Now that it’s November, should we start thinking about how to turn our genealogy files into Christmas presents? … again.
Here’s one multi-purpose and simple idea. Photo collage for making your own cards or calendars. If cards and calendars seem one step too far, you can send the finished collage.JPG to a relative to be used as their desktop wallpaper. If they can’t do this themselves they’ll think you’re a genius.
If you’re more ambitious, and this will be impressive, make a batch of photo collages to be used as a rotating screensaver.
First, gather together the photos you want to use. Pick some favorites and copy them to a new folder. Any kind of pictures will do, so you can also bring in clip art or home-made drawings. Your imagination is the limit. You can browse for more later but it’s easier to get organized off the bat. Pick more than you think you’ll use rather than less. You can always delete the ones you don’t need later.
For now, if you haven’t done this before, just pick any few to get a feel for this. When you see what you can do, a theme will pop into your mind and you can be more precise the next time around.
FastStone Viewer has an easy way to make a collage. If you don’t have this software on your computer yet, it’s free, only 4 MB and completely safe. You can’t lose. It does all kinds of other things, too, which you’ll come to love if you haven’t yet.
Using the file browser on the main screen of FastStone Viewer, locate your folder of chosen photos. Select all the photo thumbnails there. Then, up on the menu, click on Tools and then Wallpaper Anywhere. (Update: This has been changed to Tools/Wallpaper/Set Wallpaper Anywhere on Desktop. You can also save the finished file anywhere, it doesn’t have to be your desktop.)
Once you’re on the next screen, whichever photo is clicked on is the one you can put a frame-mask on or move. One at a time. On the left is a selection of frame-masks. Experiment with those. You can drag the corners of the photos to make them larger or smaller. You can choose a different background color, and the transparency level of each picture.
You can lay out your pictures any way you want. If you like you can put a larger picture to fill the screen and then layer smaller pictures over the top of it.
Save as File gives you a variety of formats to choose from. As usual, it’s better to use something besides JPG as your file type while you’re working. JPGs will deteriorate if you change and re-save them multiple times. TIFF will do.
The picture is saved with the file name being the time it was saved, so you can have multiple versions without overwriting them, or having to choose a new name every time. Save each time you’ve got something you like. You can pick your favorite later.
After saving, you have other options if you want them. You can bring one back into this same screen and put another frame-mask around the entire thing, and save it again.
On the main screen of FastStone Viewer, double-click on the thumbnail to open the photo in the main viewing window. If you run your cursor over to any edge of this screen a menu will pop out. On the left side of the screen you will find the Draw Board tool.
On the Draw Board screen you will find tools for adding text, with or without background colors and borders, or adding watermarks and other shapes. Don’t worry about where you start your text. You can pick up the whole text-box and move it when you’re ready.
When you’re finished, re-save your collage. By now you might feel done. If you have a card-making program, you have your own home-made collage for your personalized card-making project. I believe card-makers are plentiful online or down at your favorite software store.
(I’ll leave the reviews to cousin Sam. I sent her my two old Broderbunds, purchased at around $10 each and never used, but she found them too difficult. She insists her $50 Hallmark is the only thing for her, even going so far as to have a knock-em-down-drag-em-out fight with Customer Service over an exchange she felt entitled to. Beware of 75 year-old women who know the value of a dime. Especially the ones holding umbrellas.)
Or you can upload your collage (or individual photos) to Tiny Prints and let them make a batch of cards for you. They have a huge selection of beautiful cards for many occasions, just waiting for your unique touch. The hardest thing there will be choosing which ones you want. They’re reasonably economical considering the price of ink in single cartridges. They probably purchase theirs by tanker-truck.
Or you can go back to the beginning and make 11 more collages to use for a calendar (or screensaver). I believe some card-making programs also make calendars but I’m not sure. Legacy has a detailed calendar-making option in their Reports section. As well as your choice of pictures, it can incorporate birth and/or anniversary dates from your database. There’s also room to caption each picture with a short story.
Following along in the above theme, you could make a calendar of military heroes in your family. Or some other highlighted events. Each month could feature a different family line. It’s another way to present some of your stories in pictures.
This is only one of many ways to make a photo collage. Adobe Elements does what they call a photomerge. Of course, you would also have options there for more complex frames as well as working with layers and filters. Other editors, such as Corel’s Paint Shop Pro, have similar options. If you already have Passage Express, you can use their Menu designer. It’s endless, really. All of these programs have trial versions so, if you haven’t yet, take ‘em for a whirl and see what you can do to dazzle your Christmas guests.