Tutorial: Using Photoshop Templates in Gimp

The phrase of the day is "Quick and Dirty!"

When I was new to digital scrapbooking, I got excited about using pre-made layered templates as shortcuts for my layouts. But I quickly found that the end product didn't live up to the billing in Gimp: it actually took me Longer to lay out my photos using the template than would have otherwise.
The problem is that the instructions for Photoshop would say something like "Drag your photos onto the layout and create a layer clipping map..." Whoops, start over! You can't drag photos from canvas to canvas in Gimp, nor is there a "clipping map" equivalent. I tried using guides, painstakingly lined up by hand, but it just added to the time factor. So I gave up and went back to eye-balling for the most part.
Since those early days, I've learned several techniques that make it possible to actually save time using a template. So I'm using some of the time I saved on my niece's vacation book to share them with you.


To complete this tutorial, you will need Gimp, the number 6 template downloaded from CreatingKeepsakes.com here, and 3 to 5 photos that can be cropped into a square.

For advanced users, here in a nutshell is what we're going to do.
1. Resize and rotate the template if necessary.
2. Change the transparency of all photo placeholder layers to about 50%.
3. Crop and re-size your photos to the appropriate aspect ratio and *approximate* size of the placeholder.
4. Paste photo as a new layer Under the appropriate placeholder and drag into position. Make sure a few pixels of your photo overlap on all four edges.
5. Select the alpha channel of the placeholder; then invert the selection.
6. On the photo layer, delete the selection (thereby "clipping" everything that is not under the placeholder.)
7. Delete or hide the placeholder layer.
8. Repeat.

Now, for those of you who need a little more explanation, the Details...
(Note: You can click on any screenshot to see a [slightly] larger version.)
Step 1: Open and re-size the template.
The file opens as a layered document with nicely labeled layers for each photo or journaling slot.
Unfortunately, it is 2400 x 2400 pixels, which is only 8 inches when printed at 300 dpi. Since I want 12x12 inch pages, and since the shapes are very simple and will not pixelize, I re-sized to 3600 pixels square. The command is under Image -> Scale Image

Step 2: (Optional) Apply your own background paper and rotate template.
I wanted a little texture in the background, so I open a piece of paper from my collection. I copied it, then switched over to the template and selected the background layer. I pasted it right over the top of the existing color, then chose "anchor layer" from the Layer menu.
I also wanted the large photo to be in the upper right rather than lower left, so I chose "Image" -> Transform -> Rotate 180.

Step 3: Make all of the photo slots semi-transparent.
In the layers dialog, select each of the white layers (labeled "Big photo," "top right," etc.) and change their transparency to about 50%. (Exactness is not important here.) This is so you can see through them when positioning your photos.

Step 4: Crop and scale photo for first slot
Now we need to make our photo Approximately the right size and shape for our template.
This is where we get really quick and dirty, and where the template really pays off by eliminating a lot of math and exact line-ups.

Tip: There's no automatic way that I know of to get Gimp to cough up the exact pixel dimensions of a layer, more's the pity. In this case, eye-balling the template tells us we need roughly square photos. To get a closer measurement, I use the Rectangle Select tool to draw around one of the photo slots. When I'm done I see on the Toolbox palate that the size is 929x913. Since I wasn't exact, we probably have a 930x930 or so. We'll crop and re-size our photo to, say, 950x950 and that'll be close enough.

Set the Crop tool aspect ratio to Fixed, 1:1 and crop your photo. Then re-size using Image -> Scale to 950x950.


Tip: While cropping your photo is not technically necessary given the rest of the technique I will demonstrate, it's still a good idea: you want to know that you can get the important parts of your photo in the frame.


Step 5: Copy photo and paste as new layer into template
The command is under Edit -> Paste As -> New Layer.
Hint: In the layers palate, select the layer directly below the one you wish to place your photo on. If you forget, go ahead and drag the layer down to that position in the layers palate after pasting.

Step 6: Drag photo underneath the photo placeholder and center
Again, quick and dirty is the name of the game here. This is why we've made the placeholder layers semi-transparent: you want to make sure that some small portion of your photo overlaps the template on all four sides.

Step 7: Select the Alpha portion of the placeholder
Here's where the time-saving magic occurs!
With your photo positioned under the placeholder, select the placeholder layer in the palate and right-click. Choose "Alpha to Selection" (The "alpha channel" is the portion of the layer that is transparent. If there's no transparency, it just selects everything in the layer. Very handy!)

Step 8: Invert the selection and delete
In the layers palate, select your photo layer again.
From the select menu choose "Invert," or click "Cntrl-I"
After double-checking that you're on your photo layer, hit the delete key.
Everything not covered by the placeholder layer disappears! You even get the slightly rounded corner. Shnazzy!

Step 9: Delete (or hide) the placeholder layer
In the Layers palate, either delete (using the garbage can icon at the bottom) or hide (using the "eye" icon to the side) your placeholder.

Step 10: Repeat for the remaining photos.
I reserved a slot for title and journaling. I left it at about 50% transparency 'cause I liked the effect.
There. You're all done! If you want, add some embellishments, and maybe shadows on all the photo layers. Or, leave it as is: looks great either way. And once you get a few under your belt, you can have 'em done in 15-20 minutes. Huge time saver!


Advanced technique: Merge two photo placeholders into 1.
Let's say you really like this template, but one of your photos cannot be cropped into a square. You need a slot that is either 2x as long or 2x as high as the placeholder squares on the template.
Never fear: Just merge two placeholders into one!
Just one screenshot, but I think you'll get the picture.

Steps
1. IMPORTANT: Change the transparency of both layers that you wish to merge back to 100%!
If you don't do this, the transparency gets saved into the alpha channel and our 'magic trick' of using the "Alpha to Selection" command won't work.
2. If the 2 layers you wish to merge are not directly above / below each other in the layers palate, drag them into place such that they are.
3. On the layers template, click the first layer that you want to merge.
4. Right click the layer in the layer palate and chose "Merge Down" from the menu.
At this point, both of your placeholders have become the same layer.
Go ahead and change their transparency back to 50%.
5. Crop and re-size your photo as necessary, paste as a new layer, and drag under the newly merged placeholder.
6. Right-click the placeholder layer in the layer palate and choose "Alpha to Selection."
At this point, you may notice a problem with our scheme: There's a "bar" in between our two original placeholders. If you simply invert the selection and delete on the photo layer, that bar will disappear too, which you probably don't want.
To fix this, chose the Selection Rectangle (shortcut: Shift-R) from the tools palate.
In the tool options, next to the label "Mode," there is a little icon of two red squares overlapping one another. This tells the selection tool to Add To the current selection instead of replacing it. (You can get the same effect by holding down the Shift key while drawing your rectangle.)
With that option selected, draw a rectangle around the missing portion of your selection. You can be sloppy with the height (i.e. it can overlap the existing selection), but the width must line up exactly.
7. Now, invert the selection (Cntrl-I), select the photo layer, and delete. And you've got a double tall (or wide) photo as needed!

OK, now back to your regularly scheduled scrapping!

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