Digi-Scrap for Free: Part 4 - Creating Your First Page

In this tutorial we will actually get out our scissors and glue (figuratively speaking of course) and build an entire scrapbook page in Gimp.

Be sure you've read, or at least scanned, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series before proceeding.
Also be sure you have downloaded, unzipped, and installed
Software
1. Gimp
2. Picasa
Supplies
1. The "Just Jake" Paper and Elements from DreamsFulfilled
2. One landscape / horizontally oriented photo to scrap

A word of warning: Gimp is not for the faint of heart. If you do not have any experience with a product like Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, or Photo Elements, I strongly suggest you take some time to play around with the program.
I also recommend taking a cruise through the tutorials at gimp.org/tutorials, especially the "GimpLite Quickies" to help acquaint yourself with the basic tools.
I will do my best to be clear here, but I won't be going into Tons of detail on basic tasks.

What we'll be doing
1. Selecting background paper for our page
2. Cutting and pasting a strip from a second piece of paper
3. Resizing and sharpening our photo
4. Pasting our photo onto our page
5. Adding a corner embellishment
6. Adding a title
7. Adding journaling
8. Adding a few more embellishments
9. Adding shadows to all elements
10. Saving in multiple formats

When we're done we will have a page that looks basically like this:

Along the way we'll learn a little bit about the rectangle select tool, the move tool, guides, layers, the unsharp mask, and shadows.

1. Select and Open the Background Paper
Select "Open" from the File menu, or hit "Cntrl-O"
Take a moment here to familiarize yourself with Gimp's "Open" dialog.
The Preview pane on the right is your best friend! Do note, however, that thumbnails are not generated automatically for images > 4 megs. So get used to clicking in the preview window to force the update!

Navigate to the location where you unzipped the "Just Jake" collection and open the brown paper.

1a. Save Your Page!
First Things First. Remember the golden rule of image editing, "Never Overwrite the Original!" Use File-Save or Shift-Cntrl-S to open the save dialog.
I am assuming you already have a folder set up to store your scrapbook pages. If you don't, create one now! Mine is under my "My Pictures" folder and called (very creatively) "Scrapbooks." I also have subfolders for each individual book I am working on.
As far as page names go, I highly recommend a date based scheme in the format yyyy_mm_dd.
For example, this page will be named 2011_01_23.xcf
If it was a two page spread or there were multiple pages for the same day, I would add an "a," "b," etc.
This naming scheme is the best way to guarantee your pages can be easily sorted in chronological order .
A word on file format: Gimp's native file type is "XCF," and No, I do not know what it stands for. :) You'll want to save all your working files in this format. When you do not type any extension on your file name it will be saved as XCF by default, or you can selected it from the file type drop down, or simply type it.

1b. Add guides to your page.
Guides are temporary, non-printing lines that provide both a visual reference on your page, and also act as "snap to" points. We'll learn more about that when we start playing with the Move tool, but basically anything you're drawing or moving on the page is "magnetically attracted" to a snap point. This is invaluable when lining up multiple photos and elements. We're not doing anything very complicated on this page, but the guides are good for reference.

Select Image -> Guide -> New Guide (by percent)
A straightforward dialog appears. Create one horizontal and one vertical guide at 50% to bisect your page. They show as dotted blue lines. You can move them around with the "move" tool, too.

2. Cut and paste a strip of a second paper
Open the red paper from the Just Jake collection.
Now, select the "rectangle" tool from the top left tool box (usually floating on the left of your screen).
Use it to draw a random rectangle anywhere on the red paper.
Then, in the tool dialog box, enter the following values:
Position: 0, 0
Size: 3600, 1500
This moves the rectangle to the upper right of the page and resizes it to 12 by 5 inches.
Now, copy the selected portion of the red paper by choosing Edit -> Copy, or hitting Cntrl-C

2a. Paste your strip of paper onto your scrapbook page as a new layer
Select Edit -> Paste -> Paste As New Layer
A layer is pretty much what it sounds like. Items on different layers may be moved around independently of one another, just as if they were physical pieces of paper, stickers, etc. on a scrapbook page.
I almost never paste a new item as anything other than a new layer: memorize where this command is and use it often!  (Gimp has no keyboard shortcut for it, more's the pity!) 

2b. Drag the red strip about 1/3 down on your page.
The "Move" tool looks like a plus sign with arrows on all four lines. Select it from the toolbox, or type "Shift-M" to select it. Then simply drag the red strip to the desired location.
When you're done, it should look something like this.

3. Resize and Sharpen the Photo
Now, open the photo you want to scrapbook in Gimp. (Remember you can use Picasa to quickly locate it, and once selected hit "Cntrl-Enter" to open a File Explorer window to its location.)
If you don't see the changes you made inside Picasa, remember you need to save it there!

Before doing anything else, save a copy of your photo - remember, "Never Overwrite the Original!" I recommend something like "originalfilename_edit.jpg" (When saving as JPG, always make sure the quality setting is at 100%)

3a. Resize to 6 x 4 inches
Images shot at full resolution on your camera (you *are* shooting at full quality and resolution, right?!) will be Much larger than 6x4 inches on your page. We need to scale it down so it'll fit properly.
Select Image -> Scale

In the dialog, choose "Inches" from the drop down, then type in 6 for the width. It will auto-fill the 4 for you.
Ensure that the X and Y resolution are set at 300.
Note: Not all cameras shoot in exactly 2:3 aspect ratio.  In this page, it will not matter if your photo is a little larger or smaller.  In other scenarios, the exact size may be more important and you will need to use the Crop tool to achieve the appropriate aspect ratio before re-sizing.  

3b. Sharpen your photo
Even the best photos will usually benefit from a little sharpening.
Select Filters -> Enhance -> Unsharp Mask
Don't be fooled by the "Sharp" option in this menu; the irrationally named "Unsharp Mask" is the tool best suited to our job.
Fill out the above values in the dialog and apply them.

Note: Order actually matters a bit here. The effect of the same settings for the unsharp mask will be greater After you've scaled down your image because it's operating on fewer pixels. The difference won't be huge, but I habitually sharpen after resizing.  The preview will be more accurate, in any case!

4. Paste the photo as a new layer
Follow the same procedure as in Step 2 to copy the photo (you do Not need to draw a rectangle around it first: simply choose Edit -> Copy), paste as a new layer, and move into place.
Use the snapshot of the finished page at the top of the tutorial for reference.

5. Add an Embellishment on the photo corner
Again, we're following basically the same procedure as Step 2.
Open the blue corner decoration from the Just Jake collection. Copy it, then paste as a new layer. Use the Move tool to drag it into place.
You have enough layers in your page now that this is a good time to go over how to use the "Layers, Channels, Paths, Undo" toolbar.
This bar, on the right hand of your screen by default, looks like this:
You can see a tiny little thumbnail of the contents of each layer. Clicking on the layer makes it Active so that whatever tool you're using applies to it rather than some other portion of the page. Even more usefully at this juncture, you can drag and drop the layers around to change their order. For instance, you may have inadvertently pasted your corner decoration so that it is "under" the red strip or your photo. Simply select its layer in the Layers toolbar and drag it up to the top.

6. Add a Title
Let me preface this section by admitting that if Gimp has a serious weakness it is in its Text tool. It's fairly basic. You can't put multiple fonts in the same text box, type along a curve, or anything like that. (Actually, you technically can put text on a "path," which is an advanced concept I won't be covering because it always ends up looking Awful.)
But it does the job, and with some creativity you can make some very nice looking titles. That's not what we're doing here, though: we're going to go with Ultra-Basic and maybe fix it later.  In fact, I think I can guess what the second tutorial in this series will be!  :)

6a. Select the Text tool by clicking on the "A" icon in the tool box, or typing "Shift-T"
In the tool options, select the "Sans Bold" font. Instead of size of 100, make it 300 for the title.
6b. Draw a rectangle with the Text tool on the red strip to the right of the photograph
Once you let go of the mouse button, the text box dialog pops up and you can enter your text.
This screenshot is actually for the next step when you enter journaling, but the concept is the same.
Before, during, or after typing the text you can drag the corner handles around on the page to resize the box or reposition it.
While we're here, take a look at the Layers tool bar again. You will note that your text layer has a large "T" icon instead of a thumbnail. You can come back to your text layers any time and edit the text just like a word processor: just select the Text tool from the tool box, the text layer you want to edit from the Layer tool bar, and then click anywhere on your page to open the text editor pop-up again.
Of course, if you do anything fancy to a text layer - fill it with color, add borders, use the Scale tool, etc. - it will be converted to a standard layer and the text will no longer be editable.  So save those operations for last!
7. Add some journaling
Use the same procedure as in Step 6 to create a new Text layer. Hint: if clicking on your page with the Text tool brings up the editing pop-up for the Title, just go over to the Layers toolbar and select a different layer. Then try drawing your box again: a new layer will be created.
For journaling a font size between 55 on the very low end to 100 on the high is appropriate. I usually aim around 72.

8. Add a few more embellishments
As in Step 4, find an embellishment you like from the Just Jake collection and add it to your page as a new layer. For instance, I added four copies of the blue button to the corners of the red paper.
As an exercise to the student, explore your tool box and find a way to scale the buttons to a smaller size. Also look for the "Duplicate Layer" button on the Layers toolbox as a handy shortcut to putting multiple copies of the same element on your page.

9. Add Shadows to (practically) everything
Shadows are an absolutely critical element that spells the difference between a flat, obviously artificial page and one that looks just like you made it with scissors and paste.
I learned the hard way never to skip them: they make a world of difference when you print your page!
*Tip: Similarly, though, I've learned to do them as my final step, after everything is placed just so.  It's a hassle to move or scale a layer that already has its shadow applied: usually you have to delete and recreate the shadow.  So do it last! 
9a. From the Layers toolbar, select the first layer containing an embellishment, photo, or piece of paper that needs a shadow.

9b. Select Filters -> Light and Shadow -> Drop Shadow
The only thing you need to change in this dialog is to uncheck the box that says "Allow Resizing." If you don't when you add shadow to an element that is the same height or width as the page (i.e. the red paper strip) the whole "canvas" will be resized by a few pixels to allow room for the entire shadow. You do not want this.
Shadows are created as new layers, meaning they can be easily removed if you don't want them for some reason after the fact. It also means that if you move the embellishment or photo that is "making" the shadow, the shadow will remain fixed in place. You'll either have to "chain" the layers together (a topic for another lesson), "glue" them together (permanently), or move the shadow separately. All three options are irritating, which is why I try to leave my shadow creation to the very end when everything is on the page exactly where I want it.

9c. Repeat for each embellishment and photo.
In the case of this page you do Not need to add a shadow to the journaling layer, but do add it to the title. The corner embellishment came a shadow built it, and of course the background paper itself doesn't need shadow. Every other layer gets one. (Hint: Cntrl-F re-applies the last used filter with any special options you used. This can save you lots of wading through menus!)

9d. (Optional) Change the "Mode" of each shadow layer to Grain Merge.
Refer to the screenshot with step 5 for a reminder of what the Layer floating toolbar looks like.  Near the top, you'll see the label "Mode."  With a shadow layer selected, click the downward pointing triangle by the Mode box, and select "Grain Merge" from the options.
You can also play around with the other options in the Mode selector.  You can achieve some very interesting effects, although none are particularly useful for shadows except the one already mentioned.
What Grain Merge does, by the way, is allow some of the color from the layer "under" the shadow to come through.  You will probably have to zoom in all the way to see the difference, which is subtle, but also just that much more realistic. Think about it this way: in real life, if you have an object casting a shadow on white paper vs. pink paper, the shadow's color is going to appear slightly different: it will have a pink cast on the pink paper, and a more grey cast on the white paper.  The Grain Merge blending method achieves a similar effect compared to the default "Normal" mode, which is going to paint everything the same basic shade of grey.

10. Save!
Of course, you should have been saving regularly all along. Gimp crashes every once in a while for no apparent reason, and it's Really irritating to lose an hour of work!
But unless you own a 12x12 photo printer, you also need a publishable, printable copy of your page. This means JPG.
Select File -> Save A Copy to open the "Save" dialog. ("Save A Copy" is better than "Save As" in this context since it does not change the file name of the page that is currently open in Gimp. In other words, you're still working on the XCF version of the page after saving a copy, rather than making changes to a JPG which does not support layers.)
I keep my printable copies in the same folder as my XCFs, but you might chose to put them elsewhere of course. All you need to do is change the XCF file extension to JPG, and ensure that the quality settings are at 100%.  Oh, and Accept the defaults on all the various pop-ups warning you that JPGs don't support layers and need to be merged. 
That's it! Your page is now ready for upload to your printer of choice! As mentioned in Part 1, Scrapbooksplease.com is the most economical I've found.

Whew! You made it! Getting used to Gimp is the hardest part, of course. But rest assured: it's not Much harder than Photoshop or Elements, and you're saving somewhere between $100 and $600 in the bargain.
Now add up how many sheets of 12x12 paper you Didn't buy at $0.50 to $2 each , how many sticker packs you Didn't purchase at $4 each, how many $5 rolls of glu-dots you didn't use, how many chipboard alphabet sets you didn't shell out for - and then use only 8 or 10 letters, but somehow still all of the necessary vowels you want for your next title!, and how many spools of ribbon, buttons and brads and eyelets and - oh yeah, that shnazzy Cricket machine plus assorted dies you didn't end up needing - and you may well be saving $5/page. Maybe even more! Besides, you didn't make a mess. When the kids started fussing all you had to do was close the laptop. It's a fantastic deal, if you're willing to put in the time to learn the ropes.
Hope I've made a convert or two.
If there's interest, I may add some additional tutorials in coming weeks: for instance, the title on this page is weak, and we can do much better. Another neat trick is changing the colors on downloaded papers and elements, and even making your own background "cardstock." The possibilities are practically limitless... stay tuned!

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