!!! WARNING THIS POST IS RATHER LONG !!!
From time to time, I like to share with you some more « technical » details about my mail art activity. In a previous post I explained how I create my envelopes. In this post I would like to speak about digital kits. If you read my blog regularly, you know that I like using them. I got several questions from readers and also from people on Facebook about Digital Kits to know what they are, where they can be found and how I use them. So I thought it could be interesting to share all I know on this subject.
Digital kits, or I should say, Digital scrapbooking kits, are sets of graphic files that are made primarily to create digital scrapbooking pages. They contain all you need to create the basis of a page and to embellish it as much as you want. I will come back more in details on the various types of items you can find in a kit. If you are into scrapbooking, the only thing you will have to add is your pictures. The advantage of these kits is that they are consistent: they contain items that match well together according to a specific theme. They save you the time of research and sorting of digital elements. I don’t use them for scrapbooking but instead I use them for mail art and even for art journaling.
There are plenty of resources on the web where you can purchase digital kits, the price is usually quite low. Just to mention some of them I have already used : Scrapbookgraphics, The Digital Press, The lily-pad, Mischief circus… But there are also sites where you can find free kits, for instance: My Memories
When you download a kit you usually get one or several zip files (be careful that a kit can be very large. You need a good internet connection!). When you unzip them you get the files organized in folders. There is also a set of files describing the TOU (terms of usage). Read them carefully to know what you can, or cannot do with your kit. Usually these kits are not for commercial usage, unless explicitly stated.
For the purpose of this post I’m using the kit Bricolage 104 from Jen Maddocks Design. I selected this one because it contains a wide variety of items that illustrate quite well my subject. When you get a kit you often get also one (or several) file(s) that gives you an overview of all the elements of the kit at a glance.
In this post, I’m using Paint.net, which is a free software. I use the basic version, without any plug in, which means that there are some limitations.
Background papers are the basic items in a kit. They are comparable to the sheet of paper you would use as a background of your scrapbook page. Usually a kit contains several of them, some are very simple, some are very sophisticated. The choice of the background is important as it will drive the whole envelope. I usually start by selecting the background I want and then I let my inspiration flow. The background is almost always my starting point in the creation of an envelope.
Traditional scrapbooking is usually done using a 12 in x 12 in piece of paper. So a background paper file is a .jpg file containing a 3600 pixels x 3600 pixels image at 300 DPI. My template for a standard envelope measures 2480 pixels by 2480 pixels. So I have plenty of ways to use the background paper: I can crop it, I can resize it, I can rotate it, I can even use only pieces of it. Depending on the result I’m looking for.
In Paint.net I create a background layer containing my background paper:
And I create a second layer containing my envelope template:
I then change the blending mode of this layer to “multiply” so that I can see the black lines on top of my background and then I crop my background paper if needed.
(Note that if I have a very dark background, the black lines won’t show. So in this case I create a negative image of my template and I use the “addition” blending mode to get white lines instead.)
I will put all my embellishments in layers located between these two first layers. A tip: rename your layers so that you can easily navigate through them, this is very useful when you have 10 or more layers at the end!
Not all digital kits contain brushes, but the most sophisticated ones do. Brushes are .png files that contain a black design on a transparent background. They can be compared with the image obtained with a rubber stamp and black ink. They can be used to add texture to the background. Sometime the brush itself can be the focal image of your creation. They are called brushes because they can be used as “brushes” in Photoshop (if you now Photoshop you understand what I mean). The basic version of Paint.net does not support brushes (I think there is a plug in for that), but you can add these .png file in a dedicated layer and then manipulate then to reduce the size, to rotate them and even to change the color (in case black is not what you want). Then by playing with the blending mode you can also obtain a lot of different effects.
For my envelope I added a first brush picturing a female portrait.
And a second brush picturing a tree and some birds.
For these two brushes I did not do anything else than resizing them, putting them where I wanted them to be and crop them to fit the rectangular of my envelope. Sometimes I let them go over the boundaries of the envelope.
I added a third brush picturing a fern and playing with the blending mode to create some texture.
They are usually .png files with transparent background. They can be added on a layer and then modified, rotated, resized.
They often come in two versions: one with shadow, one with no shadow. Using shadow helps to make the embellishment pops (mainly when the background is busy) and also give a bit of depth. Adding shadow with Photoshop is quite easy. The basic version of Paint.net does not handle shadow (I guess there is a plug in for that) but it’s quite simple to do it.
First add the element in a new layer. Then duplicate the layer containing your element. Select the bottom layer and by playing with contrast and light you transform your image into a black silhouette on the transparent background. Then you add some Gaussian blur. You then get a black halo all around your image. You can move the layer containing the black silhouette if you want to shift a bit the shadow and you can play with the opacity of the layer to get different effect.
Here is what it gives with a simple rectangular that I will use as an address label.
Using a dedicated element to put your address is really good as it will help you to design the rest of your envelope around this address label. In the case of this envelope I just used a rectangle which is a piece of the paper background but there are plenty of embellishments you can use as an address label.
Then I’m adding a moon.
Playing with blending mode (here I used Superposition) I get an interesting effect.
And I add some ferns to decorate a bit more the envelope, playing also with the address label.
Some kits contain elements called word art. They are words, sentences, quotes already written in an artistic way. For this envelope I selected a quote that fits my design. I just changed it to white color and position it in the image.
Then I just add the address and my return address and the envelope is complete. I can do the steps described in my previous post and I get this as a final result.
A kit can contain a lot of other types of items such as masks, clusters, overlays but I think you got the idea.