Thursday, September 27, 2012

How To Digi-Scrap for Free (or very nearly): Part 1

How to Digi-Scrap for Free (or nearly!)

Back in late 2009, I purchased a beautiful new laptop on a Black Friday sale. Since that time I have become immersed in the world of digital scrapbooking. My paper supplies have all but mouldered in the garage while I've digi-scrapped literally hundreds of pages of my babies, my niece, our courtship, and our family life. I've printed more than a hundred pages at 12x12 while keeping my monetary investment to about $1.25/page, including S&H and the plastic page protector.
I've purchased no paper, no glue, and no shnazzy little metal brads that you just Know you're going to use but get lost in the bottom of the bag immediately. Perhaps more surprisingly I've also purchased no software, digital paper, elements, or fonts. All I've done is filled up my hard-drive!

This has become a multi-part series with a handful of Gimp tutorials on specific digital techniques. The first couple of posts, however, are an overview where I hit the highlights of free graphics software, free digital downloads, and basic "workflow."

A quick blurb about my background: I've been using computers since my family owned a TI99-4A back in the mid 80's, and I've been using graphics software of some description for at least 12 or 15 years. I'm a PC person, not a Mac , although I've never gone as far as Linux! In other words, I am Very comfortable with computers, and I don't want to pretend that all of this is super-simple-intuitive to the uninitiated non-geek.

Frankly, if you have no time or patience whatsoever to learn digi-scrapping but still want a slick
looking bound book to give to the grandparents, your best bet is to use one of the myriad online
drag-and-drop programs such as are available everywhere from Costco to Walgreens, Picaboo, Smilebox, or Snapfish. You won't even pay through the nose. And if you do want to do "real" from-scratch digi-scrapping, you will probably find it Easier to use commercial software such as Adobe Photo Elements (~$100) if for no other reason than that all the tutorials and help files assume this is what you've got installed. My way is simply cheaper!
So, let's get started!

Your first can't-live-without program is Google's Picasa. (
This software manages your photo collection quickly and easily, performs about 80% of the color correction, red-eye removal, cropping, and sharpening you need, and has a good handful of special effects built in. You can ID people in your photos, add stars or tags to help you find them again, and upload your favorites to free online albums.
I also use it to manage my digi-scrap supplies, although it is not truly designed for it. I've evolved several techniques to help which I will share in a later post.

Your second integral piece of software is Gimp. (
This oddly named creature is an open-source full fledged graphics editor that will remind an old hand very strongly of Photoshop. Created first and foremost for Linux, there are nevertheless very stable Windows ports. I installed it when my laptop was brand new, and then never got around to digging out my paid-for copy of Paint Shop Pro. Gimp has a lot of advantages over the former - not to mention the free bit. It can handle layers, text, color correction, sharpening, custom brushes and special effects. And yes, it can read multi-layered Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, PGP, and a myriad of other file types, rarely losing anything of real importance in the process. This is the program you'll use to actually assemble your pages.

Digital Paper and Embellishments
Now that you've got your photos and layout software, you need some fun paper, stickers, and letters to add to your pages.
There are a zillion places online that want to sell you what you need very badly - one of the first that springs to mind is, who also publishes a nice (free) daily newsletter. As mentioned above, I've never actually purchased anything from any of these sites. My basic impression, however, is that you end up paying $3 to $10 for each "kit," or perhaps around 25-50% of what you'd spend for physical materials at the craft store.
Thankfully, there are also an amazing array of people who want to give you your scrapping supplies for free. Sure, some of what's out there is low quality and even amateurish, but much is really very good. I'm not going to try and build a directory of free scrapping materials - it's been done. I will mention a few of my go-to sites.
  • A new favorite: Everyday Mom Ideas.  Many, many high quality paper and element kits, all free. 
  • An old favorite: Dreamsfulfilled (
    This wonderful lady used to post free kits or kit pieces a couple of times a week, and the quality is excellent. While she had to remove some of her kits due to bandwidth problems, there is still a lot out there and I encourage you to visit.  
  • No Reimer Reason (
    Most of the downloads are templates, not paper and element kits, but I've found the templates very helpful.  
  • ShabbyPrincess ( sells most of their kits, but it is more than worth snagging their freebies. I think they may take first place in terms of quality and beauty.
  • The Skrappy Kat has released several very nice free kits which I found most easily archived at also has a good freebie section, mostly of relatively small packages of add-ons or ready-made pages that coordinate with their for-sale kits.
Digi-Supplies Tips:
  • When starting out, resist the urge to download everything in sight - unless it's from Shabby Princess! ;)
    It's going to take a lot of bandwidth and hard drive space (kits commonly run 30+ megs), and as fun as "shopping" is, you don't want to overwhelm yourself with supplies such that you can barely decide where to start.
    Moreover, I've found that what I use over and over is not what I downloaded in the first months of my habit. It took time to figure out my style, what was easy and what was difficult to utilize, and therefore what to bother downloading. (For instance, I almost never use "Alphas" - that is, fancy decorated letters applied one at a time like chipboard or stickers. I've learned to do my own in less time. I also practically never use pre-made pages or templates. You, however, may be different!)
  • When assessing freebies, make sure that you're getting true 12x12 size at 300 dpi. That means your "papers" will be 3600x3600 pixels. If they're smaller, you may not be able to print out at an acceptable quality, and nothing is going to irritate you more than to spend 6 hours on a page that looks all "pixely" when printed.
    (This, by the way, is - aside from pure piracy concerns - what stops you from simply grabbing any ol' clip-art from the internet and throwing it on your pages. If you do a little research, you'll find that your largest images are around 1024x768 but usually much smaller. These are going to print out at about 3 inches wide at best!)

OK, that's enough for post #1. The next post in this series will cover establishing a digital
workflow - which is geek-speak for nailing down which programs to use for what purpose, when, and in which order.

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