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What can you do with your photos? Print them on just about anything

Thanks to digital technology, you can customize almost any surface with photographs. A variety of Web sites offers help printing the photos.
Thanks to digital technology, you can customize almost any surface with photographs. A variety of Web sites offers help printing the photos. MCT

I've always wanted a grand piano. Not because I play but because I adore those decorating-magazine tableaus of beautifully framed photos sitting atop a piano.

That would certainly solve a problem for me: I don't have a lot of space to display pictures around the house. So how can I show off my favorite photos other than posting them on Facebook?

Apparently I'm not the only one looking for something fun and different to do with my digital photos.

"We're seeing a big increase in people wanting to know how to take better pictures and what to do with their pictures," says professional photographer Shari Hartbauer of Digital Labrador.

She recently taught a workshop on how to use digital photos to customize gifts, including snow globes, notepads, playing cards and board games. You can have a photo reproduced on virtually anything. (Photo-customized cupcake wrappers? They make them.) Or personalize blankets, serving trays, mouse pads, paperweights, candles, wall clocks, lamps and dog beds.

Inspiration for photo gifts is hard to miss, with online resources including Snapfish.com, Walmart.com and Kodakgallery.com. One home décor item that caught my eye at Mpix.com: gallery wraps, or photos printed on canvas and wrapped around wooden stretcher frames. Prices range from $55 for the smallest, 8 inches by 10 inches, to $170 for the largest, 24 by 36.

One of Hartbauer's favorite resources is Photojojo.com, which has a free newsletter with do-it-yourself photo projects.

At Walgreens.com, get photo customization on more than 100 items, the most popular of which is a computer mouse pad.

"If you go to the Web site, you can shop by product and you'll see ... pillow cases, collages, fleece blankets, a clock, a keepsake box, pillow shams, place mats, throw blankets, posters. There is a lot of stuff for the home," says Mona Furlott Kelly of Chicago, general merchandise manager for photo and front-end services for Walgreens.

When Kelly started working in the photo business in the early '70s, making a print was the most exciting thing anyone could do with a photograph. Now?

"It's the digital age," says Kelly, who put a photo of her cavalier King Charles spaniel on a set of coasters for her mother.

"The ability to transfer an image from a jpeg to an apron ... it's really doing more with your photos."

It's not expensive, she says: Walgreens can customize an apron with a photo for $14.99, and those coasters were $24.99. But the memories such items preserve, she says, are priceless. When her nephew died at age 22, "I got my sister a blanket with his picture on it," she says. "How can you beat something like that? You can't just show a picture of my nephew on a media card. And that's what I'm afraid of, that people are going to leave their images on a media card or cell phone."

Hartbauer led her students to Light Affection (Lightaffection.com). The company makes custom night lights and lamps by carving images from photographs onto translucent material and illuminating them from behind. Prices start at $44.95. "These are amazing and so beautiful," she says.

She also was excited to discover Mykea, which develops artistic "skins" that adhere to plain Ikea furniture and make it more personal. You can upload your own photo or choose from artists' creations.

"We love the well-designed furniture. But we don't like the fact that we see the same Ikea interior everywhere around us," Thisismykea.com says.

The removable decals fit a handful of Ikea pieces, including the Billy bookcase, the Pax wardrobe and the Expedit coffee table. Prices range from $30 to $100.

At Designyourwall.com, for example, you can upload your own image for custom sheets of wallpaper on a variety of materials, including polyester and grass cloth. Prices range from $6.50 a foot for paper to $9.25 for Mylar or foil.

Go to Personalthrows.com to turn a photo into a wall mural made of hand-painted canvas panels that can resemble an actual photo or an oil painting.

They come in four sizes, starting at $400 for a 32-inch-by-48-inch mural up to $1,300 for a 96-by-96 mural.