Challenge: Create an Automated Instagram Printer for Your Party

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The concept: party guests tag Instagram photos with a hashtag unique to the event, a Web-connected printer automatically prints them out, and voila!—photographic party favors are collected at the end of the night. The hosts, as well, get to keep a physical reminder of the night that was. How fun, I thought, to wake up in the morning after a house party to more than just scattered chairs and empty bottles!

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I wanted so badly to make this Instagram printer concept work for a recent house party, but it was much more easily said than done. The SocialMatic/Polaroid joint effort towards a printing camera that looks like the Instagram icon won’t actually launch until 2014, and the half-day rental cost for Instaprint’s party service begins at a completely unaffordable $5,000 (it would cost even more if I lived outside of Los Angeles). There has to be a better way.

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Short of writing my own Apple Automator script (this is something I wasn’t prepared to do—if you’re into that sort of thing, here are some rather complicated tutorials), I used every web-enabled tool at my disposal to create my own Instagram party printer.

I thought I’d begin with my printer itself. The printer is web-enabled, and even has its own email address, courtesy of HP. If the Instagram images could somehow be emailed directly this printer, the printer would simply print them as it received them. I settled on using IFTTT— an automation service, short for “If This, Then That” (spotlighted in the past as a great job hunting tool) — to force an email to the printer every time my party hashtag appeared on Instagram. I selected the IFTTT recipe and plugged in my Instagram and email credentials.

I tested the setup by tagging a new Instagram photo. When I heard the whir of the printer a moment later, I assumed my system was in working order. Not so. The printer automatically cropped the distinctively square Instagram image a bit on the left and right sides and made it fill an entire sheet of 4"x6" photo sheet. No amount of fiddling with printer settings would convince the printer to retain the square image on the 4x6 paper. I knew that I’d have to add some non-automated photo editing into the process in order to print a square on 4x6 paper.

Ultimately, I decided to try a different IFTTT recipe and eliminate the printer’s email address from the equation. I didn’t get a fully automated Instagram-to-printer process, but I came pretty close. I set up IFTTT to automatically send Instagram jpegs with my hashtag to my Dropbox account, which includes a folder on my laptop. My simple photo editor of choice, Picasa, is also installed on my laptop and scans every folder on my computer for new images. Each time a new Instagram arrived in Dropbox, Picasa would find it immediately. All I had to do was open the images in Picasa, select “Print” and then select the option “shrink to fit” instead of “crop to fit.” This is far easier, in my opinion, than creating a template in Photoshop, though that is another option that would’ve worked.

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Several times during my party, I went over to my laptop and printed out some Instagrams from Picasa. Guests took home their favorite images, and I have some keepsakes as well. Now I just have to study up on the many interesting projects one can make out of home-printed Instagrams. Here’s one for a photo book, and one for a pillow. And here are ten inspiring home Instagram displays.

I’m happy with my compromised printing solution, but I wonder if any Apartment Therapy readers have tricks up their sleeves that I haven’t thought of for creating fully automated Instagram prints. In the meantime, I await a forthcoming app or product that will solve this problem once and for all.

(Images: Rachel Rosmarin, Instaprint, Socialmatic)