I have been meaning to decorate our living room forever, using photos of our pets and the ladders I picked up off the curb several months ago . In late May, Della Perrone, a local photographer and Milou's teacher at the Dog Training Club of Champaign-Urbana, came over and took some excellent photos of Milou and Sassy in our back yard.
(She was going to do more later in the summer, but then the weather went all drought on us and our grass went dormant.)
So Della sent me high-resolution images to print, and I went about researching what I really wanted for our walls.
I'd really been pining over huge prints of photos on canvases, and am even on a special-offer mailing list for Canvas People , which is always sending out promotions for a free 8-inch-by-10-inch photo canvas. That's smaller than I wanted, though, and you still have to pay for shipping. The big ones are expensive, too.
I'd seen tutorials like this  and this  on Pinterest for how to make your own photo canvases, so I decided to try it. One fact tutorials like these shares is that you can get great prices on oversize prints at your local Staples .
I did a quick online search on Staples.com to make sure this was indeed true of our local store, and found that it is. You can find the specific website for it here .
Before you get started, I'd recommend that you create a Staples Copy and Print account at www.staplescopycenter.com . I learned the hard way that this is different than a Staples.com account. Once you create an account, if you plan to use several photos frequently, go to "My Account" at the menu at the top, and then click "Files" on the left to save them to your account. You can upload from your computer and several other places, including Google Docs, DropBox  and PrintMe. 
I liked that I could see a list of files I'd already uploaded when adding more, to make sure I didn't duplicate. However, I didn't like that the prices for particular options weren't labeled. The total price changes while you're tweaking your order, but I had to break out the calculator to figure out what certain options would cost, per print.
I looked into printing as oversize color photos through Staples, but even the 18-inch-by-24 inch prints were $24 each, so I decided to stick with the more economical, black-and-white engineering prints. I also thought it would look good if they were all black and white, instead of having a few in color.
If you want several different sizes of prints, you'll need to create separate jobs. This would have been much less annoying if I'd known about it before starting.
I decided to order one huge 3-foot-by-4-foot print, two 2-foot-by-3-foot prints and two 18-inch-by-2-foot prints. The total cost of my order, with tax, was $18, although that must vary by location. Once I chose which store I'd pick up at, the prices went down, which was pretty sweet. Plus, you can pay in the store when you pick your order up, which I also appreciated. Give yourself 24 hours for your images to be printed, though, because if you want them sooner, there's a $5 rush fee.
(Side note: Staples actually finished my print job about six hours after I submitted it, so you may be able to start sooner than you think.) I loved that a friendly Staples employee trimmed the white edges off my enormous prints.
However, be aware that engineering prints are not actually photo-quality, so they may come out with some printer lines, especially on the sides. I had the woman helping me just trim most of this off. It only showed up on two photos, and I was amazed at the sharpness of the images. They may not be photo-quality but they still look pretty good.
Also, Staples fit my photos to make them proportional, so they're not the exact sizes I ordered. My largest photo actually ended up being quite a bit smaller than 3-foot-by-4-foot, so Staples charged me less for it.
I decided on all my photo sizes with the idea that I'd mount them with spray adhesive to rigid styrofoam insulation. I ordered print sizes that would fit on one 4-foot-by-8-foot sheet of insulation. But I stopped at The I.D.E.A Store  after work Friday night, and ended up buying some large sheets of styrofoam there for $1.50. I figured I could make them work, and I did.
I used my photos as guides for cutting the styrofoam with an Xacto knife, trying hard to make clean cuts so the sides didn't end up all pebbly. It didn't work, though, so I cut strips of newspaper and adhered them around the sides to make things seem more clean-cut.
This was probably the most labor-intensive part of the job, and I used spray adhesive (Rob insisted I get 3M Super 77 spray adhesive  - he worked in a fabrication shop for a short time and tends to be right about these things) to wrap the newspaper around the sides of the styrofoam like a present.
(Well into the project, though, I read on the spray adhesive bottle that you're not supposed to use it on styrofoam, which explains some bubbling and melting. If you try this, maybe just stick with Modge Podge.)
After I let the styrofoam rectangles dry for the 30 required minutes, I painted the sides and tops of the newspaper with gray acrylic paint I bought at The I.D.E.A. Store for 50 cents per pound.
After that dried, I put spray adhesive on the backs of the photos, and used a plastic pastry scraper to gently smooth the bubbles out. Don't go too fast, or they'll turn into wrinkles that won't look good on your photo. I started with the smallest photos to get the hang of it and went from there. This was the easiest part of the whole project. If I had it to do over, I probably would have cut the styrofoam about an inch smaller and wrapped the image around the sides, rather than all that time-consuming business with the newspapers.
However, this project only took me one morning of work to finish five faux canvases. I have to say, the photos are really striking and look great in black and white, even the ones that were originally color. They're so clear that Milou spent a good five minutes growling and barking at the large picture of the cat. I found it really amusing.
Tomorrow, I'll blog more about our strategy for hanging the photos - it was more challenging than I expected.
I took the photos in this post - the pet photos are by Champaign resident Della Perrone, and I printed them using her permission.