Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Digi-Scrapping for Free: Four Easy Frames

Hello all, here is another entry in my "How To Digi-Scrap For Free" series.

I don't know about you, but back in the "bad old days" when I was scrapping with paper and scissors, adding mattes to my photos was my least favorite part of the craft. It was tedious, tricky, and consumed large amounts of paper. You'll be happy to know that it can be very simple in Gimp, and doesn't consume any more paper than the rest of the hobby! :)
In this tutorial we will demonstrate four different options for framing or matting your photos.

Quick Review: In Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series we covered the basics of Picasa, photo organization, workflow, and where to score free digi-scrap supplies. In Part 4 we (finally) created a very basic scrapbook page using Gimp. In Part 5 we looked at several options for more interesting titles in Gimp.

For this tutorial you will need (at minimum)
* Gimp, downloaded and installed
* A piece of digital patterned paper / cardstock from a downloaded kit (I used one from the "Naturally Free" kit at LivEDesigns)
* A photograph

Getting Started
Just as when designing page titles, I usually find it easiest to border, matte, or frame my photos before placing them on my layout. This tutorial will assume you're doing the same.

Tip: Always crop, color correct, and (most importantly) Resize your photo to the size you'll be using on your layout before adding frames or mattes. Otherwise you will end up with inconsistently sized frames / borders!

Method 1: Adding a Solid Border
This is the simplest possible strategy for bordering your photos, but it provides a very elegant, clean look and I use it all the time.
1. Open your photo and resize it to 4x6 inches (1200x1800 pixels)

2. Choose Select->All from the menu or type Cntrl-a

3. Choose Select->Border

4. In the pop-up, enter a value of 25
The selection will be replaced with a border 25 pixels *on each side* of the original selection. In this case, 1/2 that amount is outside the "canvas" so our border will be just 25 px. (We'll come back to that little fact later.)

5. Using the Bucket Fill tool, fill the selected pixels with white paint.
Simple as that: you have a photo with a nice white border.
Choose Select->All or Cntrl-A, Copy, and paste it into your layout. All done!

Method 2: Adding an "ink pen" border inside your photo
1. As in Method 1, open your photo and resize to 4x6 inches.
2. Also as before, select all (Cntrl-a).
3. From the Select menu, choose "Shrink." In the pop-up, enter a value between 50 and 100 - I chose 100.
You will now have a selection rectangle 100 pixels on each side smaller than your photo.
4. Now, choose Select->Border. This time, enter a smaller value such as 15.
As mentioned in step 4 above, the Border command creates a border the chosen number of pixels to each side of the selection rectangle. In this instance the selection is well inside of the photo "canvas," and so a 15 pixel border will actually be 30 px - wider than the 25 px one we used on the last example.

5. From the Layers palate, create a new layer. Accept the default values.

6. Making sure that the new layer is active, use the Bucket Fill tool to fill the selection with white paint. You now have a nice white outline inside your photo.
7. If desired, choose a layer blend Mode such as "Grain Merge" to allow a portion of the background photo to show through the outline. You can experiment with these modes ss well as the opacity slider to get an effect you like.

Method 3: Matting a photo on patterned paper
1. As in the previous two methods, first crop, color correct, and resize your photo to 4x6 inches.
2. Now, we want to make a 50 px border around our photo.
Under the "Image" menu, choose "Canvas Size."
3. In the pop-up window, make the following changes;
a. to the right of the height and width boxes is a little icon that looks like three links of chain, joined together. Click it to "break" the links apart.
(When joined, this option maintains the same aspect ratio between the current and new height and the width of the canvas. For example, we have a 1200x1800 pixel photo, which is a 2x3 ratio. If I set the new width to 1300, the new height will be autofilled as 1.5 * 1300, which is 1950. However, we want an exactly 50 px border all the way around our photo, so we need to break the link.)
b. Enter 1300 and 1900 respectively.
c. Click the "center" button. The "X" and "Y" offset fields will be auto-filled with 50.
d. Click "OK."
* Tip: Type "Cntrl-e" to automatically resize your Gimp window to show your new canvas.

4. Now you should see your photo centered with 50 px of transparent space on each edge.
Create a new layer in the Layers palate. Accept all defaults.

5. In the Layers palate, drag and drop the new layer underneath the photo layer.

6. Open a piece of patterned paper to use as a matte. On this paper, use the Rectangle Select tool to select a rectangle (at least) 1300x1900 pixels. It doesn't have to be exact, just not smaller.
Chose "Edit->Copy" or Cntrl-c to copy the rectangle.

7. Back in your photo window, make sure the new layer is active.
Choose Edit->Paste or Cntrl-v to paste the patterned paper under your photo.

8. A temporary layer will appear in the layers palate labeled "Floating Selection (Pasted Layer)." Right-click and choose "Anchor Layer." The temporary layer will disappear and the patterned paper will be "pasted" to the new layer beneath the photo.

9. Now, to finish the illusion, click your photo layer to make it active and chose Filters->Light and Shadow->Drop Shadow. Accept the defaults from the pop-up.

10. If desired, click the Shadow layer to make it active and change the Mode to "Grain Merge." This allows the color behind the shadow to show through for a subtly more realistic appearance.

Method 4: Create a chipboard frame on top of your photo
1. This is a cross between method one (simple outline) and method 3 (photo matte).
To get started, follow steps 1-4 from the Simple Outline example to create a 25 px border around the edge of your photo.
Then follow steps 2-4 from the photo matte example to increase the canvas size by 100 px height and width. However, leave the new layer that you create *on top* of your photo.
So when you're done, you will have your photo centered on a canvas with 50 extra px of space on each side, and a border around (and beyond) its edge.

2. Switch to your patterned paper and copy a piece out of it of approximately the same height and width of your photo. (as in step 6 of the photo matte example).

3. Back on your photo, make sure the new layer you created is active. From the Edit menu, chose "Paste Into." The patterned paper will fill your border selection.
4. As before, right click the temporary "Floating Selection" layer in the layer palate and chose "Anchor Layer."

5. Choose Select->None (Cntrl-Shift-A).

6. From the Filters menu, chose Decor->Add Bevel.
Make sure that "work on copy" is Not checked. Chose a bevel depth of 6 to 10.
(If nothing appears to change, go back and make sure nothing is selected.)

7. Add a drop shadow to the frame layer with Filters->Light and Shadow->Drop Shadow.
This is one time you may want to leave the "allow resizing" checkbox selected. Depending on how much space you have left to the bottom and right of your frame, the shadow may be truncated otherwise.

8. Choose Edit->Copy Visible or Cntrl-Shift-C to copy all layers of your finished image. Then paste as a new layer on your scrapbook page.

That's it in a nutshell: four simple ways to get nice, elegant frames, borders, or mattes for your photos. Hope it was helpful!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Digi-Scrapping for Free: Creating Titles in Gimp

Hello all, we're back for another tutorial in the "How to Digi-Scrap for Free" series.
In the previous installment, we created our very first scrapbook page. It wasn't bad, but the title was - well - boring. Just black text with a little drop shadow. Not very impressive.
In this tutorial we will cover three options for making a more interesting title.

For all three methods I tend to open a brand new image file of the approximate dimensions I need for my title and work there rather than add a dozen new layers to my page layout. It's just easier to see and deal with. I then copy all layers of the finished title and paste as a single layer into the scrapbook page.
* A shortcut for finding the approximate size of your title is to use the rectangle select tool on your scrapbook page to draw a box around the location you'll be placing the title. The dimensions of your box will appear in the lower left of your page window. Add a little to these numbers and open a new document of that size. We will refer to this document as your "Title Workspace"

The first method I will cover is using a pre-made alpha downloaded from a free scrapbooking site.
This method is technically the easiest in that it requires only the copy and paste operations, but also usually the most time consuming and tedious, and the least flexible. Therefore I save it for occasions when I Really like the downloaded alpha and cannot easily duplicate its font and treatment.

In my example, I used the "Milk and Cookies" font from DreamsFulfilled.

Makers of alphas may save each individual character in their alphabet as a separate file, or they may combine them into a single, large image typically in PNG format.
In the later case, there is much less opening and closing of files to worry about, but you will have to carefully draw a selection rectangle around each character before copying it.
In both cases, the basic technique is to individually copy each character in your title and paste it into your layout.
The Milk and Cookies alpha is one the former type: each character is its own file.

1. Open the first character you need.

2. In the character's window, type "Cntrl-c" or select Edit->Copy

3. In your title workspace, select Edit->Paste as->New Layer

4. Use the Move tool (select by typing "m") to drag the character near the top left of your workspace. Leave a few pixels at the top in case other characters are taller.

5. To simplify placement of the rest of the characters, create a new guide lined up with the bottom of the first character. Future characters can usually "snap to" this guide.

* Tip: Create a new guide at an arbitrary location by clicking anywhere in the "ruler" bar (below the file, edit, and etc. menus) of your title workspace. Hold down the mouse button while dragging down. A new guide appears and follows your pointer. You can move this guide in the future by clicking on it when it turns red.

6. Repeat steps 1-4 for each additional character, using the guide from step 5 to line them up evenly on the bottom. Use your eye to line them up horizontally.

7. When all letters have been placed, go to Edit->Copy Visible, or type "Cntrl-Shift-C." This copies All layers of your title into the buffer. If you forget and simply type "Cntrl-c," you'll end up with only the active layer - i.e. one character.

8. In your scrapbook page window, select Edit->Paste as->New Layer. Use the Move tool to position the title as desired.
If necessary, use Layer->Scale Layer or the Resize tool to change the size of your title.
Don't forget to add a drop shadow!

A few additional tips
* As a rule, alpha creators seem to make their letters about 1 inch - that is, 300 px - high. That may be much larger than you need. Take my advice, however, and build the title using the full resolution letters and resize only when you're ready to place the finished title.
* It is pretty common to underestimate the required size of your "workspace," and then find when you are placing the last 2-3 characters that you need more space.
Use Image ->Canvas Size to give yourself more space.
Do not worry about making your canvas exactly the same size as your title. The empty space will not cause you any serious problems on your scrapbook layout. You may also use Layer->Autocrop to clip out the extra space when you're finished.

The next methods I will cover are quite similar in that they make use of the Alpha to Selection, Selection Shrink or Grow, and the Add Bevel filter.

First let's make Raised letters from patterned paper
Let me start by stating that there are at least two relatively simple methods of doing this, and which one I use varies by what seems easiest at the time. I may explain the second in another tutorial. We're going to use the "paste into" method.

1. Open a new file of the approximate height and width of your title.
* Tip: Sometimes I use the text tool to place a simple title on my scrapbook page. After I get the font size right, I copy and paste that layer only as a new file using Cntrl-Shift-V

2. Use the Text tool to type your title in the Title Workspace (unless you used the tip above!) Choose and appropriate color for the outline of your finished title. Make it the size you want to use in your page, or *larger* - remember, it's easy to scale down; hard to scale up!

3. Here's where the magic happens.
In the Layers palate, right click on the layer containing your title. Select "Alpha to Selection" Voila! The marching ants appear around our title.
This wonderful little command has the effect of selecting everything on the layer that is not transparent - in our case, the text itself.
Amazing! Stop for a moment and contemplate all the wonderful things you can do with this power!
Or... just go on to the next step! :)
4. From the Select menu, choose Select->Shrink.
In the pop-up window, choose a value somewhere between 2 and 6 depending on the relative thickness of your font. The "marching ants" will fall back to enclose an area that much smaller than your title.

5. Now, if you haven't already, open a piece of patterned background paper. (I used one from the "Spontaneous Delight" collection from Shabby Princess. If you haven't downloaded all their free stuff, take a break for a few moments (er, hours!) and do so.
Use the rectangle select tool to select a rectangle roughly the same dimensions as your title - again, err on the size of "too big" rather than too small.
Type Cntrl-c or Edit->Copy to copy that segment of paper.

6. Back in your Title Working Space, choose Edit->Paste Into.
The paper you copied appears inside the marching ants.

7. Now - and this is important - go over to the Layers palate. You will notice there is a new layer at the top called "Floating Selection." Right-click on that layer and choose "Anchor Layer" from the pop-up menu. This will "collapse" the new funky floating layer into your exiting layer.
If you forget and choose Select->None or Cntrl-Shift-A, weird things happen - specifically, the entire block of patterned paper you copied will appear and replace your selection, obscuring your text. If that happens, don't panic: just hit Undo and follow the procedure above to defloat the layer.

8. At this point, we're looking pretty good: we have an outline around a nice title made from patterned paper. The final step is to give the whole thing some height.
Start by selecting the bottom, color-outline layer. 
Important: Chose Select->None or Cntrl-Shift-A to deselect your text, or the Bevel tool won't work.
From the Filters menu, choose Filters->Decor->Add Bevel.
In the pop-up, Uncheck the box labeled "Work on copy" (otherwise we'll end up with a brand new image which we don't need.)
Choose a height of anywhere between 4 and 8.
Your title should now have a nice raised look - as if it were made from slightly puffy, shiny stickers.
(If nothing appeared to happen, go back and make sure nothing is selected in your image - i.e. no "marching ants.")

Pretty cool, huh?
The last technique I will cover is Chipboard Letters.
It's very similar to the one we just did, but instead of shrinking our selection we'll be growing it, and we'll add an extra layer which we'll fill with a pattern before beveling.
Here we go
1. As in previous examples, open a new file the approximate dimensions of your finished title.
Chose your desired font and size and type your title in the window using the Text tool.
2. As before, right-click on your layer in the layer palate and choose "Alpha to Selection"
3. This time, we're going to Grow the selection. Chose Select->Grow and enter a value between 4 and 10 depending on how much "chipboard" you want to have visible around the edges.
4. Now, create a new layer. If you wish you can name it "chipboard," or leave it as default. The dimensions and other options should be left default.
5. In the Layers palate, drag your new layer Underneath your text layer.
6. On the Tools palate, select the Bucket Fill tool. Select "Pattern Fill" as the fill type and choose the "burlwood" pattern.
* Tip: I settled on the built-in Burlwood pattern as the most chipboard-like after quite a lot of experimentation. Most of the built in patterns are not very useful for scrapbooking: they're too tiny for 300dpi images. Burlwood works in this context-but not by actually Looking like burlwood! I may do another tutorial on interesting ways to use Pattern Fill at some point.
7. If you remembered to move your new layer underneath the text layer, then you should now see your text outlined with the burlwood pattern. Otherwise you'll see nothing but burlwood. Don't panic: just drag the new layer underneath and order shall be restored.
Now, choose Select->None or Cntrl-Shift-A to deselect everything.
8. Add a bevel on the bottom layer as in the last example using Filters->Decor-Add Bevel.
And, we're done. Not a bad chipboard approximation at all in my book.

A few more tips and hints before I wrap this up

* Instead of using the built-in burlwood pattern and the Bucket-Fill tool, you could instead find a nice kraft paper or chipboard-patterned paper. Then use the technique from the second example to copy a piece of that pattern and paste-into the selection. Arrange and layers and bevel the finished product as shown.
Remember to use Select->Copy Visible or Cntrl-Shift-C to copy both layers of your title to the scrapbook page.

* The other method for "cutting out" a title in patterned paper (to which I alluded before the second example) is as follows:
Open your patterned paper. Use the Text Tool to type your title in the desired size and font anywhere on the paper page. Then use the Alpha to Selection command in the layer pop-up menu to select only the text.
Here's the trick: Now select the Paper layer in the layer palate and chose Edit->Copy or Cntrl-c to copy *just the patterned paper.*
Paste it on your scrapbook page as a new layer if you don't want to outline it, or paste it as a new image (Cntrl-Shift-v) if you want to make additional changes.
You can see how this method might be more convenient at times.

* Sometimes all you need to make your text stand out is a simple outline. I routinely use the Alpha To Selection command with Select->Shrink or Select->Grow depending on the relative width of my font to get an outline. The advantage of the former is that you can do everything on the same layer. The advantage of the latter is that sometimes your fancy-shmanzy font is just too skinny!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Very First Page Kit

Sorry, no new tutorials today: it'll be a while before I am (a) caught up on my own scrapbooking, which I dare not let get too far behind, and (b) have some mental energy left over from kids, cleaning, and life in general.
Instead, I have for you a page kit - my very first - for your scrapbooking pleasure.
It's not a huge one - plenty of papers, but only a small hand-full of elements. Honestly, I don't have the skills for complicated element creation from scratch and I want to make sure everything I use as a building block is licensed properly. So for now we're looking at squares, stars, flowers, and a few scallops!
In any case, please enjoy Blue Skies for free.


Here's a sample page, too. Grace's outfit may give you a clue as to the inspiration of this kit! :)