I often write about using your own family ephemera to create custom graphics for your family history projects. The other day I was cruising the newsletter templates in Pages and stumbled onto this one.
Isn’t it stunning? With the addition of one or two vintage fonts, this could be the perfect template for any number of family history projects. Take a closer look at the graphic elements used in the design – a sheet from an old lined stationery pad, some old stamps, a torn and crumpled scrap of paper and a manila tag. Chances are good you have similar things in your family archives. Why not put them to use?
There are a couple of scanning and editing tricks you can use to create your own library of ephemera graphics. Using your family ephemera as design elements in your family history adds a personal touch to your projects that more than compensates for the effort involved in creating them. Not only do you save money by doing it yourself, you’re in control of the legal rights to your work and can use it wherever you want. Here’s how I do it . . .
I keep sheets of colored card stock handy when I’m scanning. They serve several uses. I learned early on that the white background found on the lid of most flat-top scanners isn’t always your friend. When you scan newspaper clippings or letters written on both sides of thin papers, you’ll often have the print on the back side bleed through on your scanned copy. Placing a light or medium gray sheet of card stock over your scanned piece will prevent the bleeding. When scanning items for design elements, use a color that contrasts with the item you’re scanning. In my example, I’m scanning the back of an old post card that has aged to a nice sepia color. I’ve chosen a blue background because there’s no blue elements on the card.
Notice that I’ve selected to scan an area just a bit larger than my post card. Yes, the card isn’t straight, but it’s faster to fix it in my photo editor than to fuss with it on the scanner. I’m using Photoshop Elements in these examples and scanning this item directly into the app. Once the scanning is complete, I’ll be ready to start editing.
Here you can see that I have straightened the postcard and used the Magic Wand selection tool (arrow points to it in the toolbar) to select the blue background. Often colored stock isn’t one flat color and you either have to adjust the Magic Wand tool’s tolerance setting or select multiple times to get all the background selected. Once it’s all selected, choose the Edit > Cut command (Ctrl/X or Cmd/X keystrokes) to remove the background. You now have a transparent background.
My next step is to crop the image down as close to the postcard’s actual edges as possible. Most of these old pieces no longer have straight edges so you’ll probably have some of the transparent background in your final piece. In my case, however, I have another problem to fix. There’s a shadow line that runs across the top of my card because it wasn’t sitting totally flush on the scanner bed. By zooming in close, I can again use the Magic Wand to select and cut it out too.
Once you’ve removed all the unnecessary background, save your graphic file. I will save it in Photoshop format for any later editing I might wish to perform and in .png format for use in projects. Unlike .jpg, the .png format supports transparency so you can often just dump the graphic into your project and keep on going. In more complex designs, like collages, you may have to go back to the Photoshop file and select/copy/paste just the image into your creation.
I now have a beautifully-aged blank post card back that can be used for journaling, titles or as part of a collage in any number of projects – from documents to scrapbooks to slide shows to movies.
Try it yourself. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.