Make more money with automated photo calendars

The first time I ever saw a calendar tucked into a CD jewel case was when I visited Lakeside Camera. David Guidry gave me a sample with some of his own great black and white photos from Paris. It looked fantastic, I wanted to make some myself, and I never got around to doing anything with it. It just seemed too much like work.

That's the problem with most photo calendar projects. A skilled Photoshop artist who already has the templates for each month will still need 20 minutes to an hour to prepare all the files needed. Even so some of us have been doing it, because a photo calendar printed on true photo paper looks ten times better than the laser copies from your local business supply store. And these calendars help keep the paper running in your digital lab, adding to the profit picture.

Enter Jim Schwarzbach, king of the Photoshop Action. Jim not only perfected the templates for calendars, he created the actions that make the whole project automatic. Here's a typical scenario:

In Photoshop, open the twelve or thirteen photo files you want to use. Doesn't matter if they are vertical or horizontal, as long as they are right-side-up and opened in the sequence you want them to appear. In other words, open the photo file for January first, then February, and so on.

Why do I say "twelve or thirteen photo files?" Some dealers like to provide a January to January calendar. Some settle for the usual January-December version. Some offer both, with a small premium for the extra month.

Any cropping or color adjustment should be done at this time. It's important to keep the files open in the correct sequence (in month order, from bottom to top).

Then it's time to actuate a complex action. The action is complex but the execution is one-button simple.

In a few seconds to several minutes, without further operator input, you'll have 12 or 13 monthly pages as full-sized jpegs. You'll also have an index print or a cover, depending on which size calendar you're making. Computers with inadequate RAM will take longer, particularly with the larger-sized pages.

After the action has properly sized and placed the photo on the calendar page, it generates a border around the image. That's particularly important to keep pictures with light portions from blending right into the page.

You can make several sizes of calendar with one set of tools. For conventional calendars, the templates are suitable for 8x10, 10x13, 11x14 or 12x16.

The jewel case calendar pages print on 5" paper. We had to reset our Konica QD-21 to make prints 5" x 5 3/8". It is a minor pain in the neck to trim them to fit the case. The trim size is 4.625" wide, you need to trim 3/8 of an inch off the right hand side. If you do enough, you'll want to invest in a small stack cutter. Here's a thoughtful touch - the calendar pages are offset so you only have to trim on one side rather than two.

Calendar Jewel Cases are not exactly the same as CD cases, although they look like it. They're designed to stand upright and hold the pictures at the right angle. One good supplier is Calendar-Case.com

Calendars can be major money makers. Typically the cost of goods is about 10% of the selling price. This is a project that Jim started for his own store, Jim's Photo Lab in El Paso, Texas. For the past few years he's been striving to "feed the monster," as he phrases it - to come up with more ways to run profitable product through that expensive digital lab. When he realized the profit potential in calendars he decided to offer it to other dealers.

What's really interesting is that he attacked the marketing and product development with the same zeal with which he developed the actions. Buyers get not only the CD with the files and actions but also all this:

  • Complete video tutorials with sound
  • Written instructions, for those who don't watch videos on their computers in the lab
  • Sample CD cases for the jewel case calendars
  • Vendor information for everything you'll need
  • Customizable promotional pieces and price lists
  • And a guide to marketing single calendars and profitable bulk sales

Photo Lab Tools is the website. In addition to description of the product and the shopping cart to order, the website is packed with bonus features. There's a users' forum, guide to sources, and more gets added each week.

I watched the videos straight through and found them very helpful. There were some tips and shortcuts that were new to me, despite having worked with Photo Shop for many years.

Properly promoted, any lab can easily sell thousands of dollars worth of calendars.

When the package arrived via priority mail, I immediately dug into it. Naturally I had to play with the actions before reading the instructions, but even so it proved fairly easy to understand. With the written instructions, and particularly the videos, it became even more simple. My first calendar was ready to print in about 15 minutes.

Then I dug into the instructions and learned how to personalize the pages, insert my own copy and logos - or even how to temporarily install customer logos. Within a couple of days all my employees were up-to-speed, choosing their favorite photos to make sample calendars with it, and talking it up to customers.

Some stores do a lot of business with calendars, some don't. Display and talking it up seems to be the differentiator.

In the couple of years since its introduction, the calendar action package has continually been upgraded. Today the vendors are Jim Schwarzbach and Kris Delano, and the web address is http://www.photolabtools.com/Order.html

It's a small investment. Promote jewel case calendars properly and your return on investment will be off the chart.