Still buying greetings cards from the store? Stay at home and send personalized prints and gifts from your iPhone instead!

Say you’ve got some nice family photos you want to print, or a funny greetings card designed specifically for that special someone. How do you get from digital images on your iPhone to tangible objects you can gift to friends and family?

Turns out there are plenty of options in the App Store! It can be a little daunting to exchange money on your phone for real life goods, though, and tough to know which services to trust. In the build-up to Christmas, we’ve taken a look at the various options and highlighted some of our favorite apps.

We’ll examine the best ways to order cards, prints, canvases, phone cases, and more! And for those of you without spare cash to splash, we’ll also show you how to get hundreds of free prints for nothing more than the cost of postage. Make sure to read our guide on designing slick cards with your iPhone if you need inspiration on what to print – and then let’s get cracking!

Custom printed gifts

There are a lot of apps out there offering to print your images onto cards and post them directly to your nearest and dearest. Some of them will even print onto mugs and t-shirts! Let’s take a quick look at some of the main services to see how they stack up…

MoonPig is one of the big names in this business, but from what we’ve seen the American incarnation of the app is still finding its feet and may be best avoided at this stage. You have been warned! UK-based readers, though, will enjoy scrolling through the range of cheesy templates before deciding to print their own custom design instead. Cards start at £2.99 and to its credit, the app also offers classic gifts like flowers and chocolate.

Inkly has a killer feature – users can scan a handwritten message to be printed inside the card for a more authentic feel. Just write on a blank piece of paper and scan it in with the iPhone camera! Greetings cards cost $2.99, and the first is free, but that doesn’t include postage. Although all cards are printed from the UK, it will ship worldwide. Inkly also offers a range of flowers and gifts in case a card alone won’t cut it!

FunkyPigeon has a range of customizable templates, and has recently added a handwriting feature similar to that found in Inkly. The interface feels a little clunky though, and it’s not optimized well for larger iPhones. Greetings cards are charged in GBP from £1.79, though these guys will also ship around the world. We love the fact that you can pay extra to include a slab of chocolate with your card, and you can also print your pictures onto mugs and cushions!

Ink Cards will deliver anywhere in the world, and each card is just $1.99 – including postage! Bear in mind these are postcard-style cards, though – not the folding type. There are a range of templates and borders you can pair with your own photos, and custom typed messages can be added to the back. This is one of the slicker apps available; for postcard-style photo prints, this is our favorite choice!

Photobox [UK only] is all about prints. New customers can get 50 free photos with the offer code 50FREE6X4, but unlike the FreePrints app (see below!) this is a one-time only deal. What’s great about this app for Christmas gift shopping is that they also provide high quality canvas prints as well as custom mugs, shirts, and even iPhone cases. Who wouldn’t want their own face on the back of their phone? The prices are pretty reasonable too!

Free Prints

So all the above services will print custom greetings cards for you, and they’re good services – but if you want more than a few cards, the price quickly adds up. Which got us thinking: is there a way to make cool custom Christmas cards without spending more than a few bucks?

You’ll be pleased to know the answer is yes, thanks to a little app called FreePrints. At first glance, this service sounds too good to be true – free prints? Surely there’s a catch? We tested the UK version of the app and are happy to report it does exactly what it promises – though in fairness it’s not completely free. All you pay for is postage and packaging, which ranges between $1.99 – $9.99 (or £1.49 – £3.99) depending on your exact order.

There are, however, certain limits to the service’s generosity. The freebies are limited to a single print size (6×4 inches) and you can’t print duplicates of the same photo. There’s also a monthly limit of 85 prints if you’re using the US version of the app, or 45 prints for UK users.

FreePrints makes its money by hooking you into the idea of printed photos and then hoping you’ll buy their other, non-free prints. If you want more prints, larger prints, square format prints, or duplicates, it’s gonna cost ya. We think that’s a fair compromise, though, considering you can get hundreds of free prints every year through the service.

Open the app and after a short introduction, you’ll be prompted to choose your photos. The app can grab pictures from linked social media sites, cloud accounts such as Dropbox, or directly from your device’s camera roll. Once you’ve chosen the ones you want printed, hit Next and the app will prompt you to check each one. The free prints are sized at 6×4 inches, meaning anything outside of a standard 3:2 ratio will be cropped to fit. You can tap the Crop button on a print to adjust which parts will be trimmed when printed. If you’re using square shots from Instagram, the app will either charge you extra or print them in the middle of a rectangular print, with black borders on either side.

When you’re happy with the photos, tap Checkout, fill out the details, and pay the postal charge. The prints will turn up in the post a few days later! Some reviewers have noted that FreePrints shipping times aren’t the quickest (though we didn’t personally have an issue) so if you need these in time for Christmas, you’d better get a move on!

Compared with the other options, this is a very cost effective way to make customized cards for your friends and family. The prints are pretty versatile – you could sign the back like a postcard, glue it to a folded piece of card for added sturdiness, or frame the photo as a nice Christmas present in itself.