Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Digi-Scrap Tutorial: Hybrid Pages Using Picasa's Collage Tool

As I work through last year's scrapping backlog, I've come across a couple of places where I had a Ton of photos to fit on my page - 10 or 12 or even more.  I could see myself spending Hours not just scouring the web and my magazines for adaptable page maps to scraplift, but also simply doing the photo re-size and placement on the page.
Picasa's Collage tool to the rescue!
If you've played with Picasa to any great extent, you may have come across this fun little toy, hidden away under the "Create" menu.
Here are two sample pages I've created using this tool, followed by a brief run-down on how to create a collage

Pre-Requisites for this Tutorial

1. Working knowledge of  Google Picasa
2. Digital scrapbooking experience in a editor such as Photoshop Elements or Gimp

Creating a Collage in Picasa

1. In Library view, select the photos you wish to include in your collage.
2. From the "Create" menu, chose "Collage."
3. Decide which of the 6 collage styles you want to make, or try several.  Hint: I use the Mosaic and Picture Pile options almost exclusively.
Picasa automatically arranges your photos on the page for you based on the selected options.
Note that it also *crops* your photos as it sees fit - and sometimes you'll lose important parts.  Thankfully, you can edit the result substantially.
4. If you are making a Mosaic collage, use your mouse to drag and drop photos within the collage so that they trade places - i.e. to make sure your favorite photos are largest, or move a photo Picasa cropped and oriented as Landscape into a more appropriate Portrait slot, etc.
5. If you are making a Picture Pile collage, use your mouse to resize, rotate, and send photos forward or backwards as necessary.

OK, I'll step away for a 30 or 45 minutes now while you play with things.  Then I'll come back and answer your burning question:

"But how do I actually Use my beautiful collage on a scrapbook page!?"

Let's start with the simpler option, the Mosaic collage.
I'll assume you've followed the instructions above and come up with a Mosaic style collage you're happy with.
In order to use it on a page, the first thing you'll want to consider is aspect ratio - or, as it's called in the Collage tool, the Page Format.
I was making a two page spread, but wanted space above, below, and to the side for embellishment and journaling. So I created a custom 12x6 ratio - in other words, twice as long as it is high.  Note that I could just as easily called this a "2x1" ratio: Picasa *always* creates collages of the same width (5120 pixels) regardless of aspect ratio, meaning a 12x6 collage will have the same pixel count as a 1x2.
But I digress.  In any case, you can create a custom aspect ratio by scrolling to the bottom of the "Page Format" drop-down and choosing that option.

Note that I have also selected the "Draw Shadows" option.
But here's the real trick: the "Use Image" option under "Background Options."
This is a little non-intuitive, so bear with me.
1. Select "Use Image" from the Background Options dialog.
The background image automatically defaults to the image in your collage that is currently selected.  This, of course, is not what you want.
2. Near the top of the page, note the second table labeled "Clips."  Select it.
3. Now, click the "Get More" button.  You will be returned to the Library view.  Navigate through your image library until you find the background paper that you want to use.  Take your time: the collage isn't going anywhere!
Once you've found it, simply click the "Collage" tab that appears at the top of the screen next to the Library tag.
You should arrive back at your "Clips" menu, with your background paper appearing in your thumbnail set.

4. Here's the particularly non-intuitive part: Ensure that *only* your background paper is selected, then click the green "Plus" to add the image to your collage.
Yes, I know that you don't want it to appear like a photo in there: we'll take it back out, I promise!
5. Your background image will appear as a photo in your collage.  Click it to select it (an orange border will appear), and then click the "Set As Background" button at the top left.
Your "paper" will appear beneath your collage.
6. Now, click the undesired paper image in your collage again, and this time select "Remove."  It will disappear, and your collage will snap back into shape.
Take a close look: it probably moved some of your photos back to their original locations: you may need to drag and drop them around again.

Now you have a collage with a pretty background image.
At this point, it is as simple as
7. Click the "Create Collage" button.
Picasa will think for a while, and then your finished collage will appear in the library.
8. Now, simply open your collage in your favorite editor (Gimp or PSE for me!).
Resize it so it will fit on your page(s), and then create the rest of the page around it using your favorite techniques.
Of course, your collage is a single, simple layer, a fact you will no doubt find limiting before you finish adding embellishments, titles, and text.  Be patient with yourself: eventually you'll learn to plan ahead for these things.
Keep in mind that you can always go back to your collage in Picasa, edit it as desired, save it, and bring it back into your editor.  I've done this plenty of times.

Taking It a Step Further: a Picture Pile on a Multi-Layered Page

Let's refer back to my second example

I like the "Picture Pile" collage style quite a bit, but have found it even more difficult to work with when building a finished page.  My primary difficulty is in getting the page to look "balanced:" I never seemed to leave gaps in my collage in just the right places for my title and journaling, leading to a lop-sided look.
Here's an option for working around this.

1. First, use your editor of choice (today I used PSE) to create your background, title, and even your journaling.  In other words, this part:

2. Save your page as a 3600 px file in JPG format.
3. Now, create your Picture Pile collage in Picasa, making sure to chose the Square page format
4. Use your page image as the background! Now you can see exactly where your photos will fit: you can even make them overlap your journaling card, title, or etc.

5. Save your collage, and then bring it Back into your editor.
Add your embellishments (staples, flags, flowers, etc.) and save once more.

While there are certainly a lot of steps involved here, I am sure you'll find that after doing it a couple of times, you'll be spending much less time using this method than laboriously inserting that many photos one-at-a-time in your editor.

Let me know what you think!

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