Digital Scrapbooking How-to: A simple layout

If you're here for some digital scrapbooking know-how, how about walking through a simple layout today? There are lots of tips and tricks in here that can help you understand Photoshop. Sometimes walking through the process yourself is the best way to learn. So take a little time and join me!


Here's what to do.

(I am using the full version of Photoshop and will be walking through the steps based on that menu. However, Photoshop Elements will do the exact same thing…only, sometimes, you might have to look for a similar phrase in your menu items. If you can't figure out how to do something in Photoshop Elements, post a comment here, and I'll find out from my good friend Michele, who works in Photoshop Elements! :o) )

1. Choose a size for your album or page. 12×12 is the most common, but there are also albums out there for 8×8,
6×6, 5×7 and many other sizes, as well. It's always best to figure out
how you're going to print and store your photos before you dive in and create something. For starters, visit a site like to see available sizes, and then pick out an album you like. You can be sure you'll find a million 12×12 albums to choose from—and some online printers of photo books and individual pages—but you might not find a 6×6 album you like, and you might not find any vendor who will print hardbound custom books that size, for example. So always know what you want before you get started. You'll save yourself some headaches later!

2. Create a new document. In Photoshop, go to File > New (or hit Command+N on a Mac or Ctrl+N on a PC). (In PS Elements, go to New > Blank File.) In the dimensions box, set your dimensions. I chose 12 x 12. Set your resolution to 300 pixels per inch. This is the standard for high-quality prints. You don't want anything smaller than 300 ppi. Choosing a smaller number will result in a blurry photo/print when you get your finished page back from the printer. That's a frustrating thing to figure out by accident, so trust me on this one!


Your color mode should be RGB for all photo developers. If you're like me and are used to the commercial printing world, which used CMYK for everything, this is a hard habit to break! But if you print in CMYK, you'll get back an image with very funky colors, almost like you're looking through a negative. Don't ask me to explain why!

If you'd prefer to work with a white canvas from the get-go, you can set your background contents to white. I like to use transparent.

3. Choose your photo(s). Open one or more that you like. I almost always do layouts with multiple photos, but for the sake of simplicity for this post, I'm choosing just one.

4. Open your photo in Photoshop. Choose File > Open. Browse to your photo and click OK. Your photo will open in a new document. Depending on how you have set your preferences (under File > Preferences on a PC or Photoshop > Preferences on a Mac, or under Edit > Preferences in PS Elements), your photo might open as a new window or as a tab at the top of the Photoshop workspace. Your workspace should now look something like this. (My photo opened as a new window. My blank layout window is in the background.)


5. Move your photo onto your 12×12 layout document. With the Move tool (top left corner of the toolbar, a black arrow with what looks like a compass marker next to it) selected, click anywhere in your photo, hold down the mouse button and drag the photo over the blank layout. If you cannot see your layout because it is a tab instead of an open document, drag the mouse over the file name, and wait for Photoshop to switch to your layout document. (If you're in Photoshop Elements, I know that at this point, you just drag your photo file down into the Project Bin on top of the image of the blank layout and let go of the mouse to drop the photo into the layout.) Your window should now look like this:


Depending on how large you have your digital camera set to record images, your photo might appear larger or smaller than this on your screen. The way your photo drops into your layout is the largest I would make it. While you can easily resize your photo to something smaller without losing quality, if you enlarge a photo from its default size, you will be risking a potentially significant reduction in quality when you print. You always want to maintain that 300 dpi at all times. So if your photo now appears very small on your layout, you might consider adjusting the image quality of the files your camera records by setting the quality to Extra Fine, Large or something to that effect. I always recommend shooting at the best/largest resolution possible. And yes, this will reduce the number of images you can fit onto your memory card, but trust me, it's worth it! (Go for a bigger memory card!)

6. Choose a kit of digital scrapbook supplies. I am using the Happy Go Lucky kit from Shabby Princess. It's an awesome free kit. I LOVE it. You might want to choose your kit before you choose your photos, depending on your preferences. Sometimes I do that, too, especially if I have just purchased or found a free kit I just love. It's a good source of inspiration.

7. Choose a background paper from the kit to use on your layout. I find that simpler papers (those with a solid color or very soft/small patterns or embellishments) tend to work best as background papers. Busy prints, when used at 12×12 size, are often way too distracting. Ultimately, we want our photos to take center stage, not out papers, so be careful in choosing your background paper.

I chose to use the SP_HappyGoLucky_Paper_Cream.jpg file for my background image.

8. Drag your background paper onto your layout, using the same process you did in step 5. You can see that your background paper is now on TOP of your photo. Because we want it to be below our photo in our layout, we need to adjust the order of our layers.

9. Move the background paper to the layer below your photo in the Layers palette. At the bottom right of your screen, you should see the Layers palette (in PS and PSE). You should have three layers currently. The top layer is the paper you chose to eventually be your background paper. The second layer is your photo. The third layer is your original background layer, which is either all white or transparent. Using your Move tool (top left corner of your main toolbox, the arrow), click on the name of the top-most layer, hold and drag the layer downward until you see a dark line appear under your photo layer. (See bottom right of this image, below.)


A closer look:


When you see that black line as you hover your mouse between the layers, let go of your mouse. You will now see that your intended background paper appears below your photo as intended.

Take a moment now to rename your layers. It's a good idea to name layers as you go, so you don't get confused what items are on which layer as you build the number of elements in a single layout. You'll be thankful y
ou did this later. To rename a layer, just click twice on the name of the layer. Be careful to click on the name and not the icon; otherwise you will open a new dialog box of options for the layer.

I renamed my layers Photo, Background Layer and Trash. That last one will make sense in a minute.

10. Move your background layer into place. If you can see any of the bottom-most layer (either pure white or transparent) in your project window, you need to move your background layer into its proper position, making it cover the background from edge to edge. Select the Move tool, then click once on your layer named Background Layer in the Layers Palette. Using your mouse, click on the background layer in the document and move it into place. It should "click" into position when it meets the edge of the document. If not, you can use your arrow keys on your keyboard to nudge it into place as it gets close to the edges.

11. Get rid of the default background layer, now named Trash. It's a good idea to clean up your workspace as you go, getting rid of extra layers when you don't need them. Extra layers will only make your file size larger and add to the confusion that is possible when you start building a document that has multiple layers. To get rid of that initial layer, click once on the layer named Trash, hold down the mouse and drag it to the small icon of a trashcan located at the bottom right of the Layers Palette.

It's that bottom-right icon you're looking for. Drag it there. Let go of your mouse. Voila!

12. Save your document. Layered Photoshop files get HUGE very quickly and can crash moody computers if you're not careful. Save often!

13. Resize your photo. If you don't want a ginormous photo stretching across your layout, you can resize it to make it more appealing. To do so, select your Move tool and then click once on the layer named Photo. This will make this layer active. If you haven't picked up on it yet, your Layers Palette is your most important tool in Photoshop. It is where your software decides what on earth you're trying to do and what part of these multiple-layer images you want to adjust.

To resize your photo, choose Edit > Transform (or Image > Transform, I believe, in PSE) > Scale. This will put a set of squares and dotted lines around your image.


The black lines indicate the edges of the photo. As you can see in my image, my photo is larger than my background paper. What falls off of the image canvas as we have it set (what's larger than 12 inches wide, in this case) isn't visible in the final project, but the data is still stored in the document, so I can move this photo wherever I please without worrying about data being lost outside of the boundaries of my page.

To scale this photo, I am going to choose a corner square of this new border, click on it and drag it inward to make the photo the size I want it to be in the finished document.

** Don't miss this! ** To resize a photo, get into the habit of ALWAYS holding down the shift key as you drag a corner inward or outward so that you do not mistakenly skew the proportions of height and width. In other words, this will keep you from stretching a photo out horizontally (making your people look fatter than normal) or vertically (making your people look taller than normal). This is very important and will save you the trouble of someone looking at your photo and saying, "I don't remember her being that tall…"

Anyway, your photo should now look like this.


Double-click with your mouse in the middle of the photo to commit the transformation (resizing).

14. Add a border to your photo. To give the photo a nice grounding, let's add a border to it. In your Layers Palette, click on the icon right next to the trash can at the bottom of the palette, Create a New Layer. This will add a new layer to your palette that will be automatically active. We want the stroke to be on a new layer instead of directly on the photo, because this will give us the freedom to change, delete or hide the stroke later if we change our mind about its color, width or other features.

With the Move tool selected and the new layer you just created still active, hold down the Command key (Mac) or Control Key (PC) and click on the small image icon (not the name) of the Photo layer. This will give you "marching ants" all the way around your photo border.


Go to Edit > Stroke.


Choose a stroke width of somewhere between 40 and 100 pixels, depending on your liking. The larger the number here, the thicker the stroke.

In the Color box, click once on the color shown (this is the color you have currently selected as your foreground color). This will open up a dialog box that will give you the chance to choose one of a million colors. I like to choose a color from my photo or background paper.  To do this, drag your mouse to your layout. Your cursor will change to an eyedropper tool. Position the eyedropper on top of the color you want to use for your stroke and click down. Click OK in the color dialog box.

The location selection gives you the option of your stroke appearing on the inside or outside of the selection you just created (the marching ants), or having it centered (half of the stroke on the inside and half on the outside) along the selection. Choosing Inside will give you nice, sharp corners. Choosing center or outside will give you more rounded corners on the stroke. I always choose Inside because I like the sharp corners. I also like keeping things lined up when I have several photos in a document, and this helps maintain alignment. 

Leave Blending Mode set to Normal and Opacity at 100%. Click OK.

Rename your layer Photo Stroke, using the process you used in step 9.


15. Link your photo and stroke layers. You can link two layers together so that if you move or alter one layer, the other layer w
ill move or be altered (for example, scaled) with it. This comes in very handy when you have a photo layer and stroke layer that need to stay perfectly aligned at all times. To link your layers, select the Move tool, then select the Stroke layer. Holding down the shift key, click on the Photo layer below it. Both layers should now be selected. In the bottom of the Layers Palette, you will see the icon of what looks like a link to a chain. It is at the far left of the icons at the bottom of the palette. Click on that link icon to link the two selected layers together. You should end up with small link icons at the right of the names of each layer in the Layers Palette.


16. Move your photo and stroke layers to wherever you please in your layout. With the Move tool active, and either the Photo or Stroke layer active, click in your document window and drag your photo and stroke layers to your desired location. You might choose to center it or put it more toward the bottom of your document, depending on the layout you have in mind. Putting it toward the top might result in a visually "heavy" upper half of your layout when you're done, making you wonder what doesn't look quite right in the final layout. For the sake of getting started with digital scrapbooking, you might be happier choosing to put it toward the bottom or in the middle. 

17. Find a spot to put your journaling. Most scrapbookers like to include some form of journaling in a layout, and we need a "home" for our writing. In the Happy Go Lucky kit, I like the SP_HappyGoLucky_JournalingBlock.png file for this purpose. If you have another kit that has a journaling block, great! If you don't, you can just type directly onto the background layer or create your own little rectangle of paper or solid color to use as your backdrop. For this tutorial, we'll use the supplied journaling block. We'll position it above and to the right of the photo.

18. Open your journaling block (if you have one). Drag it into your workspace using the process you used in step 5. You'll notice that this graphic has a transparent background (rather than square, white edges like most clip art images you might download online have). This file is in PNG format, a special format that preserves transparency for just this reason. It allows you to layer graphic files on top of other graphic files, seeing through to the lower layers. It's a beautiful thing!

Position your journaling block wherever you please using the process you used in Step 16.


19. Create your journaling text block. Click on your Horizontal Text tool in the toolbar at the far left of your screen. It is the tool that has a capital T. With that tool selected, click in your Photoshop document in the top left corner of the journaling block (that layer should still be active), hold down the mouse, and drag the cursor to the bottom right of the journaling box. You are creating the location where your text will flow, from corner to corner. So if you don't want your text butting up right next to the edge of your space, you can draw your text box inward a little bit from corner to corner. You can also adjust the edges of the text box after you have journaled in it if you would prefer.

20. Type your text. After you have drawn your text box by clicking and dragging to form its borders, your text layer should be active in your Layers Palette, and your text tool should still be active. At the top of your screen, you will see the options bar for your text. you can choose your font and its size here. Alternatively, you can choose to open the Character Palette by going to Window > Character and choosing your font and size there. This option also gives you the chance to control the space between lines (called leading, highlighted in the photo below in purple). It's the option to the right of the font size option. You want this number to be at least as big as (and preferably a little bigger than) your text size. Once those choices are made, you can just start typing your journaling.


21. Edit your text to fit your block. If you have finished typing your text, and your journaling block isn't filled how you like it, open your Character Palette (see step 20), and bump up the text size and leading until it fits how you like it. You can also adjust the sides of your text box by clicking on the little squares on the corners and in the middle of the edges of your text block when the Text tool and your text layer are active. Play with it until it fits.

Hint: You can adjust the font size with your mouse by clicking on the small graphics to the left of the font size and font leading numbers and dragging to the right or left. You will see a double-arrow graphic pointing left and right, indicating the "scrubbers" are active. Click on those (the two Ts to the left of the font size choice and the stacked As to the left of the leading choice) and drag your mouse left to reduce the size or right to increase the size.

I used Avenir font at 12 pt type with 12.5 pt leading.

22. Link your journaling block graphic and your text block layer together using the process you used in Step 15.

23. Create your title. Determine where you want your title to be located, and draw a text block using the process you used in Steps 19, 20 and 21. You might break your title up into two different text blocks so you can make some text smaller than others and arrange them separately to make them fit your space.


I used fonts AL Serenade for the "so thankful" and Abadi MT Condensed Bold for "for our self-entertainer."

24. Change the color of your font. To change the color of text, with the text layer and text tool still active, find the two color blocks at the bottom of the toolbar at the left side of your screen. The two boxes overlap each other. They represent your foreground color (the top left one) and the background color (lower right). Your text will by default be the color in the top left block. To change that, highlight your text (click and drag to highlight the text in your text block), the click once in the foreground color box in the toolbar. This will open the color dialog box. Change the color here by picking a color from your photo or paper (see Step 14) or choose a color at random using the color picker in the dialog box. Click OK. Your text color will be changed.

25. Save the file as a PSD file. You have officially completed a digital scrapbook page! (Pat yourself on the back!) To save
it with the ability to come back to it later and make changes, make sure you save it as a PSD (Photoshop document) file in the File format box. 


26. Save the file in a format you can share. PSD files that contain many layers, like the one we just created, tend to get very large. They also cannot easily be opened by anyone who does not have Photoshop or Photoshop Elements available. To save your file in a format that others can see, you must save it as a flattened JPG. You can do this by simply going to File > Save As and then choosing JPG as your file format (see above image and just choose JPG instead of PSD). This will automatically save a flattened version of the file that will be smaller and easier to transmit by e-mail to friends, family and photo printers. (To print your image, you will need this full-size, flattened JPG.)

To be sure fonts are transmitted the same on your friend's computer as you see them on yours, you are safer to rasterize (or simplify, in PSE) all layers before flattening and saving. To do this:

  • Choose: Layers (in the menu at top) > Rasterize > All Layers.
  • Choose: Layers > Flatten.
  • Choose: File > Save As > (name it and choose) JPG.

To make the file even smaller (to speed up transmission electronically but NOT to print at high quality), before saving, go to File > Image Size > and change the dimensions to 4×4 or 6×6.


Your resolution should still be 300 pixels/inch. If it is not, check the "Resample Image" box and type in 300 in the pixels/inch box.

** CAUTION! ** Make SURE you are saving this reduced-size version as a file that is DIFFERENT from your high-resolution image. You will need the full-size version for printing later.

In the end, I always have three versions of every layout:

  • The full-size, 12×12 at 300 ppi, layered PSD file (for changing later if needed)
  • The full-size, 12×12 at 300 ppi, JPG file (for printing)
  • The small-size, 4×4 at 300 ppi, JPG file (for sharing online only)

All done? CONGRATULATIONS!! You have completed a digital scrapbook layout! Woo hoo! See…you CAN do it!


(We'll work on dressing up our simple layout in future blog entries. Stay tuned!)

Have questions? Post a comment below (click on Comments if you're in my standard view of the blog, or just enter your comment in the form below if you're seeing only this one entry). I'll try to address them!

1 thought on “Digital Scrapbooking How-to: A simple layout”

  1. Well, you make it all sound so simple 🙂 I’m gonna need to re-read this again and pick your brain about it when I see you….cuz you know I want to learn to be an awesome scrapper like you! And I think digital is the only way I can go now that I am years (almost a decade) behind 🙁 Thanks for all the how-to info. Love it! And can’t wait to see you guys this weekend. We’ve missed you!

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: