Photo Collage

I recently wrote about creating slideshows, which, as I said, is one of my favorite ways of sharing pictures. It's tough, though, to beat a good print, and with 13-inch and wider printers common today, going a step further and creating a photo collage is a fun project.

When my son went through his Bar Mitzvah a few years ago, I wanted to make a board with photos of him from birth to present day. To do that I printed close to sixty small photos of him and pasted them to a large board (3 X 2 feet). By the time my daughter reached her Bat Mitzvah last year, I realized there was an easier (and better) way to do that. Why not take advantage of my large format printers, and create one large printed sheet with lots of photos on it?

To start, first figure out how large a print you can feed through your printer. If you’ve got a 13-inch wide printer that means it will print up to a 13 X 19-inch wide cut sheet. A 17-inch carriage printer will print up to 16 X 20-inch cut sheets. If you want to go longer you can, but you’ll probably need to buy roll paper (if your printer supports it). I’ve actually got an Epson 7600, which can print up to 24-inches wide, so I’ve done these prints poster size – three-foot by two-foot.

Once you know your maximum print size, open your editing software (I’ve done this in Photoshop, but Elements will work also) and create a new Canvas of that size. You’ll also need to set a resolution and Color Space. I usually choose 160 PPI for something like this, as I’ve found it usually looks as good as higher settings. For Color Space, set that to whatever Color Space you’ve set in your camera. If you’re not sure what that is, use sRGB. Lastly, set the background to white (unless you want something different).

Open a few of the images you want to add. Crop them, then select one (Select All in the menu) and use the Grabber tool (V key) to “grab” the image and drop it onto the waiting canvas.You’ll notice in the Layers palette that you’ve got a new un-named layer – that’s the photo. You can now move it wherever you want on the page. Here’s the best part – you’ll almost certainly want to re-size it, and that’s easy to do once the image is on the page. Type Control-T (Command-T on the Mac) and you’ll activate the Free Transform tool. That gives you the ability to grab a corner of the image and pull or push to make it smaller or larger. You may need to hold the Shift key down to keep the image from stretching, depending on the version of Elements or Photoshop you’re using. Once you’ve got it where you want it, hit the Return key to accept the change.

Unless you’re really good at positioning things, you’ll need to go back and move some images around. Since each one is on its own layer, you may have trouble figuring out which one is where. You can go to the trouble of naming each layer, but I’m too lazy for that. In Elements, if you click on the image you want to move, its layer becomes active and you can move it. In Photoshop, you need to hold the Control (or Command) key down when clicking on the picture you want to move to activate its layer.

From that point on it’s just a matter of assembling the collage, which is more like fitting puzzle pieces together. You can let images overlap each other, which is easier, or work a bit harder and make them all fit with a bit of space around each one. One final tip – you can change the order of the images (and thus which ones lie on top of the others) by dragging layers around in the Layers Palette. To make an image cover all or part of one underneath it, simply place it above the other in the Layer Palette.

Once you’re done, it’s just a matter of printing it. As with slideshows, be forewarned – once your friends and family know you can do this, you’ll be getting lots of requests!

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