age. She’s absolutely right, too. Which got me thinking: What do I like to buy physical copies of? And why?
The answer, as any of my kpop-enjoying colleagues know, is kpop albums. A kpop album comes with a range of treats: photobooks, stickers, posters, and of course, the photo card.
What is a photo card? It’s basically a wallet-sized photo of an idol— slightly bigger. You can do whatever you want with it. No, they aren’t trading cards. No, they do not contain information. They are simply precious, for reasons I cannot begin to explain. You only know why once you open an album and look to see which member of your group you receive for the very first time. It’s something between a gacha pull and a Kinder egg surprise.
Video games should do this, too. I should be able to purchase a copy of Mario Kart and open the box to discover a small photo of Wario or Princess Peach. Final Fantasy VII should capitalize on its hot, long-beloved characters by giving me the chance to pull a business card sized photo of Cloud like he took a selfie behind the scenes.
Unfortunately, unless you’re buying the super ultra-special edition only available in certain countries, video games do not do this. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it for yourself!
I have investigated this process and will walk you through four different ways of making your own photo cards. Because Shadow the Hedgehog deserves your love just as much as Twice Momo.
Professional Photo Printing
Pros: High quality + low cost = most bang for your buck, lots of options, no special equipment needed.
Cons: Longest wait time, need to go somewhere or wait for something to ship, requires a little bit of effort (cutting), issues with sizing.
CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, Target, Costco, you name it. If it’s a major drug store or big box store, they probably have a photo printing service you can use online. (Or in person! Some of them have these in-store!)
If you want to make a bunch of identical photo cards (say, for you and all your friends who also love Master Chief), you can use the wallet print option. If you don’t want duplicates, you can use photo editing software to lay out your photo cards on a 6×4 canvas. You can then choose a variety of options for finish. The result is at a professional quality, but you need to wait to either pick them up locally or receive them in the mail.
You Will Need: Photo editing software, scissors or paper trimmer, patience.
Optional: Corner punch, card sleeves.
If I had done my research, I would have learned that I could pick up matte prints from Walmart in an hour. However, I did not do my research (or rather this was the research) and ordered matte prints from CVS, which took nine (9) days to arrive in the mail. Target offers metallic and lustre finishes, which also take a while to arrive, but are snazzier and closer to real kpop photo card finishes than the standard matte or glossy. If I had done even more research, I would have remembered that photo cards are 3.5″ tall, while wallet sized photo prints are only 3″.
You have a couple of options for setting up your files. One is to not think about it and just do four per 6×4 print. Your cards will just be smaller. At Walmart, this will only set you back $0.12 per print (that’s just $0.03 a card!). Target’s snazzier finish options are more expensive, with lustre at $0.49 per print and metallic at $0.69. This is the least expensive option on the list at the highest quality.
If you want them to be a more correct size, you can set up a file with three photo cards on a 6×4 canvas, leaving a 0.5″ space at the bottom. It’s more complicated, but you’re spending pennies for good quality prints.
My CVS prints arrived in the mail; I then trimmed them and punched out the corners. It’s that easy. The final product is pretty nice, too! It’s much lighter than a real photo card, and it’s a little bit of a hassle to get the sizing right, but other than that I have no complaints.
Mini Photo Printer
Pros: No cutting, instant gratification, good quality, already the correct size.
Cons: Expensive, software can be fussy.
My mini photo printer with two packs of printer cartridges ran me $129.99. It’s the Kodak one. I will not tell you where I got it because this isn’t sponsored content. You will have to use your imagination (or look at the screenshot above). Able to print out a total of 68 2×3 sized photos, that comes to about $1.91 per photo card, which is by far the most expensive option listed here.
Canon, HP, Polaroid, and Fujifilm also make similar printers at similar price points. Bluetooth pocket printers from brands I’ve never heard of run cheaper, but mostly seem to be black and white.
You Will Need: Mini photo printer, cartridge, smartphone.
Optional: Corner punch, card sleeves.
I wouldn’t recommend this option if you don’t think you would enjoy having a portable, bluetooth-enabled mini-printer as part of your regular life, but this is my personal favorite method. Charge the printer, load the cartridge, connect it to your phone, download the app (I prefer the older Kodak app to the new one they keep telling you to download), and print from your phone.
It’s cool and fun to watch. I’m able to upload screenshots from my Switch to my phone and then immediately turn them into photo cards from there. The only work I do on them is tearing off a little perforated edge and rounding the corners. They have a snazzier finish than the matte photos from CVS, which I think makes them feel the most “photo card-like” out of any of the other methods I tried.
Regular Printer + Self Seal Laminating Pouches
Pros: Minimal shopping, instant-ish gratification, looks okay, you can do it at home.
Cons: Highest effort, easiest to make mistakes, doesn’t look that great, actually costs more than professional printing.
For the “we have printer at home” crowd, here is your easiest option. Use a template in image editing software to make a layout of your photos for an 8.5”x 11” piece of printer paper, cut them out, and then laminate them with a self-seal envelope. You can also glue them to a notecard before laminating for extra stability. You can get packs of small lamination pouches made for photos or larger ones which you can then trim down. If you want to try to laminate multiple photos at a time, that is. Maximum? You’re paying about $.70 per pouch — plus the cost of ink and paper for your printer.
Editor’s Note: Your local library also probably has a printer you can use for these next methods.
You Will Need: Lamination envelopes, printer, ink or toner, paper, photo editing software, scissors or paper trimmer.
Optional: Corner punch, notecard, glue.
This was the first option I tried. I’d say it’s neither a good nor a bad method. The quality really isn’t great, but the lamination kinda covers that up a bit. Not to mention it’s still fun. You can fit nine photo cards on a single piece of regular printer paper.
Regular Printer + Photo Paper
Pros: Instant-ish gratification, you can do it at home.
Cons: Still high effort, still easy to make mistakes, quality depends on the quality of your printer, ink and paper can be costly.
Your other option if you want to use your own printer is buying photo paper. Maybe you already have a great printer for printing photos. Maybe this will look awesome! Maybe it won’t look awesome. It depends entirely on what you have.
You Will Need: A printer that can print well on photo paper (research this in advance!!), ink or toner, photo paper, photo editing software, scissors or paper trimmer.
Optional: Corner punch, card sleeves.
Someone in the world probably has a good printer for printing photos. I sure don’t, though, as it turns out. Printing on regular printer paper looked better than what my inkjet was able to do with photo paper. How long does the ink take to dry? Why does it look so horrendous? I could get pregnant, have a child, name my child Shadow the Hedgehog, and then watch Shadow grow up in less time than it would take for this sleep paralysis demon to dry.
Anyways, let’s pretend my printer did a good job. Fixing these up is the same process as fixing up prints from a professional photo printing service: trim them down and punch out the corners if you’re using a corner puncher. I will not be doing that, though, because I hate looking at mine so much. When I threw them in the garbage 12 hours after printing them, they still had not dried.
A Note on My Optional Supplies:
While different methods will require different supplies, a corner punch ($8-$10) to round off the corners of your print is handy for giving you the authentic photo card experience.
If you’re going to be cutting and don’t have confidence in your scissor skills, a small paper trimmer is another small investment ($7-$10) that can go a long way. These aren’t necessary, but I’m using them. (Note that my paper trimmer was a more expensive model because I already had one for zine-making. The one I use is absolutely overkill for a project like this and I used scissors sometimes instead.)
Card sleeves will protect your photo cards and offer a little bit more durability and heft, while also giving you a canvas to experiment with decoration. Regular card sleeves are going to be a bit roomy, but 61mm x 88mm sleeves will fit well. I got a holo-finish pack of 100 for $8. Sleeves sized for trading cards will cost less. In terms of appropriately sized stickers, search your favorite online retailer for “toploader stickers,” and get what you like. Individual sticker sheets tend to run in the $3-$5 range, but you can get a lot of the same ones in packs for a discount.
If you want the deco look but don’t want to deco yourself, plenty of people sell pre-decorated photocard sleeves. Search “deco toploader” and you’ll find a wide variety. However, I have found that carefully covering a picture of Master Chief in cute stickers to be extremely relaxing and fun.
Your best value for making your own photo cards is professional photo printing. For me, it took a little trial and error, but if I do it again, I’ll do a layout with proper sizing and a fancier finish. Printing three photo cards per 6×4 print from Target with a metallic finish would run me $0.13 a card, which is still less expensive than any other option here.
The best quality with the quickest turnaround is a mini-photo printer. The software is a little bit annoying, but there’s no cutting required, the quality is good, and it’s fun to use.
Do you make your own photo cards? What method do you like? Let me know if you try any of these and tell me how it goes!