Did you see the Twitter Mirror at the Grammy's tonight? The Wall Street Journal also writes about it as if only the geniuses at Twitter could have thought of something so clever. But I'm sure when they saw it, everyone in our industry echoed in unison “That's just a photo booth running on a tablet, uploading to Twitter! I've been doing that for years with my photo booth software” It's true. It's actually quite easy to set up your own Twitter Mirror using Social Booth Photo Booth Software running on a Surface Pro (or compatible) tablet. But why stop there, you can also use Social Booth to create a Facebook Mirror, or an Email Mirror, or a SMS Mirror. Still a pretty cool application of the idea and should give everyone some ideas on promoting the use of social media with their photo booths.
The Photo Booth Solutions Blog
Special thanks to Social Booth customer, Vince for writing this guest post on how to accept credit cards with Social Booth in a retail photo booth environment.
How to accept credit cards with Social Booth
This is not intended to be the definitive way to do this, nor is it the cheapest. It also isn’t a complete guide to building a retail photo booth. This is the explanation of how our tiny company successfully accepts credit card payments at an unattended photo booth.
Some background: We have a ton of experience in building photo booths for our rental company, limited understanding of vending machines, and zero experience working with credit card processors or hardware. Our goal was simply to build a photo booth that accepts credit cards as fast as possible. Keeping that in mind, here is our method on accepting credit card payments at a freestanding, unattended photo booth:
Key Item #1: Software. We chose Photo Booth Solutions’ Social Booth because after a couple emails with Mike, the owner, we felt we would have good support. We also knew that SB’s social sharing options are attractive to venue owners who want to get the word out about their business. Mike also programmed a special “time left” countdown timer that you’ll see within the software (which is now standard), and programmed in a “wait for a keypress before starting photo booth sequence” for us as well. (Why these customizations are important coming up).
Key Item #2: Credit card processor and hardware. This was the single most frustrating part of the process. We called several banks and processing companies. Nobody knew how to how to setup a vending machine merchant system because the whole credit processing industry is focused on Internet sales or sales from a smart device. They all wanted us to charge using the smartphone swipers or use an Internet gateway thru Internet Explorer and all had major security concerns. Nobody was helpful for a vending start-up.
Enter USA Technologies. They have a full service suite designed just for vending. At it’s core is a device called the ePort. If you’ve ever bought a $4 bottle of Coke from a Las Vegas vending machine then chances are you swiped your credit card using an ePort. After a 20 minute sales call, and credit application, we immediately purchased an ePort, wiring dongle, antenna and power supply a grand total of over $500. Update: We used a “Non-traditional ePort” that runs $500 and has to be purchased by calling USA Tech. Their standard ePorts can be found elsewhere on the Internet for around $249, however these may not interface with a PC setup as easily.
The ePort processes a credit card charge and then sends confirmation of that successful charge as an electrical pulse through two wires– much like a coin mech on an arcade machine.
Key Item #3: Middleman hardware between ePort and PC running Social Booth. A device is needed to receive the ePort’s pulse and then translate it into meaningful info. We purchased an Uhid Nano to be our translator. The Uhid connects to your PC via USB and can be programmed, through a GUI, to accept a pulse and translate it into a keypress. Uhids are not cheap and come from the UK, so shipping is expensive. There are other programmable chips in the USA (Arduino, Teensy, etc) that are more economical, but their GUI is not as simple to work with as the Uhid.
Stated in a few steps:
- We mounted the ePort onto the photo booth, 48” from the ground, next to the screen inside the booth that faces the guest. We punched a 5/8” hole thru the booth, behind the ePort’s mount and fed it’s the wires inside so they would be completely concealed.
- Over the phone, the USA Tech people helped us solder the correct two ePort wires (of several wires) to our Uhid device, which was plugged into a USB port of the PC running Social Booth inside the photo booth. The ePort was then programmed remotely by USA Tech to charge a set $ amount per swipe.
- In Social Booth’s “Triggers” settings, we deactivated the touch screen until a particular key was pressed (we chose the “a” key).
- We programmed the Uhid to translate a pulse received from the ePort into an “a” keypress. Then, we put Social Booth in full screen mode.
That’s it. The experience is this: After swiping a credit card, the ePort takes 2 seconds to charge the card, then sends a pulse to the Uhid, which translates that into an “a” keypress to Social Booth (which is sitting idle in full screen mode). Social Booth immediately kicks off the photo booth countdown. The touchscreen shows all the action but disallows any user input until the “Choose Filter” screen. After that, all Social Booth and touchscreen features work perfect … Facebook sharing, Twitter sharing, etc. After the photo booth sequence was completed, Social Booth returns to the “Ready” screen and waits for another credit card to charge.
That is essentially the credit card process in a nutshell. Other things to note:
- USA Tech is probably not the most economical method, but is by far the simplest that we found. Their sales people are friendly and their tech support has been immediate.
- We pay a monthly connection fee for our ePort, but our 2-year agreement can be cancelled anytime.
- Transaction fees and percentages paid to USA Tech are high, but that is the cost of simplicity.
- There may be more economical solutions that USA Tech offers. I want to reiterate again that we took the fastest route – not necessarily the cheapest.
- It takes about 7 business days for hardware to arrive with ground shipping from USA Tech.
- It takes 7-10 days for the Uhid to arrive from the UK.
- Installing a bill or token acceptor instead and avoid all the costs and fees associated with accepting credit. We felt that allowing people to use their card was much more user friendly.
- You can setup daily, weekly and/or monthly email reports with transactional data from the ePort. It’s a nice way to view your daily sales info.
- Mike at Photo Booth Solutions was also great to offer Social Booth help, but also helped us with other useful tips in building an unattended retail photo booth.
You may already know that Sketch Booth is a cost effective software alternative to TapSnap™ and PhotoMingle™. What you may not know, is how easy it is to purchase readily available equipment to build your own version of these popular systems at a fraction of the cost, and without franchise or event fees.
Equipment needed to create your own TapSnap™ and PhotoMingle™ with Sketch Booth
- Touchscreen Monitor
The biggest appeal of a Sketch Booth is being able to draw on a large touchscreen monitor and drag & drop virtual props and stickers onto photos to decorate them. 42” touchscreens are going to cost around $2000 new. ELO, Planar, NextWindow are all good choices.
The ELO 4201L is a popular choice.
But if you are looking to save some money, you can usually find some good deals on 42” touchscreens on eBay. Here's a few models to look for:
HP LD 4200TM - $900
Philips BDL4230ET - $943
- PhotoMingle™ uses a 46” monitor. Those will cost a bit more, but here's a few affoardable choices on eBay:
Elo Touch Systems 4600L - $1445
Samsung CY-TM46 - $999 (Touchscreen overlay. Just add it to a 46” monitor)
- Monitor Stand
Now that you have the monitor, you'll need a stand to put it on. If you Google for monitor stands, you are bound to end up at Displays2Go. If you can ignore the visual assault that is their SEO strategy, you are bound to find a stand that fits your style.
Here's one that looks very similar to the PhotoMingle™ style.
This stand is modular and breaks down into a carrying bag.
Both of these stands are under $500
A dye sub printer is a must for quality prints. Imaging Spectrum has a very thorough comparison chart of all of the dye sub printer out there.
Sinfonia CS2 is under $800.
HiTi P510S used by TapSnap™ is around $850
Sketch Booth will work with a Canon DSLR or an HD webcam.
For the DSLR, a Canon T3i is fine. This is what TapSnap™ uses. You can pick one of those up on Amazon for $500 or even used on Craigslist for $400
For the webcam, a Logitech C920 is currently the best choice for under $100
- Camera Mount
There's lots of camera mounts to chose from, and none are particularly expensive. This clamp is just one of the many out there.
There are way too many possibilities when it comes to PCs to make a recommendation on a particular make/model. The PC doesn't have to be top of the line, but it's not a good idea to skimp either. I usually suggest a pretty decent machine like an i3 or i5 processor with 4GB RAM. It will run on less, but it will definitely perform smoother on a faster machine. Something with those specs should be in the $500 - $1000 range.
The Sketch Booth software can be purchased with either 1 or 2 machine licenses. A single license is $2,000. The 1st year of updates are included in the price and are optionally $500/yr after that.
Sketch Booth Costs:
|One Sketch Booth Unit||Two Sketch Booth Units|
|One TapSnap™ Unit*||Two TapSnap™ Units*|
|One PhotoMingle™ Unit||Two PhotoMingle™ Units|
Total Cost of Ownership
A single TapSnap™ or PhotoMingle™ unit will cost between $17k and $30k. You can easily build 3-4 Sketch Booths for that price. And when you add in the other guys' 14%-15% event fees, the costs benefits of Sketch Booth skyrocket. Assuming 2 units were booked solid 2 weekends a year at $1400, you would be paying another $22,000 in fees, bringing the total cost of ownership close to $60,000 for the 1st year. It's easy to save $50,000 by using your own equipment and Sketch Booth.
*Update - TapSnap has increased their franchise fee to $15k and now has a minimum of 2 units, making the minimum investment $44k + 14% of earnings.
Instagram has reported that it now has over 150 million monthly active users, a 50% increase since February of this year. That’s a lot of people wanting to print and display their photos with BYO Booth!
BYO Booth has been updated to 2.0, and there are some HUGE new features to make your Instagram Print Station even more powerful.
Instagram introduced video a few weeks back and BYO Booth will now download and display those videos right inside the slide show. Check out how cool it looks when a composited photo comes to life:
Instagram Flip Books
Displaying the videos is one thing, but how about printing them? BYO Booth 2.0 can now print flip books from these videos! Let your users shoot their own short videos with Instagram and print flip books from your Instaprinter station. You can print them on either 8.5"x11” or 4"x6” paper.
Custom Design Tools
A very popular request has finally been filled. You can now use custom fonts, change the size, position and rotation of all of the text on the 1x1 print template. You can also use a transparent png so that the template will be overlayed on top of the photos to create more interesting effects and layouts.
What about Vine? What about Facebook Hashtags? - So far neither Vine videos or Facebook hashtags have been officially added to the APIs, so we’ll just have to wait.
Here’s the full change log:
- Instagram Video support added
- Flip Books for Instagram Video added
- Ability to change fonts, size, color, rotation and positioning of user info added
- Auto Start Mode added to bypass settings screen and start in unattended kiosk mode. Use F1 to get back to settings
- Added ability to use templates with transparency. Enabling Transparency will overlay the template on the photo as opposed to under the photo to allow for more interesting layout effects.
- Fixed auto print not working for watch folder photos when “Limit user prints” was enabled as well
- /uxxx removed when emoji are in comments
- Added ability to select printer in the Print Tab
- Added check for empty Ads folder if Ads are enabled
- Made sure Instructions screen doesn’t randomly appear in grid mode.
- Logged in Instagram username will not be affected by limiting the user prints and will have unlimited prints.