Digital Scrapping

Erin’s Digi-Scrapping Primer

Okay, this next entry goes out to Cat, who asked in a comment about how to get started in digital scrapbooking. Well, I certainly cannot even begin to claim to be an expert, since I am only about 3-4 months into this little escapade myself. But I will be happy to share what I have learned to this point. I will also mention a few things that I wish I had known when I started out. If you aren’t really interested in digital scrapping, then you can probably stop reading this entry right now. That is all this post talks about. 🙂 I promise to get back to non-scrapping topics next time. I’m just excited to share what I have learned with someone who actually asked.

First and foremost, I have found scrappers to be just as warm and friendly as the stitching community, which is great. They are very helpful, and they offer lots of free stuff!! Which is great when you are just getting started. In fact, several scrappers I know make their layouts using freebies only. They have never purchases a single thing! I went almost 3 months without buying anything. Then my brother gave me some money to spend on “something frivolous for myself,” so I purchased some kits. And it has been hard to stop, especially with all of the awesome sales going on recently! LOL Also, if you find a designer you like, be sure you email them and tell them so. You never know what might happen! I complimented one designer on her style, saying how much I liked it since it wasn’t frilly and froufrou (I’m not much of a girly-girl) and how difficult it was to find boyish kits (as I have a little boy), and she sent me one of hers for free. Just for emailing her and saying something nice!! I’m not saying this will happen to you, but you just never know. Be nice, be complimentary, be helpful, participate, and good things happen. (I think this also goes by the name of Karma, LOL!)

The best place to start: visit some of the digital scrapping sites that are around. Just Google “digital scrapbooking” and you’ll get a zillion hits, I promise. Most sites have shops, galleries, and forums, and they are a wealth of information. Registration is almost always free, though some sites have special sections just for paying members as well (I belong to two myself) that offer additional downloads and special deals. You can often find links to other sites, which lead to more sites, and off you go. You will find lots of info and tutorials, as well as freebies (or links to them). PSA (Public Service Announcement, a.k.a. begin soapbox): Digital scrapbooking freebies are the same as free downloadable stitching charts as far as copyright info goes. You cannot download a copy for yourself, then give it to someone else. Do not give direct links to the zip file, just send them to the same page you got it from! See this site for details: Stop Digital Piracy (End soapbox.)

Next is graphics software. If you already have some, then you should be all set. If not, the BBs can give you all kinds of pros and cons on each type. Obviously, people have their favorites, so take some of it with a grain of salt. Read up on each one, do a little research on your own, and see if there is a trial version you can download before you decide. I use Paint Shop Pro (um, version 8, I think), primarily because it came with my computer! And despite a moderate learning curve, I have quickly gotten the hang of it. My mother uses Photoshop Elements 3.0 (actually, she may have 4.0 now; I can’t remember), and she likes it fine. I have that as well for some photo manipulation stuff, and I find it insanely frustrating for scrapping, so it really does vary by person what is “best.” I would say that these two, plus the full Photoshop (mucho bucks) and Digital Image Pro (by Microsoft, IIRC) are the four most popular ones. DO NOT use Microsoft Paint (comes for free under the accessories menu). It just doesn’t have the necessary power and features. While it is certainly possible to scrap using it, I really don’t think you will be happy with the end results.

Once you have graphics software, and lots of available hard drive space, start downloading freebies! For the record, including my purchases, I have over 40GB (that is not a typo, forty gigabytes) of stuff downloaded. Yes, I do need to start culling! May I also recommend at least a CD burner, if not a DVD burner, for backing up all of your files, both your downloads and your layouts. PSA: Always always always leave a comment or reply to say thank you to the person providing the freebie, if it is at all possible. It is just polite. (This is something I didn’t even think to do when I first started, and I am so embarrassed about it now!) Stores will often offer “samples” for free, so look under that category. Scrapping blogs are also good places to get freebies. I have links to several of my favorite sites in the sidebar of my scrapping blog, if you are interested. I also try to post any really awesome freebies I run across in my posts, so check the archives. PLEASE NOTE: I am just a happy customer promoting sites and designers and products I personally like and use. I am not on any creative teams, the designers have not asked me to do this, and I do not get any kickbacks. It’s just me sharing what I like in the hopes that it helps someone else. (That is the long version of the common stitching BB notation “no affiliation, blah blah.” LOL)

As far as how to organize these things once you have them, I have nothing to recommend! I’m still working on that myself. *Always* keep the terms of use (and read them if you use something from the kit!!), and make sure you know what kit and which designer each and every paper and element came from so you can provide proper credit! It works just like a report you wrote in school. There, you credit each and every book you used for research by title and author. It is the same thing here. Credit each and every piece of any and every kit you used, including where you got it from (though watch out in some of the online galleries at some of the sites; you are not allowed to mention other sites by name, but you should always name the kit and the designer). If you use a photograph that does not belong to you, make sure you have permission to use it (i.e. don’t go surfing through Webshots and downloading random pictures; you can email them and ask permission, but if they say no or you don’t hear back, you CANNOT use it), and always credit the photographer. This is what I did for my Peepers layout. I emailed Melanie to ask if I could use the photo, and she is credited with taking it.

Kits come in a variety of styles and colors and such, usually containing some papers and a few elements, such as ribbons, tags, frames, rivets, overlays, photo corners/prongs, etc. Each paper and/or element is usually contained in a separate file. All you then have to do is open your photo and each element you want to use in your graphics software, and layer them, just as you would in traditional scrapping (or so I am told; I have never ever scrapped anything in paper in my entire life!). How this is done varies from program to program, but that is the basic process. Line them all up, resizing if necessary, placing everything where you want it, then “flatten” and save the file into some printable format (usually jpg, sometimes png or tiff). You will want the end file to be big enough that it contains at least 200, but no more than 300, pixels per inch of the printed size you are after. So, if you want the end print to be 4 inches by 6 inches, aim for it to be 1200×1800 pixels when it is finished. (I read this thing four times before I posted it, and still didn’t catch the mistake until the next day! I originally had 1200×1600, which would leave you rather short, or with a cropped layout. Sorry! I’m an engineer, and I can do math, really.) You want it to be at least 800×1200 pixels (that one is correct), or you will really start to lose image quality. Prefer to scrap square? An 8×8 printed layout should be 2400×2400 pixels when complete. It is okay to create it larger and shrink it. Do not attempt to create it smaller and then blow it up. You won’t be happy with the end result.

After that, it really is just trial and error, trying new things and learning your software. I do recommend that you learn the following commands, and their keystroke shortcuts: select (especially shapes (if applicable) and magic wand or lasso), copy, paste to new layer, move, resize, crop, shape cutter (if you have one; not all programs do), and text block. I think blend and brushes would also be useful, but I haven’t learned those myself yet. Oh, and sign up for newsletters! Sometimes you have to register at the stores for that, but again, registration is almost always free. (You may have to click “log in” at the top of the store page to bring up the registration form.) Just check the newsletter box at the end of the registration form. Newsletters rock, let me tell you. They have great tips and tricks, usually contain freebies, and you’ll get notified of any upcoming sales (in case you are in a shopping mood!). If you don’t like them, you can always unsubscribe later with no harm done.

Can’t think of what to do or how to arrange things? Uses sketches or scraplift someone else’s layout. They are essentially the same thing. A sketch is like a map, indicating where the photos, papers, elements, and journaling (text) should go. Always credit the sketch artist! You didn’t come up with the design yourself, so don’t take credit for it. Credit the creator with the inspiration. Scraplifting is just taking an actual layout someone else made and copying the basic construction. Again, credit the person you got the idea from! Something like “Scraplifted from *TITLE* by *PERSON*,” and provide a link to the original work if you can. I will admit that I have severe trouble trying to come up with a layout design on my own (the exception being my brother’s graduation announcement), and my layouts are almost exclusively scraplifts or from sketches. Browse the galleries! There’s all kinds of awesome layouts in them. And it is polite to leave a nice comment if you find one you like.

If you want to stretch your skills and maybe move outside your comfort zone, try some of the challenges offered on the sites. They range from including quotes to sketches to color, and everything in between. I have found them immensely rewarding. I will also admit that I am unlikely to participate just because, or in the hopes of going into a drawing to win a prize. Lots of sites have “participation prizes,” so as long as you meet the challenge criteria and upload your qualifying layout to the right gallery (they will tell you which one), you get a little prize. Usually a mini-kit or a paper pack, but it is a great way to build your collection *and* get some layouts done. Online chats and crops also commonly provide freebies for just showing up, so check those out, too. I am just now starting to participate in a few chats, and they are fun.

Anyway, I hope that helps, if not Cat then someone else. I think I’ll post this on my scrapping blog, too, so forgive me if you see it twice. Thanks for letting me ramble on (and on and on) about my new hobby! If anyone has any other questions, feel free to ask. Clearly, I don’t mind answering, LOL!


  • Shalini

    Wow, Erin. This is great information. So sweet of you to take the time to write it out!
    I was bit by digi-scrapping bug as well LOL. My brand new cropping blog is I’ll include you as my scrapping buddy when I update the links 🙂


  • Anonymous

    Thank you so much Erin! I can’t wait to get started, especially since I need another hobby so badly – not! LOL Between stitching and learning to knit, I’m one busy girl, but I definitely have to add this hobby!

    Thanks again for taking the time to provide such a GREAT explanation!

  • Taneya

    Erin you are SO right about being sunk now! I’ve used your scrap blog to find even more goodies and I especially liked this primer 🙂