Photobox’s resident gift guru, Matt James of Party-Ideas-by-a-Pro, is an award-winning party planner who’s produced birthdays, weddings, and events for A-list celebrities such as Stella McCartney, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sir Elton John. He shares his inspirational ideas for using Photobox products to create thoughtful and meaningful Christmas gifts.


They say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ – and while it’s true they can capture memories, loved ones and precious moments in time, they can never explicitly convey our feelings towards someone. Sometimes, words are more meaningful.

Yet how often do we take the time to remind someone what they mean to us – that we love them, appreciate them and are grateful to have them in our lives? Exactly. That’s what makes it so special when we do.

While hearing those words creates a moment of affection, capturing those sentiments in a picture that can be looked at over and over, allows that moment to be felt time and time again.

So, whether it’s the first time you’ve said it or a much-deserved reminder, sometimes the best way to communicate how you feel is to literally SPELL IT OUT.

1. How it works

While you could convey a simple celebratory message, such as ‘Happy 80th birthday Grandma’ or ‘Merry Christmas from all of us’, I think this idea works best as a gift when the message is something more heartfelt. This might be ‘You are my world’ for a significant other, ‘You’re the sister I never had’ for a best friend, or ‘All that I am, I owe to you’ for a parent.

Alternatively, keep it light with a more humorous message such as ‘I know your real age’ for a best friend or sister’s birthday, ‘Too late to die young’ for a milestone birthday, or ‘Who will make the tea now?’ as a leaving or retirement gift.

Once you’ve decided on the sentiment, think about how many individual photos you’ll need to spell it out. Then consider how many people you’re going to include in the final collage. Will it be just yourself spelling out each letter, you and your siblings, your children, a group of friends or the entire family?

The great thing about this idea is that, if you’re assembling a large group of people, you don’t need to have them all together in one place. Instead, you can assign each person a letter or word and ask them to take their own photo to email to you – so it’s easy to include friends and family wherever they live.

In fact, the beauty of this idea is that it’s an opportunity to bring together an entire family or group of dispersed friends to create a uniquely personal gift – even when that may not be physically possible.

Once you have all the individual photographs, you can arrange them together into a collage before uploading it onto one of Photobox’s many gifts.

Check out my tips for creating your own collage at the end of this page.

2. Who it’s for

Whether it’s babies, kids, or grown-up children reminding mum or dad on Mother/Father’s Day, a boyfriend confessing to his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day or all the grandkids coming together to tell Grandma at Christmas, capturing those three little words ‘I/We Love You’ in a photograph will ensure that moment is remembered – and make a wonderful gift for a special occasion.

Alternatively, you might want to spell out your gratitude to a best mate on their birthday with ‘I’m lucky to have you as a friend’, have work colleagues congratulate someone on their retirement with ‘Things won’t be the same without you’, or reassemble the bridesmaids and groomsmen to tell a special couple ‘We knew you two had something special’ on their wedding anniversary.

Of course, you don’t have to spell out anything profound. Simply being able to bring friends and family together for a group photo is what makes this idea special – even for simple greetings such as ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘Merry Christmas’.

1. How to turn it into a gift

This is such a quirky and unusual way to capture a group of friends or family, so I recommend giving it in the form of a gift that they can display or use in their everyday life. That way, it’ll bring a smile to their face every time they look at it.

Wall Art

Frame it, supersize it, or print it onto canvas, this idea lends itself perfectly to a range of Photobox’s wall art gifts. There are lots of different options available – from a traditional Canvas and Timeless Framed Print, to stylish aluminum mounted or Wooden Wall Prints that’ll ensure your recipient keeps this special gift proudly on display.

Desktop gifts

Alternatively, there are many gifts, such as a Wooden Desk Print, freestanding Photo Block or a Mug, that’ll ensure they can see it every day at home or work. . Check out all the options here.

Everyday gifts

Photobox has numerous other small gifts, such as Phone/iPad Cases, Cushions, Personalised Beach Towels, Jigsaws and more – all of which you could customise with your Head to Head portrait. Which one would they appreciate most?

Christmas cards

Finally, you could also use your Motley Bunch photo to create unique family Christmas cards to send out for the holidays.


Here are some of my pro tips for creating your ‘Spell It Out’ portrait:

1. Choose the gift

Before you set about creating the photograph, think about which gift from the Photobox range you want to put it on. This might influence whether the final image would be best arranged as a square or rectangular collage, how many individual images it should consist of, and consequently, how many signs your message would need to fit onto.

Some gifts, such as their Collage Canvas, have a built-in collage-making template that let you to choose from different grid-styles, then upload individual photos and choose their position.

Other gifts, such as the Timeless Framed Prints or Mugs for example, need you to assemble the collage yourself (see instructions in step 4, below) and upload it as one complete image.

In these cases, choose your gift and make a note of the dimensions if there are different size options available. Then look up the product on this chart to determine the best ratio for your collage and how many individual images you’ll need to achieve an evenly spaced grid-style collage like the examples below.

Alternatively, you might prefer to create more of a free-form collage, like the examples below. The advantages of these are that the photos don’t all have to be the same size and you can separate letters into words, with spaces in between or on separate rows (whereas the grid-style collages result in a continuous run of letters with words sometimes split over several rows). If you prefer this option, look up your product on this chart and just make a note of the ratio.

Then I recommend you follow the instructions in step 4 to practice creating your collage, using any existing photos you have to hand. Experiment with different layouts to determine how many individual images you’ll need.

2. Decide on your message

Once you’ve worked out the best number of individual images to fit your chosen gift, you can think about what message you want to communicate and how many letters that would equate to.

If it’s a long phrase, you don’t have to restrict yourself to one letter per sign. You can always condense smaller words – such as mum, dad, and love – onto one sign. Alternatively, use one word per sign across the entire phrase.

Just remember, the more individual images your final collage is made up of, the smaller each one will appear on the final product.

3. Give clear instructions

If you’re not shooting all the photos yourself, but rather you’re asking people to take their own photo and send it to you, and assuming you want there to be some consistency between all the images, be sure to give specific instructions on things like:

  • Background:specify whether they should take the photo against a plain white wall, a red brick wall, a green hedge etc. I suggest emailing everyone a sample photo and asking them to recreate it as closely as possible.
  • Lighting: indoor or natural outdoor lighting has a huge impact on how each image looks. So depending on your choice or background, be sure everyone takes their photo in similar lighting conditions to avoid some appearing darker than others.
  • Clothes: be clear on what type of clothes everyone should wear. Should people dress smart or are you happy with more casual jeans and t-shirts?
  • Letters: if you’re assigning each person a letter, search ‘printable letters’ online to find some free templates that you can email everyone. Ask them to print it off at a specific size and orientation, such as A4 portrait, and color the letter in (you might want to tell everyone which color and whether to use crayon or marker etc).
  • Words: if you’re giving each person a word, prepare the signs yourself in a program such as Word or PowerPoint so that you can control the font and size of each word. Then just email to each person and ask them to print.
  • Position: I’d suggest asking everyone to take full length photos, which you can then crop down to size later. Tell them where they should hold the sign. In front of their chests works well, if you intend to crop around waist height.
  • Orientation:have everyone take their photos in landscape mode, allowing plenty of empty background on either side of them and above. This gives you the option to crop to square, portrait or landscape when creating your collage later.
  • Resolution:most smartphones nowadays take high resolution images but remind people to check their settings are on the highest possible resolution before taking their photos.
  • Sending:a large hi-resolution image might be difficult for people to email to you. If so, tell them to use a free online service such as

4. Create your collage

Once you have your individual images use your computer’s photo software, such as Microsoft Photos to crop them all to your chosen orientation: square, portrait, or landscape – depending on what works best for the ratio of your chosen gift. Then upload to one of the many free online collage makers, such as

On the site, under the ‘Collage’ drop down menu, first select the ratio for your chosen gift that you established in step 1 (i.e 1:1 for square or 4:3/16:9 for landscape). Then, if you want a grid-style collage, just hit ‘Auto collage’ and drag to rearrange into the correct order. The best way to add white or black grid lines to separate each photo is to choose ‘Set background’ from the ‘Collage’ drop down menu and select white or black from the color palate. Then click on each image one at a time and pinch in the top right and bottom left hand corners. You’ll just need to align them carefully to ensure the gaps between each image are all the same width.

If you’re creating a free-form collage just drag your photos onto the canvas and position or size accordingly. Remember, you’ll need to set a background pattern or colour – even if it’s just black or white – from the ‘Collage’ drop down menu to fill in the gaps between each photo. You can also play around with adding borders to each individual image using the ‘More’ drop down menu in the top left corner of your collage.

Once you’re happy with the layout, from the ‘File’ drop-down select ‘Save in high resolution’ to save the collage to your computer. Then upload this image to Photobox and apply to your chosen gift.

Collage Canvas

Illustrations, layouts, background colours… Let your creativity run wild with a Collage Canvas.

Photo Coasters

Relive your best moments every time you have a drink – cheers!

Simple Mug

Put one of your favourite photos on a mug – plain and simple.

Collage posters

Put up all of your favourite shots in the spotlight with a supersized collage poster.

Box Framed Prints

Add depth to your creation with a 48 mm deep frame and make your snap take centre stage.

Wooden Photo Panels

Turn your best snaps into wooden works of art.

Acrylic Prints

Give your photos some serious wow-factor with an acrylic print that makes colours truly pop.

Aluminium Mounted Prints

Get your photos printed directly onto aluminium for a modern alternative to a traditional print.