Bonnie Cha

Three Apps for Sending Season’s Greetings From Your Smartphone

’Tis the season to be jolly, and all that. But between shopping for gifts, gathering supplies for holiday celebrations and prepping for travel, it can also be a season of stress. You might find yourself with little time to complete other things on your to-do list, like sending holiday cards. Fortunately, there’s an app for that — several, in fact.

This week, I took a look at Apple Cards, Ink Cards by Sincerely and Touchnote. All three mobile apps are free and allow you to create and send holiday photo cards right from your smartphone. Though services like Shutterfly and Snapfish let you work on holiday cards from your computer, the mobile apps can save time with direct delivery at affordable prices.

Ink Cards was my favorite. It has the largest and most diverse selection of card designs, including those for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s and holiday party invites.

It’s available for the iPhone, iPad and Android devices, and cards are printed as a 5″ x 7″ postcard. Each one costs $1.99 for delivery within the U.S., and $2.99 for international delivery. Ink Cards also offers a slight discount for bulk orders. You can purchase “credits” from the company’s Web site, starting at $9.90 for five Ink cards at $1.98 each, all the way up to $249 for 147 Ink cards at $1.69 each. All prices include postage.

The Ink Cards app is easy to navigate. I selected a card from the holiday collection and quickly uploaded a photo from my iPhone 4’s camera roll, which is the only way to add images to this app. Apple Cards, on the other hand, changes the camera viewfinder’s size and shape to match that of the card’s design, so you can line up subjects, take photos and use them directly in the app.

I like that Ink Cards gives you the option to change the font and graphic colors and add effects to your photos, such as black-and-white and sepia. In addition to adding a personal message on the back, many of the cards also allow you to change some text on the front of the postcard.

Address book integration could be better. In order to access your phone’s contact list from the Ink Cards app, you have to type a friend’s name, indicate that you know their address, and then tap on the address-book icon to pull up their information. With Apple Cards, you can simply enter a contact’s name and select their address, while Touchnote provides direct access to your phone book.

Still, Ink Cards is faster for direct delivery than Snapfish. The latter doesn’t offer a service for addressing and shipping photo cards, so they need to be shipped to your house for labeling and postage. Shutterfly can address and mail cards for you, but it costs an additional 99 cents per card for domestic mail, and $1.49 per card for international deliveries.

Ink Cards are estimated to arrive in three to seven days. I placed my order on a Thursday, and the card arrived on Monday. The picture came out sharp, and the card didn’t feel cheap or flimsy.

But the highest-quality cards came from Apple Cards. Each folded greeting card has a letterpress design printed on 4″ x 6″ cotton paper and sent in an envelope.

There are 39 holiday designs offered by Apple Cards. I chose one that had ornaments on the front, and imported two photos from my smartphone’s camera roll. As for wording, you can stick with Apple’s default message or create one of your own.

You can address envelopes for up to 12 recipients at a time. Meanwhile, Touchnote and Ink Cards allow you to send the same card to hundreds of contacts at once. Apple Cards does offer an option to send the same card again from the “Thank you for your order screen,” so you can add another 12 with a tap of a button, but this is an extra step that competitors don’t require.

I appreciated that Apple sent me a push notification on my phone when the card arrived at the local post office, and provided an expected delivery date. (In order to receive these alerts, you must allow push notifications when you first install the app.) Ink Cards and Touchnote only send email confirmations for receipt and shipment.

I received my card within two business days, and it was gorgeous. The letterpress graphics added a luxurious feel to the card. The matte paper doesn’t show a photo’s finer details as well as Ink Cards or Touchnote’s shiny card stock, but I was satisfied with how pictures turned out.

But you pay for this high quality. Apple Cards is the most expensive of the three apps. Each card costs $2.99 when sent within the U.S., $4.99 each outside the U.S., and there are no discounts for bulk orders. The biggest downside of the app is that it only works with the iPhone and iPad.

Last but not least, there’s Touchnote for iOS and Android devices. Holiday greeting cards are a new addition for the company, which has been around since 2008, so currently there are only 11 templates you can choose from, and the designs are limited — all rectangular, with some text and graphics above or below the image.

But they also offer the best prices of those I tested. Greeting cards cost $1.49 each, and include shipping to anywhere in the world; the company offers discounts when purchased in bulk. Packages start at $7.45 for six cards at $1.25 each, and run up to $74.50 for 75 cards at about 99 cents each.

You can change any of the text, and adding photos is easy. Touchnote even gives you the option of choosing pictures from your Facebook album. But the app did crash on me once as I was trying to select a design. Alternatively, you can create a card using the company’s Web site.

Touchnote prints cards Monday through Friday, and estimates that it takes one to four working days for a card to arrive within the U.S. I received mine in five days and had no complaints about quality.

If you’re tight on time (and it is getting close to the holidays), these three apps are a great way to create quality photo cards. Ink Cards had the best selection of designs, but since all these apps are free, you can download them all and check out the templates before deciding on one.

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