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Page Layout and Design for Digital Scrapbooking

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Carla Rose explains layout and page design for digital scrapbooking, including using layers and templates, and adding design elements without making clutter.
This chapter is from the book

Just the thought of designing a page from scratch sends many a novice scrapbooker running and screaming. There's no need for panic, though. Simply understanding a few basic concepts makes the whole job easy and fun. In this chapter, you learn about layout and page design. You learn about using layers and templates, and how to add design elements without making clutter. Let's start with layers.

Working in Layers

If you want your pages to have a sense of depth or texture, you probably realize that it comes from working in layers, adding one piece on top of another. The old-fashioned way is to literally pile up layers of paper on the background sheet. You might, for example, use torn tissue to make an edge around a photo or mount a photo on a piece of double-stick foam tape, so it stands out slightly from the rest of the page. Digitally, layering is even easier.

To really understand layers, think about a cartoon. When Disney Studios turned out its first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, back in 1928, Mickey was actually created out of about five layers of celluloid, or cels, laid over a background, and filmed two or three single frames at a time. Because film runs at 24 frames per second, it took a lot of pieces of celluloid to make Mickey do that happy little dance. But the animators were able to save a lot of time and paint by using one set of cels for his arms, another set for his legs, and one that didn't move as much for his body. That's basically how layers work in photo programs, too. Each thing you add to a page is on a separate transparent layer, so you can slide the photos, text, and frames around until they're in the perfect place. Then, when you save the page, you merge everything so it's all "stuck down" as if you glued it there. Why not leave it in layers? Well, you can, and should, as long as you continue to work on that page. But, just as a lot of pieces of paper and plastic flowers and studs and charms add bulk to a paper page, piling up a lot of layers adds extra bulk to the digital file. If you have plenty of storage space on your hard drive, that's not such a problem, but working with huge files also slows down the computer, and some computers quit in disgust if you ask them to do more than they want to.

The good news about going digital is that with many photo programs, layers are easy to create and can be moved around with a lot less trouble than if you have to glue them in place. Here's how Microsoft Picture It! handles layering. One little quirk is that they call their layers stacks. See Figure 5.1.

Figure 5.1Figure 5.1 Using the Format menu, you can move an object forward, backward, or to the front or back of the page.

In Picture It! you can select objects and move them up or down, but you can't actually see your layers unless you choose Show Stack in the View menu. Then they appear as a strip of frames down the right side of the screen. In any graphics program that uses the layering concept, there's going to be a way to rearrange them, sending one layer backward or forward as needed, but simple programs like Picture It! don't offer as much control over layers as a more complex graphics program. Both Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop Elements, shown in Figure 5.2, have an actual layers palette, so you can see what's where, and move it up or down and even apply special effects accordingly.

Figure 5.2Figure 5.2 Photoshop Elements has a more convenient approach to layering.

The Layers palette in Photoshop Elements allows you to add or remove layers or rearrange them just by dragging them. As you can see by the Layers palette in Figure 5.2, I have a lot of different layers. Some hold the photos and others the shapes that are behind or in front of them. When I'm done with this page, I'll have added at least two or three more, including the text layer to identify the pictures and an "effects" layer to add drop shadows behind the frames. Then I'll flatten the image by merging all the layers and watch my file become much smaller. That's especially important if I'm going to put the page up on my Web site. Ever waited for a big file to load from a Web page? The page in the figure, even only partially finished, is 24 megabytes. That's a lot of disk space and a lot of download time. If I flatten the image and save it as a .jpg, which is a very Web-efficient format, it'll reduce to 46 kilobytes, which downloads in two seconds or less. Better? You better believe it.

Figure 5.3 shows a closer look at the Layers palette. I've created a document with three layers. There's a Background layer, a layer I've painted on, called Layer 1, and a Type layer, which is recognizable by the T on the palette. It also has the text I typed as the name of the layer. The open-eye icons to the left of the palette indicate that these layers are all visible. If you want to hide a layer, you simply click the icon to remove the eye. The paintbrush icon tells you which of the three layers is currently active. That's important because you can work on only one layer at a time. Anything you do to the active layer doesn't affect the others. The tiny circular icon at the bottom of the palette lets you add fill or adjustment layers, which affect only the layer that's active at the time you click on the icon. The dog-eared page icon adds a new layer to the stack. Drag layers you don't want to use to the trash can icon. The More button at the top of the Layers palette opens a menu that lets you rename layers and merge them, among other useful tasks.


A fill layer is a layer that holds a color or pattern. An adjustment layer applies an adjustment—such as a change in brightness or contrast—either to the contents of the previous layer only or to the entire document.

Figure 5.3Figure 5.3 Whenever you see a button—like the More button shown here—or an arrow on a palette, click it. It will lead you to more menus or tools.

The Layer palette in Paint Shop Pro, seen in Figure 5.4, looks a bit different, but works in much the same way. One obvious difference is that layers are designated raster or vector (see the "Bitmaps? Vectors? Rasters? Wha'?" sidebar).

The icons above the Layer palette create different types of layers and allow you to move them up or down in the stack. You can also change the transparency of layers so that an upper layer appears to be more or less transparent, letting what's below it show through or not, and make them blend together in different ways. Layer blending is best learned by observation and experimentation. To get you started, Dissolve gives a speckled effect, and Normal is an even mix.

Figure 5.4Figure 5.4 Paint Shop Pro also uses the eye symbol to indicate visible layers.

Bitmaps? Vectors? Rasters? Wha'?

All image files can include both raster, or bitmap, images and vector images. (Raster and bitmap are terms used interchangeably.) Let's start at the very beginning, with the bitmap. A bitmap is simply a way of describing all the pixels or dots that make up an image on your screen. Think of a map printed on a piece of graph paper. Each little box represents a pixel. Each pixel is identified in a code that tells the computer its precise location and color. When you send a picture to the printer, each bitmap pixel asks for, and gets, the right mix of inks to reproduce the color. Cool, huh? It's what makes computer graphics possible.

Vector images, instead of being described dot by dot, as bitmap images are, are geometric codes. The computer draws a box, for instance, by being told: Start at this location. Draw a line one pixel thick at 90 degrees for a distance of one inch. Draw a line from that point 180 degrees south for a distance of one inch. And so on, until the whole box is described. This system can describe intricate curves and shapes, too, which is why it's used for type.

In Paint Shop Pro, Vector layers are transparent layers added on top of the basic bitmap. They hold type and shapes, just as they do in Photoshop Elements, although Adobe doesn't call them "vector layers." In Photoshop Elements you have separate type and shape layers, which are actually vector layers. When you're finished making changes to the vector layer, you can rasterize it to make it a bitmap by choosing Simplify Layer from the Layer menu. It's as if the lines on a vector page were just made of some kind of imaginary string, and until you paste them down, they aren't really there. Rasterizing transforms them from lines back to bitmaps, which is what all computer pictures are.

After type has been "rasterized" in Paint Shop Pro, or "simplified" in Photoshop Elements, you can't go back and edit it, so you need to check your spelling before you take that final step. If you want to change the typeface or the size again, you must do that before you convert it. You can still drag the rasterized type around on the page, independent of the other layers in your document, until you flatten the image, which places everything on the same layer. Another option is to duplicate a type layer and rasterize the duplicate, preserving one type layer in case you want to make changes or use that type in another form within the same document. You can make the duplicate layer invisible, and still know that it's there if you need it.

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