Saturday, January 17, 2009

My Experience with MyCanvas

Back in November, I wrote that I had discovered MyCanvas through Ancestry and was very excited about making family calendars for Christmas presents with this creative application. I thought I would share my experience as a customer and also the responses of family members who were recipients of these gifts.

First of all, I ended up making five different calendars with two themes. The first theme was called "Postcards from the Past" and featured some postcards from the collection of my husband's paternal great-grandparents, George Rice WESTABY, III and Rena (LERFALD) WESTABY. You can see images from this calendar from an earlier post I wrote here. I made three sets from this calendar by simply copying my original, which had the birthdays and anniversaries of all of George and Rena's living descendants printed on their respective calendar days. From this original, I tweaked one calendar by removing some of the birthdays and anniversaries to show only the information of my parents-in-law and their descendants. My husband's parents, siblings, his dad's siblings, and some of his adult nieces and a nephew received these calendars. I also made one for my household, but then added birthdays and anniversaries of my family members.

Click to enlarge

For my own extended family, I made a seasonal theme calendar (the default theme that comes with MyCanvas calendars). I called this one "A Celebration of Memories" and it featured modern photographs of family members' birthdays, anniversaries, and reunions, along with quotes about family. This calendar also had two sets: one for my parents, which had birthdays and anniversaries of both my parents' extended family members; and one for the rest of the family that focused on the special days of my parents and their descendants.

One of the best features of this application which I really appreciated was the ability to duplicate the calendar theme with all the backgrounds, embellishments, and uploaded photographs and images--like the postcards--yet have the calendar information be unique to each household or a group of households, if desired.

Using MyCanvas is free, and you don't have to have a subscription to Ancestry to use it. Simply visit http://www.ancestry.com and chose Print & Share, or go directly to http://mycanvas.ancestry.com. You can decide to use your own printer for your projects, but I figured the paper quality would be better through MyCanvas' printing process, and the cost of ink for my printer would be phenomenal; so I willingly paid the order price for printing. Normally $19.95 per calendar, I was able to use an online coupon that was visibly advertised on the site at the time to receive a 20% discount. Since I finished my projects so close to Christmas, the reduced price helped offset the extra money I spent in expedited shipping. I shipped two calendars to my parents-in-law; one for them and one for my sister-in-law's family. The rest I had shipped to my home to either give in person or to ship with other gifts I was sending to family members located across the country.

All the gifts arrived on time at their original destinations, which is saying a lot, considering the record amount of snowfall we received in Washington State and in Spokane in particular the week the gifts arrived. I believe MyCanvas' use of UPS as the shipping agent was key, as other items I had ordered through other companies which were shipped via FedEx arrived much too late to be given on time for Christmas. Remember, weather played a huge factor in shipping to this area.

Responses
The responses I received from family members were everything I hoped for, and more! From my husband's family, we heard many thanks and exclamations at how beautiful the calendars were. They loved the idea of seeing their family history displayed in an attractive and useful way; after all, everyone needs a calendar, and this was a way to ensure that a little bit of Westaby and Lerfald history was noticed each month. My own family members enjoyed the modern photo calendar as well, and I've already planned to do a historical one for them next year.

Problems
There were only two issues I had with the calendars. One was that one of the calendars made for my extended family had a slight torn corner on the cover of about 1 centimeter wide. This was not shipping damage; the torn corner appeared under the shrink-wrap, and I imagine that the damage was done during the shrink-wrapping process.

The other issue was that one notification e-mail was not sent to me. MyCanvas was very good about sending e-mails both when an order was completed and when the order was shipped. They arrived in several shipments of one to six calendars each, depending upon the number in each set I had created. The calendar I had created especially for my household did not arrive with any of the others, and I did not receive an e-mail regarding its shipping (I double-checked my Spam and Trash folders of my e-mail account, just to be sure) . Since it was not a Christmas gift for other family members, I was not overly anxious, but I did call Customer Service to see if they could track it for me. They did, apologized for the lack of e-mail, and assured me it was on its way. UPS delivered it on Christmas Eve. The Customer Service personnel I talked with were warm, eager to please, and efficient.

What I'd Like to See
I so enjoyed my experience with MyCanvas and am anxious to use them again, not just for calendars, but for photo, recipe, and family history books. Some suggestions I have for the company is that they increase the number and variety of embellishments to include more military, immigration, vintage, seasonal, year-round holiday and seasonal items. I'd also like to see them expand to print stationery items, such as notecards, envelopes and bookmarks. While I can use other online printing companies to create a set of matching notecards and envelopes with my ancestors' photos or documents, I'd like to be able to keep all my creativity in one place, and use embellishments and backgrounds to enhance them.

Grade
My experience with MyCanvas was deserving of an A- grade. The slightly torn corner was my only real issue, but I as I've reiterated before, I will use MyCanvas again (and again!) to continue to create gifts and preserve our family's heritage in a meaningful, aesthetic way.

If you'd like to know more about using MyCanvas, you can read selected posts at the Ancestry.com blog here. Also, this coming Wednesday, January 21st, at 8:00 PM Eastern Standard Time, Ancestry will host a live free webinar (online seminar) on "Using MyCanvas to Print and Share Your Family Stories." You can register for it here. If you're unable to attend the webinar live, you should be able to access it in the archived webinars at a later date; however, you will not have the advantage of live assistance and immediate responses to your questions. You do not need to have a subscription to Ancestry to either particpate in live webinars or access their archived ones.
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