I really like to go to my scrapbook store and find paper I like to go with my cake design. I use 1/2 foamcore, cut the scrapbook paper to fit then cover it with clear contact paper. (So no grease marks) can make the cake a little slippery on the board so may wanna use dowels into the board.
Look into the Cake Boss software. It's helped me alot with charging for right price for my cakes and especially with figuring cost. I was severly underestimating my cost and let cakes go for almost no profit! It's great software for the at home baker!
I use images all the time an get them from icing images. The only time they dry out is when exposed to air. I've printed images and stored them in Ziplock bags for a week or 2, pulled them out and pulled the image off with ease, still pliable. Maybe you didn't push the air out of the bag when you closed it up or had a hole letting air get in?
I know there is an edible glaze out there you can spray your cakes with to get a shine but I've heard of a more popular option spraying the cake with cooking spray and the shine will last 3-5 hours. I've not personally done either, I've lightly steamed my fondant covered cakes to shine them up but that doesn't last long.
I would use ice krispies because they are lighter and I make MMF so that would take alot of fondant. I would spray a bowl that shape with non stick spray and then press rice krispies into them. (even use store ought rice krispies and save time) let em firm up and cover in fondant.