Enhancing Color

Click on the photo to read the steps if it's too small.  Notice how the photo on the left has a "gray haze"?  At first the color seems great, until you look at the one on the right.  I was standing in the same spot and the photos were taken only seconds apart, I just happened to have these two photos side by side on the screen when I thought "quick tutorial".  This is what I do to bring true color out without really doing any editing effects.  There aren't any overlays, minus the use of the original photograph, no brush work and no filters.  These steps won't work on all photos in every scenario.  Sometimes the use of "multiply" is too much, sometimes just using "overlay" mode isn't enough.  You have to find what's going to work for the series of photos you are editing and go with it (see post below).

Editing a Series

[Many steps in the tip below are geared toward beginners as they learn about their images and their programs used to edit them.  If you are familiar enough, being as meticulous can be skipped.]

If you have a series of photos to be edited, lets say there's a color defect, so your process to color correct is being repeated over and over again, you'll need to keep track of your actions.  From your first image type up each and every step you take and settings you use.  Some settings will save, some won't.  Put these in a notepad document and save it with a title to match your project.  Even if you make a mistake, don't erase the mistake you typed up, keep it (trust me, you might need this info later), just put on there that you hit undo until "this" step.  The reason for this is if you undo, then move on, then realize you actually had it right the first time, your original steps are gone from the Gimp undo dialog.  The only way to get that back is to back track through your document or if you saved your edited image before you hit undo.

Once you get your steps right for how you want to edit your series, save the original notepad document, then resave again under a new name.  Alter the document to reflect only the steps you need to take and take those steps on your next image.  Did it turn out the same?  Note: certain items will need to be tweeked from one image to the next do to lighting changes, etc, however the basic steps and settings should be pretty close.  You don't want to color correct a series and later see that one photo has too much blue taken out and another not enough. Repeating the same general steps will prevent this.  In real life colors shift a bit and is so subtle we don't notice but in a framed collage setting someone will if you don't do it correctly.  You could say this is a "learn from my mistake" tip.

Borders, Overlays and Masks

This graphic shows an example of what a border, overlay or mask will do.  You don't have to use those mask layers as specifically intended.  I often use them in just a layer mode setting for effects more than actual editing and selecting.

The black and white image is the border used on both photos.  The one on the left is used when the image is black with a white border, the one on the right is white with a black border.  Note the gray edges and how the yellow coat pops and his face is highlighted.

Many are frightened about using overlays like these because they don't know how to use them and in their raw state they look kind of ugly.  Don't fret.  If there are items on the overlay you dislike, do some brush work, even eraser work, smudge it, blur it.  Use invert, rescale, pixelate, noise.

Undo - Making and Fixing Mistakes

First off, I can't stress enough about saving as you go as well as saving in layers (xcf, psd).  As a reminder, I always use the word "edit" in my saved title and sometimes I add a number to designate the edited version, so I know that this image isn't finished and should not be shared.  Saving these can also help prove yourself in a copyright case, as I had to once before.  Some projects you'll find you save more edits than others.  Now that digital storage (thumb drives, CD's, DVD's, external hard drives) is getting cheaper and cheaper, it doesn't hurt to keep these around.

When should you save an edited version?  That depends on you and your project.  If you think you'll want to create another version of this but with certain changes, save just before you go in one direction, such as erasing and recoloring.  I always keep the bottom layer as my unedited base image in case I need a quick copy.  It's usually called "background" by default.

When you first install Gimp, it has a default setting for undo levels.  This setting is inadequate, especially once you apply a script-fu.  So if you have ever wanted to undo something but can only go so far, there's a fix for this.  Go into the main Gimp box and click on File> Preferences> Environment.  I have my settings at 99 undo levels and 100 megabytes of undo memory.  This seems to be fine for what I do and for my system resources.  Even when I was running W98, 1 gig ram with 14 gigs of memory, it seemed to work just fine.

Now when you make a mistake you should be able to back yourself up through your undo levels or simply by opening up a saved edit.

XCF Revisited - Layers and Filters Too

I was just asked again what an XCF file is and if she should use this file instead of something else.  I believe I have covered this before but I will cover it again for those that may be new or missed it.

An XCF file is a Gimp image file and you can only open it (currently) with the Gimp program.  If you are familiar with Photoshop, XCF is Gimp's equivalent.  What makes an XCF file special is that you can save your work in layers and including any guides, masks etc. you have added.

Do you save as a PSD or an XCF?  That's for you to decide.  I usually save as a PSD so I can swap the image between different programs, as well as the fact that ACDSee (an image organizer and viewer) can translate a PSD into a thumbnail.  I did find that an XCF file does save faster and at a slightly smaller file size.  I have not seen any quality difference between the two.

What do I mean by swap?  For some reason I like the Gimp text tool so much better than Adobe's.  I don't do a lot of text on a path (meaning I leave most of my text in a straight line), but I like adding layer styles to the text.  If I save as a PSD then open it back up in Photoshop, I can add the style to the text layer.  Use this with caution as some layers will apply to a layer and other layers will vanish, but this is rare with Photoshop - not so rare with Gimp's script-fu.  To get around this you can save that layer as a separate image and edit it, save, import back into image.  How?  In Gimp layers dialog box click on the text layer, then in the image box select Edit>Copy, Edit>Paste As New.  Save image.  Edit in Gimp with script-fu or open in Photoshop and add your layer style.

What is a layer style?  Layer styles are like Gimp's script-fu's.  They are a single click transformation of your shape or text.  You can make something look like glass, metal, neon... choices are endless.  With a layer style you don't see the steps used to create the effect.  Photoshop also has actions which are like layer styles but with more creativity and actions allow for editing several layers at once, depending on the action used.  Elements does not use actions, only the Creative Suite line.  So now when you are reading a PS tutorial trying to interpret it into Gimp you'll know what they are talking about.  As of right now Gimp cannot use Adobe layer styles or actions like they can some brushes and filters.

Filters?  Filters are awesome.  When you have time to play with these, you should.  Filters are a set of quick commands given to the program to edit an image.  Filters by themselves might not have that wow effect until you learn that in Gimp and Photoshop nothing is limited, you can keep pushing the limits until you created what you wanted.  I use filters all of the time to enhance a photo with layer modes.  If you have a photo open right now try this quick trick as an example.  Copy your image in the layers dialog box.  Click on the new layer (called selecting layer), and in the image box click on Filters> Artistic> Photocopy.  Now you should have a cartooney black and white image.  Click on Mode in the layers dialog box and change the setting to overlay.  Interesting right?  Now try this: click in the image box Layers> Transparency> Color to Alpha.  Default is set to white, leave that and click ok.  It should have removed all white from that layer and now you have different results.

As I said... Limitless.  Now go have some fun!

Why Can't I Save This?

So you're making this fabulous creation and you now want to save your work, but it won't let you, you get an error.  You ask yourself "why can't I save an image with Gimp?" and you get frustrated.  Well, Gimp is a little different than Photoshop when it comes to saving.  It gives you drop down options of where to save but not how to save.  The answer is really simple:  when you save, you also have to save the extension.  If you want it as a jpeg, you save as title.jpg, as a png you save as title.png, same for gif, psd (photoshop document), or xcf (gimp version of a psd), etc.  Simple but not obvious.  Does that help? Yay!! LOL =)

UPDATE June 2012:  Most of my tuts are made with Gimp 2.2 in mind but now in 2012 we are up to 2.7, things have changed a bit.  Gimp now, inconveniently, saves as a default of .xcf, so in order to save as a .jpg or any other extension you need to go to File> Export.  If it's already the file you need and you just want to overwrite, choose overwrite.  If your save was successful the info on the top left of your image box will read as Untitled (exported), if it didn't save it will still say "imported".  Until you are used to this method, have the folder open where you are saving your images to make sure it appears before closing the image.  When you close it will say you have unsaved changes, even after you have "exported", simply because you didn't save it as .xcf.  I prefer 2.2 and have managed to get many new tools to work.  I do have 2.7 on another computer. Goes to show you, keep a back up copy of older executable files in case you want to revert back to a different version. There is a site called "Older Version" where you can get these files.  Good luck and happy gimping!

Big Huge Labs

I've shared this site wherever I go because it's a great tool, a great place to start when you are choosing a palette from a single photo, and then they have great on-site apps where you can download or screenshot your creation. If you haven't used Big Huge Labs, go there now!

For those that are new and don't know what I mean by choosing a palette - this is the color scheme you can use if you are creating items to scrapbook your page with and you want them to match. I like doing this as a foundation then introducing other items of other colors.

If you are using Gimp, simply make a screenshot after you create your palette and then use the color picker in Gimp to transfer your colors to the color box. Note: you may want to save this screenshot for later reference.

If you don't know how to do a screenshot, here's how:

1. Adjust the item on the screen so you can see all of the content you want to copy.

2. Look in the upper right of  the keyboard for a key titled "prt sc" or "prt scr".  Note* My keyboard has a box around it so I have to hold down the function key "fn" and "prt sc" at the same time.  Some keyboards you have to hold control "ctrl" and "prt sc" at the same time and rarely you don't need to hold down any key but "prt sc".

3. To test this out in Gimp, with Gimp open in the main toolbox window go to File> Acquire> From Clipboard.  Note* When you do this, you'll see Gimp offers other screenshot options.  I'm not going to go into detail on how to do those, I'll let you play with them on your own.  I like this method since I often take a quick screenshot and dump it into MS Paint. 

4. A window should have opened with your new image.  If it didn't, chose a different key combination from Step #2.

5. Crop your image and make other alterations you wish and be sure to save.

Mac: [I do not use a Mac, never have.]
Go to About.com here for instructions.

Installing Fonts

Fonts are fun and addictive. I don't think anyone can have too many of them, but that's just me. I can't give you any advice on Mac fonts since I've never owned a Mac. With PC fonts, and newer versions of Windows, you do not need to download a font viewer or organizer. ACDSee and Windows will preview your fonts for you. To install them, it's easy, after you download your fonts, unzip them and copy and paste font file into your Windows font folder. If you do this while your programs that use fonts are running, you'll need to refresh it's font database from the program or restart it (Gimp has a refresh button, Photoshop Elements it's easier to just restart it as occasionally a few fonts won't appear right away).

If a font you found isn't exactly what you wanted, keep in mind you might be able to alter it to work - by scaling the layer it's on to be taller or wider or using brushes to grunge it up or add flourishes. I've addressed this a bit on this blog already. As you learn to use your program, you'll find out that you are not limited by what fonts you are given.

Another option, some font sites have a feature where they will show you similar fonts so you find the one you are looking for or one that comes closest.

If you want to learn about font file types and other details, most font sites have a section available, and of course, there's Google.

[EDIT TO ADD: Be careful of stretching and scaling fonts as you might end up pixelating them or making them too distorted.  To prevent this, make your font much larger than you need, edit, then scale down.  See if that helps.]

New to Scrapbooking?

Recently I've been asked by a few people that have never used Photoshop or Gimp, let alone digital scrapbooking, how to get started. I'm going to break down the basics and eventually get into more details as I go. It'll get easier as you learn. It may seem overwhelming in the beginning. In time you'll forget you even did some of these steps as it becomes natural.

Items you'll need:

Objects: computer, scanner, camera, extra storage and/or back-up DVD's

Software: some form of image manipulation program such as Gimp, Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. You can use Scrapbook Factory but they are a bit behind in the output quality department. Gimp being free, it's a good place to start.

If you already are a paper scrapper, gather your items you want to use in digital. Don't worry if it's a sticker, I'll show you later how to use it in a page.

Grab your paper photos that you want to scrap.

**NOTE: being organized is KEY here, as well as BACKING UP your tools, scans and creations. I keep my things sorted between my designs, copyrighted designs I've downloaded, Gimp tools, Photoshop tools, photographs/scans and completed projects.

Before you actually start scrapping, I suggest scanning all of your paper media and making DVD copies for future reference. I have lost items due to damage of the DVD or computer, so I keep a working copy and an archive copy (in case the back-up is damaged). A 500 gig USB external is a great investment because they are under $100 and do not need an external power source.

Paper media: this will consist of photographs, old school papers, yearbooks, paper scrap backgrounds (as well as other supplies), interesting book covers or pages, heirloom documents, even the fabric of your favorite dress (no kidding!).

Scanning: Digital scrapbooking pages and graphics tend to be large in file size and dimensions, but there's a good reason for this - output quality and how you present your creations. If you choose to display your pages on a large flat screen tv or print them out for large frames or in book form, you'll need the larger size (of everything). You can always downsize and have smaller projects look amazing, but once something has been reduced, you can't make it larger again without distorting or pixelating the image. With that being said, proper scanning produces better results in the long run.

Scanning rules to follow:

I'm not going to get into scanning procedures since each scanner is different and there are thousands out there, so learn your scanner. You don't have to alter or crop each scan you make - do that during the creative process down the road. I call these images "raw scans" because they are right off the scanner, may have extra space around the image or multiple images on the glass being scanned at once. Keep your glass clean! You can use those lens cloths for eyeglasses, these work the best and dry quickly. Anything on the glass when you scan will be a part of your image and you'll have to do touch-ups later.

How large should you scan an image? If it's a 5x7 or an 8x10, I'd leave it like that unless it's a group shot and the people are smaller, then use the enlarge feature to scan the image at 150% or more. If you can hide it in the palm of your hand, then scan it at 300%. What you are after is getting a larger image to fit properly (and with quality) on a 3600x3600 pixel canvas, that's the standard 12 inch page for digital scrapbooking.

Once you get your scanning done, you can take the time to crop your images or leave them as is, dealing with the cropping later when you scrap. Have you backed up your scans to a DVD or external hard drive?