Mara Gulens
February 21

Scrap it!
Marketnews

Scrapbooking is the third most popular craft in the United States, says the Craft and Hobby Association. There were about 32.1 million people scrapping away in 2004. The phenomenon is just as big on our side of the border, and technology - hardware, software and the Internet - just fuels the fire.

"Scrapping can exist without technology," says Jen Strange, who has made hundreds of paper and digital scrapbook pages and whose site is a respected entry point into the virtual scrapping world. "But it's more fun with it."

Scrapbooking is so huge that major technology corporations are creating products around, for and about scrapping. There are scanners with high-rise lids good for fitting items such as chocolate boxes, printers that take old negative strips, and thousands of Internet sites, which provide templates and borders, not to mention design ideas and opportunities to purchase supplies.

"There has been a pretty major turnaround in the industry in the past two years towards people eagerly embracing digital technology for scrapbooking," explains Barbara Kotsos, senior manager for Epson's Scrapbooking Solutions.
The two camps - those eager to try technology and those who aren't - have now rolled into one. "Now even the people who weren't eager to try it are understanding the advantages to doing at least journaling and decorating their pages and printing out their photos with computer technology," Kotsos explains.

The happy medium has come from a realization that no matter where a page is started, it can be enhanced with 3D embellishments once complete. "We have come up with the term biscraptual - meaning they are either going to be doing it traditionally or the new modern way, digitally, and they have found a meeting of the minds by doing a little bit of both," says Kotsos.

As the New Year approaches, what better time to put together a scrapbook to celebrate the previous year...

Hybrid is the new paper

Traditional scrapbooking, also called paper scrapping, is a cut-and-paste craft, where you affix paper photos and other memorabilia into special albums. According to the Creating Keepsakes magazine study mentioned above, 75 percent of scrapbookers spend at least $25US on supplies a month, and on average own almost $2,000 worth of supplies.

At a Kodak/Creative Memories scrapbooking workshop I attended a while back, I was struck by how scrapbooking fills a void that arose when we got into digital photography. We know we want to do something besides just print out photos and place them in albums like we did in the days of film (new medium - old message), and online albums are still a problem for many because they are simply that - online.

Enter the scrapbook and the unbelievable number of opportunities technology gives to create whatever we want, thereby integrating the old and the new.

"We know from research that every single scrapbooker does at least some part of the scrapbook using technology," says Kotsos. "Every single scrapbooker owns a printer, scanner and more than 50 percent of scrapbookers own digital cameras."

In other words, hybrid scrapbooking is the new paper scrapbooking. "Everybody does to some degree a good amount of digital. If they do nothing but journaling, that's the low end of the scale," says Kotsos.

For starters, scrapbookers can use their computers to make a sketch of their entire layout before getting started. This helps figure out what size to print photos and where to place text and elements for balance.

Since the main focus of a scrapbook is the images, the many ways to alter, edit, and print photos is key. Instead of being "stuck with" photos you've shot, digital lets you crop, reduce red eye and do all the other photo editing tricks you want before you print and paste onto a page. You can also save in black and white, or sepia for that back-in-time look. "Photo quality has gone way up," says Strange.

Digital also allows for a greater variety of photo sizes. Instead of just standard 4x6 prints, photo printers, like the Canon PIXMA iP6320D Photo Printer ($230) allow for easy print-outs in 5x7 and 8.5x11 size. Small appliance printers, like the Epson Picturemate ($179), also make it easier to print at home - you can even do it sans computer. Place the memory card into the reader, view which image you want to print on the LCD screen, and hit print for photos that will last for up to 200 years.

Online retailers, like Futurephoto.ca and Snapfish.com are another option for getting a variety of print sizes. Sites like www.scrapbookpictures.com go one step further - they actually scrap images for you. Photos can be graphically altered, have borders added, or you can put them on to one of hundreds of templates. Basically, you get what you'd like had you the time, which is one of the key deterrents for many scrapbooking wannabes (myself included).

Computers also make it easy to create photo collages (in sizes of 6x6, 5x7, and 8x10) that can be used as one photo element on a page. "I made a 4x6 collage of one picture of Jake from each month in 2004 to send out in Happy New Year's cards. Then I resized the original file so I could print it 5x7 for a scrapbook page," says Strange.

The Internet is a storehouse of borders and templates - with choices going vastly beyond what is possible physically at a scrapbooking supply store. Epson's CreativeZone has a special free downloads page for scrapbookers, most of which are Windows and Mac compatible. Or, you can use your own images for borders.

Even journaling - "the low end of the scale" - can be done in a variety of ways. Scrappers can print directly on the cardstock or paper where the text will go, on a piece of paper that will be fitted onto the layout, or onto vellum paper, which can be placed on top of any part of the layout. For $20, scrappers can even get their own handwriting digitized.

For those who want to go the next step up and have a program that will pull together many of the steps mentioned above, computer programs like Creative Memories' Memory Manager help "organize, categorize and personalize" digital images. HP's Creative Scrapbook Assistant, aimed at those who are not "computer whizzes," helps create scrapbook pages or parts of pages from one program. That said, you can do much with basic computer programs, like Photoshop or even Word.

As for putting real objects - personal memorabilia - into a scrapbook, that's a question of personal preference. "I so seldom ever include things like ticket stubs in my paper scrapbook pages," says Strange. "For a lot of people a scrapbook is just about pictures and stories."

If, however, you do chose to include items "from life," there are several ways to go about it. You can make a two-page layout: one digi, the other paper. Or scan in the object, which can be anything from fabrics, to passports, to restaurant menus.

"The strangest one I ever heard was a woman who wrapped the scanner in Saran Wrap and scanned a fish," says Phil Amato, Epson Product Manager for Scanners. Which is why the Epson Perfection v350 Photo ($179) has improved backlight correction and a high-lid, which allows you to place in large, 3D objects (no problem with fish!) and get a print-out with an authentic 3D look. The scanner also has an automatic film loader for old negatives, which counts frames and scans photos individually.

Let's get digital

In scrapbook parlance, if you're doing it 100 percent digital, then you're digi, though the number of pure digi-scrappers is estimated as being as low as one percent (and, curiously, as high as twelve). Not many scrappers, in other words, have yet completely left the established world of paper.

According to Strange, there's a huge difference between using scrapbook software and using a graphics program to scrapbook digitally. She says programs such as Creating Keepsakes Scrapbook Designer Deluxe or Hallmark Scrapbook Studio Deluxe 3.0 allow scrappers to make scrapbook pages, but are extremely limited in what they allow the scrapper to do. Plus: "you wouldn't be digi-scrapping in the sense that is widely understood and accepted in the digital scrapbooking community," she says.

This is because digi-scrapping is all about layers. The most commonly used graphics programs are Photoshop (including Photoshop Elements), Paint Shop Pro and Microsoft Digital Image Pro (DIP) - all of which allow for complete creative freedom, says Strange. "Pretty much you open up a new document to work with and start layering... Patterned paper, photos, text, elements, stitching, buttons . . . whatever you want."

Over 300 digital designers sell their digital papers, elements, buttons and stitching on the Web, and there are many freebies and samples to try out. An alphabetical list of digital designers can be found at: http://www.jenstrange.com/Designers.html "There are very few things that can be done on a paper scrapbook page that can't be replicated digitally," says Strange. "But there are a lot of things you can do digitally that paper can come nowhere near."

Since this feature began with the premise that scrapbooks meld the old and the new, you have to wonder - do digis print out their pages? "Most digital scrapbookers create pages with the intention of printing their pages eventually," says Strange. How many actually do is another question, since scrappers prefer to spend their money on new kits. "The great thing about digi is we can continue to create page after page and not have to buy new supplies or not have to get the finished pages printed first," she says.

This very freeing way of doing things means scrappers can e-mail pages to grandma and she can print - if she decides she wants to. In other words, you're sharing now, which is the important thing. "There's always time for printing later," says Strange. If you do decide to print - then it's much easier to make 10 copies of a digital scrapbook than a paper one.

Since they live and work digital, digi-scrappers post their pages in online galleries and on blogs (and back them up on CDs). "Most of my pages I print out and put in scrapbooks right alongside my paper-scrapped pages," says Strange. "Unless you're looking closely, you can't tell a big difference between my paper and digi pages (except the digi ones are much flatter)."

But most digi-scrappers have only seen one another's pages in digital form, unless someone has made a print-it section. "I think it's so important for us to have something physical and tangible to show for our creativity in digi," says Strange.

To do this, of course, you need a printer that can print scrapbook-size (typically 12x12-inch) pages. HP's Photosmart Pro B8350 Photo Printer ($399) prints professional lab-quality prints from 3.5 x 5-inch to 13 x 19-inch size that can last for up to 108 years (when using HP paper and ink). In addition, the printer is able to handle the thicker and stiffer papers used by scrappers.

The digi-community also has healthy interaction between designers and scrappers. "There's no divide, there's no them over there and us over here," says Strange. As with other cutting edge phenomenon, the "experts" are ready to help out newbies in order to grow the community.

Bound photo books

Another version of the scrapbook is the bound book, where you select the photos and either bind a book yourself, or have someone else bind it professionally for you.

Epson StoryTeller Photo Book Creator ($24.99 to $39.99) is a complete kit that, along with a PC and photo printer, lets you turn your digital pictures into a personalized, glossy, hardcover photo book. Available in 10 and 12-page versions, the kit includes software that runs you through an intuitive interface to create your storybook. Be forewarned though, there is still much work involved, and you're not doing this page-by-page as is the case with scrapbooking.

Canon's Photo Album Kit PAK-101 contains one hardback album cover and one packet of double-sided paper to create a personalised digital photo album or scrapbook. It can be used in conjunction with PhotoRecord software, which comes with all PIXMA printers.

The next step is ordering photo books - a personal coffee table book, so to speak - online or from a retailer. Pretty well all photo retailers offer services that allow you to design your book using downloaded software, upload your creation to the service, order and wait for delivery. Books can include printed messages/text, and files saved as jpegs.

Apple users can order books from within iPhoto, and even professional photographers find this option stunning. Kodak has its online legacy book, and Future Shop provides digital photo books via online ordering or by visiting a store.

Like everything, however, caveat emptor. One user I talked to commented that the online creation process takes an extremely long time. The only reason she finally made the move to the final stage of actually ordering was that there was a huge price discount, and she had managed to upload a book's-worth of photos over a significant period of time. Add to that the potential for something going wrong, like getting the wrong person's photos in your book... though that can be easily corrected given enough time.

Another user's desire to print a large quantity of books as a graduation project was sabotaged by the retailer's inability to deliver on time and within budget. In other words: it's not cheap if you want many books quickly.

Super scrapper Strange says bound photo books are great for people who have good planning skills, scrap chronologically, or want to pick out their favourites for a "best of the best" album. For her part, though, Strange has not yet completed the process because she has a hard time "committing to a finished book that I can't slip a layout into later." Nonetheless, you can get very high-quality books for about the same cost as printing layouts individually.

Given all the hype about social networking, blogging and podcasting - and the inherent connection with scrapbooking's need to share (both on paper and virtually) - the launch of Scrapblog should come as no surprise. An online service for creating and sharing interactive, multimedia "scrapblogs," Scrapblog will let users create online interactive scrapbooks with the ability to add narration, music, video, captions and comments. Users will be able to upload photos and videos from their own computers or sites such as Flickr, Webshot and YouTube, and then digitally manipulate online.

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