Why Templates Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

I’m a scrapbooker from way back, but I haven’t been keeping up like I used to or taking many photos that don’t correspond to a blog post. To commemorate this last year before the wedding (and remind me to take pictures of the fun stuff), I’ve been putting together a layout per week for our Wedding Year scrapbook. Now, working full time, planning a wedding, and blogging about it are enough to keep me plenty busy–adding in scrapbooking might seem like adding more work rather than some much-needed relaxation.

For me, it all comes down to 3 things:

  • Digital scrapbooking
  • Project Life
  • Templates

The Digital Approach

While I do absolutely love paper and creating with it, physical scrapbooking was becoming less and less convenient with all of my photos being digital for the last several years. That love of paper that had me scoffing at digital scrapbooking 1o years ago has since enthusiastically embraced the digital approach for both the ease of integrating my digital images but also the fact that once a digital paper or embellishment is purchased, it doesn’t get “used up.” As someone who has more than once hoarded those last few sheets of a favorite paper, this is quite freeing.

And you can always print your pages out yourself or upload them to a photobook site and end up with very professional looking albums.

Just about any photo software that will handle layers can be used for digital scrapbooking and there are some programs out there specifically for it. I learned on Photoshop Elements (PSE) 3, “back in the day” with tutorials from ScrapGirls. While I’ve upgraded to full-on Photoshop for other projects, I still use PSE (version 9, now) for scrapping for the simpler interface.

Project Life

Project Life is a system devised by Becky Higgins that is meant to make saving photos and memories easy, streamlined, and low-pressure (though it’s but one of many pocket-style scrapbooking systems out there). By using divided pocket pages–like baseball card pages but more varied–and 2 sizes of inserts (4×6 and 3×4) all you have to do is slip in your photos and write on the journaling cards and you’ve got a scrapbook in no time flat.

I’d heard about it a couple years ago (and mentally kicked myself for not trying out a similar idea many years prior) but didn’t want to go back to paper scrapping. Behold, the official Project Life digital kits are available at ACDigitals.com (though I bought my kit and template when they were still partnered with Jessica Sprague). What’s even better is that with the popularity of Project Life on the rise, several sites have similar products available. ScrapGirls has their Pocket Life line, and several designers over on The DigiChick (my 2 favorite shops) have Project 52 offerings that are compatible.

Of course, with digital scrapbooking, anything can be used with the Project Life base system, especially if you use the templates.


Just like writers who stare at a blank page/screen, feel anxious and can’t start writing, scrappers sometimes have a similar block. Recently I’ve become a total template convert as all I have to do is pick my photos, papers, and maybe a few embellishments and start clipping them to the template layers and, boom, there’s my page! Of course, when you scrap digitally you can turn and flip the templates to get a bit more variety (there are only 7 basic page layouts with Project Life, but you can certainly branch out to other templates, too).

But the Project Life-style templates, based on 4×6 and 3×4 spaces, are perfectly suited to both digital camera images as well as those cell phone shots we’ve all been taking. And if you take a lot of photos, then the simple grids are going to be your best friends.

To show you just how easy it is, I took screenshots while I put together this layout, week 9 of our wedding year album:

Week 9, Dec 29, 2012 to Jan 4, 2013

Week 9, Dec 29, 2012 to Jan 4, 2013 (all photos personal)

Step 1: choose your photos

First I pick out my photos to see what I’m working with. Lots of photos mean a template with more spots, fewer photos mean bigger spots to take up more space.

Step 2: Pick your templates

Then I look through my templates to see which ones I want to use. In the back in a Project Life template and in front is a template from eNKay Design’s Project 365 line. Then I decided which would be the left side of the layout and which one the right.

Step 3: Start placing your photos

I rotated the 365 layout to get the photo spots in the orientation I wanted them, then added my first photo to fill the large, vertical block on the page, sizing it up to fill the space or maybe a little bigger. Make sure the photo is above the layer you want the photo to fill and clip it (Ctrl+G on a PC, Mac is Cmd+G, I believe) to that layer. This makes the photo (or whatever) show only where the template shape is “active” so it trims it to shape without actually cutting the image, and you can nudge it around to get the best view.

Step 4: Finish putting your photos in place

Place your photos wherever they best fit so you can see how much space you still have to work with.
You can combine different layer elements by merging them, like I did with the 4 3×4 slots in the upper right, then clipping the image to the merged set. It’s a nice little trick when you want to use larger pictures in smaller slots for effect. And it’s so much easier than cutting and corner-rounding 1 picture into 4, right?

Step 5: Save your work!

Right about now is a good time to do a “Save As” and name your file something other than the template name (you don’t want to overwrite your original template files with the changes you make, since you might want to use them in their original form sometime later).

Step 6: Pick out some papers and embellishments

Then I pick out some papers and embellishments to clip to the background and blank template spots

Step 7: Add your papers and embellishments to the pages

Now the fun part! Clip the papers to the template areas and start to place your embellishments on top of them. For efficiency’s sake I like to merge layers and them clip the paper file once, unless I need some of the elements overlapping others. The more layers, the bigger the file size, you know? But embellishments just need to be positioned above the layer you want them to rest on, they usually don’t get clipped (again, this is a bonus of digital–not everything had to fit exactly in the “pockets”).

Step 8: Add journaling spaces

I like using a mix of patterns, but patterns aren’t always great for journaling on, so I use the shape tool to make “clear” areas filled with a lighter version of one of the colors already in the layout (and then added a texture fill to it because I have issues with flat colors). Remove any layers you don’t want in your final layout (like journaling place-holders and title bits).

Step 9: Add the wordy bits and additional embellishments

Use your words! Add journaling to the open areas, titles, and then any additional embellishments to finish out the layout. That’s it!

And that’s just how simple it is.

Whether you’re saving the wedding planning memories, putting together a photo-book of your engagement photos, or even scrapbooking your honeymoon pictures, templates can make the process much smoother. Templates (Project Life or otherwise) are also great for learning composition skills and branching out of your usual style.

So, have I swayed you over to the digital template side of scrapbooks?

"Queen Bee" digital art journal layout

In Defense of Digital

Everyday Adventures

I have a confession to make, my friends: I’ve been slacking.

Not on the must-do stuff. No calling in “sick” to work or skipping blog updates, nothing like that. But my personal to-do list, the one that usually governs my evenings and weekends (especially the weekends) has seen a bit of a shake-up the past few weeks as I’ve renewed an old hobby.

Renewed maybe isn’t the best word, maybe re-obsessed?

Contrary to what many people assume, scrapsoflife.com was not named for my scrapbooking interests, that just happened to be a coincidence, really. But I was a rather avid scrapbooker back in 2003 (technically since the late-90s, and before that if you count the “old fashioned” journal-with-pressed-flowers-and-other-mementos-inside days–you know, before certain companies made it the largest segment of paper crafting ever), amassing quite the collection of tools, supplies, and techniques. Then, in 2007, I picked up a freelance writing gig and a lot of my extra interests took a backseat (unless I could write an article about it, of course).

Over the last 5 years I haven’t done much memory-keeping of the album-and-paper sort. I always intended to get back to it, but never quite got there. A couple years ago I had a brief relapse, but then I got to work on the cookbook and, again, other things took a backseat.

Until 2 weeks ago, when a newsletter from Divine Digital announced a week-long art journal challenge, and I was more than intrigued.

Because that’s the other confession: what little scrapbooking I have been doing in the past 5 years has been digital.

Now don’t get me wrong, I still love paper crafting and traditional scrapbooking. I still have scads of supplies I will use up, eventually, but any busy scrapper will tell you that it’s tough to sit down and get a page done when you’ve only got a few minutes here and there, everything takes up space and little things can get lost, and then you run out of adhesive or can’t find a ribbon to match just that right shade of blue to keep from clashing…

But with digital, a lot of those obstacles fall away. If you’ve never considered digital scrapbooking, think about this:

  • All our pictures are digital these days. Obviously we still have printed photos and memorabilia that could stand organization, but these days most cameras are digital, and scrapbooking digitally means you don’t have to worry about which photos to print and at what size. You size them on the fly in whatever program you’re using and keep on creating.
  • Digital scrapbook supplies are super-portable. I can’t even count the number of times I loaded up a craft tote (or 2) to go to a friends house for a crop. And out of town weekend retreats took a trunk-full! Even when I moved from totes to specialty organizers with handles and rollers and started pre-kitting my photos to make crops more productive, there were still bags and whellies and oh so much stuff to bring. Now? All I need is my laptop.
  • No hoarding that one perfect paper. Digital scrapbook supplies don’t get used up. I know so many crafters who hold onto a piece of paper because it’s so pretty, they don’t want to cut it up and use it because it’s discontinued or might be hard to find again. You buy an awesome digital paper set and you can use it over and over and over again. Same with embellishments, templates, everything! You buy it, you own it.
  • No more searching for just the right shade. Another perk of digital supplies is if this embellishment and that paper aren’t quite right for each other, you tweak the color or hue or contrast to make it match.
  • Freebies galore! Many digi-scrap websites offer freebies on a regular basis, so you can start to build your collection of supplies with very little risk. My 2 go-to sites fall into this category: Scrap Girls puts out a newsletter 6 days a week and there’s some sort of freebie download available every day. Divine Digital, on the other hand, puts out 2 free digi-kits a month, downloadable in daily chunks (you do have to be a registered member of their site, but that’s hardly a down-side since membership is free). Plus you can usually find out what other designers are offering extra downloads if you pay attention to digi-scrap forums.
  • Much less mess. When you’re having to search, pull out, layout, and fiddle you need space and room to get a little messy. Yes, that’s part of the fun, but it can also be frustrating if you craft in a high-traffic area of your home and have to pick everything up to clear the table, etc. Again, just fire up your computer and load your files and you’re on your way to layouts in no time.

Of course, it does help to have good tech at your fingertips. For a while I was keeping my digital crafting supplies on an external harddrive to keep from using up my computer’s harddrive–the files do take up a certain amount of space. But when I got my new laptop last month (with its Terabyte drive), I was able to copy all those files over (redundancy!) as well as download a whole bunch of new files without making a dent in my harddrive’s capacity.

Which program you use is also a factor. I actually learned how to digi-scrap in PhotoShop Elements 3.0 (hint: the current version is 10). It was a series of tutorials from ScrapGirls that showed me how to use the program, and I was able to use that knowledge when I upgraded to PhotoShop CS4 a while back (only because I needed CMYK capabilities, something the consumer-grade PSE doesn’t support). You can download a 30-day trial of any Adobe product to see what you think about it, plus there are a lot more digital scrapbook program options than back when I started (when it was either the aforementioned PSE or Paint Shop Pro!). Heck, you can even digi-scrap in Paint if you really had to (maybe I’ll tell that store/share that layout one day… maybe).

Anyway, back to the point, I signed up for the Art Journal challenge and did my best to keep up with a digital layout a day. It was great getting back into the swing of things, and I’ve since picked up an old album I was working on back in 2007 and completed another 4 pages for on Saturday. I decided I’d share the 7 art journal pages I completed as part of the challenge, today.

"Inner Circle" digital art journal layout

"Super Hero" digital art journal layout

"Inspired Eye" digital art journal layout

"Take Flight" digital art journal layout

"In Joy" digital art journal layout

"Laugh out Loud" digital art journal layout

"Queen Bee" digital art journal layout

Each day’s challenge came with a piece of word art, a theme, some questions to ponder, and then some specific components to include in the layout. Since this was an art journal challenge, for all but the last layout pictures were optional. My goal was more to refresh my memory of how to construct the layouts, how to use the tools available to me, and find out what’s new in the world of digital scrapbooking. I must have done okay, since Day 7 (my Queen Bee or “accomplished” layout) was picked as Member Layout of the Day. Not to shabby for one seriously out of practice scrapper, no?

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up with scrapbooking this go-round, before something else demands my full attention and it sits and waits again. I’m hoping for a good, long stretch, but I’ll ride this wave of creativity as long as I can.

What have you been getting your hands and heart into, lately? Revive any past passions over the holiday weekend? Or do you have any questions about digital scrapbooking that I might be able to answer?