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Web Guide to Digital Scrapbooks

You might think of scrapbooking as the hobby of your prim and proper aunt or grandma, arranging pictures and mementos for posterity. But it’s far more than little old ladies; in fact, scrapbooking is a $2.5 billion a year industry, and that’s a figure that buys a lot of memories.

But these days, instead of photos, scissors, and glue, more and more of those happy pasts are being preserved digitally. Not, however, for web pages. The scrapbooks still exist, printed up or e-mailed to friends and relatives. But all the work is done on computer.

To those with plenty of hard drive time under their belts that might seem simple enough – just lay everything out in Photoshop or something similar. And some do. More and more scrapbookers, however, are using special software, which has become big business – digital scrapbooking even has its own magazine. There are at least ten books devoted to the craft on Amazon.

Far more than any newspaper editor, scrapbookers will agonize for hours over the layout of a page, and its backgrounds and photo mats – which can be specific to a holiday, season, or whatever. Digital offers the chance to tinker endlessly, to come back after a week and change things with the click of a button; nothing is ever set in stone.

Digital Scrapbook PlaceIt’s indicative of the family feel behind scrapbooking that many of the commercial sites selling software for the craft regard themselves as communities. That’s also a reason so many digital scrapbooking sites encourage people to become members (free of charge). The site Digital Scrapbook Place, for example, not only sells software, but offers tutorials and information on the staff who run the site. Their products run the gamut from hardbound scrapbooks to software specially designed for scrapbookers, like winter and Christmas backgrounds on digital download to fonts and quotes. They even have a monthly download club. Other sites put out e-mail newsletters to members. If that sounds very cozy, well, perhaps it is, but it’s simply appealing to the mindset of scrapbookers, who do feel part of a community. Remember, in many ways, scrapbooking is an American folk art, born shortly after cameras became commonplace household objects.

Scrapbook Bytes is a good place for beginners to start, with its step-by-step tutorials can guide those with just basic computer skills. Scrapbooking, as they rightly point out, can be a way of exercising creativity.

Of course, you do need a digital image program at the heart of it all, to crop and manipulate your pictures (whether Scrapbook Bytestaken with a digital camera, scanned in, or put on CD), and there are plenty available, whether it’s Adobe Photoshop, which at $649 represents a significant investment – as well as a steep learning curve to make use of all its possibilities – or Microsoft Digital Image Pro, much cheaper at $99.95. There are, of course, many others; simply look around. Chances are you might even have a program like JASC Paint Shop included with some other program, and many offer ,limited free trials so you can check them out.

As an indication of how big digital scrapbooking has become, many major companies produce software for it. There’s Hewlett Packard’s HP Scrapbook Assistant or Hallmark’s Scrapbook Studio (perhaps something of a no-brainer extension from greeting cards for them), both running in the $20-30 range, and offering some basic backgrounds and themes to get someone up and running.

Starting off is one thing, and we all need to take baby steps in something new and make mistakes (of course, the great thing about being digital is that mistakes are easily undone). But as scrapbookers learn more, they become more ambitious – and that’s where the sites dedicated to the craft really come into their own.

Scrapbook GraphicsScrapbook Graphics is one of many sites offering an increasingly sophisticated range of software. Things like the Seek Within Artist Trading Cards can embellish pages in a way no paper scrapbooker could manage, bringing scrapbooking into the realm of the trading card world of pre-adolescent boys, a strange and surreal mix – unless your kid is into Yu-Gi-Oh.

One of the strangest things about digital scrapbooking is that in most cases these pages aren’t destined for the web. You’d think that would be a logical place for them, an extension of the computer work. But scrapbookers seem to prefer actually having the page in their hands and in a scrapbook, a physical entity few want to leave behind.

Paper scrapbookers thrive on clutter. There are piles of papers torn from magazines, endless photographs, and other things that may or may not eventually be of use. All that piles up and takes up space. Going digital can free up an entire room. But it can also create its own problem – finding everything on your hard drive. So a number of sites have tutorials about labelling material and keeping it in folders – basic stuff, perhaps, but show me someone who hasn’t lost a file at some point and I’ll show you someone who deserves a medal.

It’s an indication as to how big this phenomenon is that a few sites now sell their own tee shirts, caps, and, of course, tote bags. Obviously it’s a commercial opportunity (and free advertising), but it also enhances that sense of community.

Cottage ArtsTo ease longtime scrapbookers into the new style, there are starter kits. For example, Cottage Arts offers a starter pack with a book containing instructions for beginners as well as two CDs of backgrounds and photo mats and other assorted goodies to build pages. Their Mega Starter pack offers a wider variety of CDs, and for the truly hardcore they have a special price of around $200 on 12 CDs. If that seems like a big commitment, to many scrapbookers it’s actually quite a small investment (think if what you spend on your own hobbies).

Some sites can be very fancy in what they offer. Mangels Designs goes ornate on their digital picture frames, corners, and so on – all of them available on unlimited download for a very modest one-time fee. Many of the designs are templates to cover all manner of occasions (weddings, births, etc.) and seasons, while the digital scrap elements show great imaginations, with buttons, bottle caps, paper clips to flowers and even tools. If you want to gussie those pages up a bit, you can do it here.

Because all of this is intended for print, everything is a good resolution 300 d.p.i., as the pictures would be. That’s higher than you’d use for web publication (pages at that resolution would be slow to load), but ideal for print.

That’s because these aren’t made for global consumption, available to anybody and everybody, but for family and Mangels Designclose friends. While pages might be e-mailed to relatives – which, given the size, is only feasible in the age of broadband – they’re mostly printed up and stored…in scrapbooks. It might seem retrograde, but to scrapbookers, it’s not. Going digital is simply a means to an end – and the end is a physical page. The great advantage is that each page can be changed, updated, or tinkered with endlessly, making scrapbooking a continuous act of creation. And the filters and effects on all the digital imaging software offer almost infinite possibilities in the use of pictures, with anything from light shading to insets available.

Going digital has expanded the possibilities of scrapbooking, and it’s helping it shake off the image of lavender, cardigans, and musty pictures that have dogged it for so long. Everyone has memories they treasure, pictures they value, and events that are pivotal in their lives. Scrapbooking is simply a way of preserving those in an artistic way that makes them special, and these software tools help the process, in much the same way as scissors, paste, and clippings did before. The end remains the same, only the means of getting there is different.

What’s most fascinating is the way this form has moved quite seamlessly into the digital age. It’s indicative not of the ubiquity of computers in modern life, but also of the way traditions evolve. It’s true than many who scrapbook – and they’re mostly female – are older, but obviously they know or learn how to use computers and aren’t afraid of the medium. The computer has fully crossed generations now.

Equally interesting is the fact that it wasn’t businesses who first sensed the potential of digital scrapbooking; much of the early software was actually written by craft enthusiasts to accommodate their own needs. It was only later, as demand grew, that the myriad of commercial software began flowing, becoming more elaborate as time has passed. Digital scrapbooking is still a young art, but the indications are that it will become more and more popular as increasingly computer-literate generations grow into it. Within another 20 years it’s likely to become the norm rather than an offshoot of paper scrapbooking, as the potential it offers is far greater. It’s most definitely not the scrapbooking your grandma knew.

Copyright © by BWScrapbooking All Right Reserved.

Published on: 2006-08-31 (844 reads)

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