Thursday, December 1, 2011

A simple digital collage {my process and a freebie}

After I posted a project in late November about some coasters I'd made {click here for the post}, I had a comment asking for details on how to create a digital collage.  I need a few posts to do this properly since there is a lot to go over.  I'll focus on simpler one color project in this post - my black and white crowns with script background coaster project.  Here goes...

*FIRST A DISCLAIMER* I just want everyone to know {unless you can't already tell} that I'm by no means a professional graphic designer.  I use the graphics programs I have already on hand {Adobe Photoshop elements, MS Publisher, MS PowerPoint}.  My directions are cobbled together using trial & error and looking techniques up on the Internet.  In other words, I'm sure there is always the "right way," a better way, or faster way to do the techniques I'll share in my post. I'm just sharing how I figured out how to do it and what works for me.  Please leave comments if you have a better tip so I can learn too!

TIP #1:  KEEP A PERSONAL GRAPHICS CATALOG.  I'll go in to this in more detail in another post, but basically, if you're going to do digital collages, I've found it's easier to go in to your own library of pics and links to images you've already pre-screened and approved that's already saved on your computer then to search for things you like when an idea strikes.  Another huge topic is be sure you know where your images come from and their use restrictions.  The Graphics Fairy site is always a good bet.  I collect vintage books and prints, so I often use those too.

TIP #2:  KEEP AN INSPIRATION FILE.  Always bookmark artwork and images that strike your fancy, tutorials you'd like to try, etc.  Pinterest is great for this purpose.  I find Somerset's magazines are great inspiration too.  The file helps give you an idea of what others are doing and suggestions for what images look good together, interesting color combinations, etc.  The more you start looking at digital artists, you'll get a feel for how many things to layer, how to make images work together and not compete with each other, and to get a sense of what essentially "looks good."

TIP #3:  MATCH PROJECT SCALE TO NUMBER OF IMAGES TO LAYER.  You want your project to look layered, but not a hodgepodge of images that don't relate.  To me, the number of images should match the scale of the project.  For a coaster, I'd layer 2 or 3  images{otherwise it gets too busy}.  For larger projects like a canvas, you can safely layer 2 to 3 types of images {e.g., butterflies, script, old postcards} with 2 to 4 variations of each type, for a total of 4 to 12 images.

Okay, so now on to my crown coasters, I used four crown images {one unique crown design for each coaster} with a background of script writing.

I downloaded the images I wanted or pulled them from my personal graphics catalog.  To layer them, they need to be transparent, otherwise they'll look like this {see below}

In a nutshell, to make a transparent image, I go in to Photoshop Elements, and using the magic wand, select the white background.  I then select the inverse {which is the image I really want}, copy it, and paste it in to a new file which has the background set to "transparent."  The resulting image is a crown that can be layered on top of anything without the silly white box {see below}.

Here is where you play around.  In MS Publisher, I copy in both graphics.  I play with the scale and order until I see something I like.  TIP:  I usually create a box the size of my project {4" for the coaster} which has no fill, but a black line and use it as my view window {be sure to delete the box before printing!}.  This gives me a sense of what the coaster will look like, and is especially helpful when I want partial images that run off the sides {see view windows below}.  I also go to Arrange > Order > Bring to Front in MS Publisher to play with what graphic sits on top {more fun when you're layering multiple images}.

For this project, that was really it.  I grouped the images and saved the final image as a PDF.  I brought the file to my copy shop who made laser prints for me.  If you're interested in making coasters from the image, you can read the tutorial here.

If you just want the four crowns with script behind them, click the image below.  Thank you to the Graphics Fairy for posting the free crown images.

That's a very basic introduction to digital collages.  I hope it helped somebody who wants to try to do this for the first time.

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