December 20th, 2008


custom tags

Not that this is super interesting, or even hard, but hey, I felt a little craftsy, and I wanted to share.

So, Mom's birthday's right around Christmastime, so it's important that Mom's Birthday and Christmas not be celebrated as one day. And it was certainly important, as kids, that we not "just get one gift". These days, Mom doesn't need or want stuff, so it's hard to get gift ideas from her at all, much less two gift ideas.

In part to help differentiate which box she should open on her birthday, and which should go under the tree, and in part to put a little more of a personal touch on the presents, which mostly ended up wrapped adequately, but didn't have enough personality, I decided to make custom tags. Now that I look at the title, it almost sounds like a Web 2.0 thing. Tag cloud for Christmas!

Nope, nothing so geeky as that. (Up until now, at least. Put your CSS book down.)

Well, somewhat geeky.

  1. Go to and use their "Advanced Search" page to search for pictures that are suitably seasonal. I searched for "Winter Snow Christmas" as search terms, and in the field that allowed me to rule out terms, I excluded "Santa". I also scrolled down to the "Creative Commons" area, to only look at pictures that the original photographers granted permission for people to use. Not a big deal, but I feel good clicking the button.
  2. download as many pictures as you need. I got around 10, and I needed 8. I'm a fan of the shotgun approach; download twice, print once.
  3. load the pictures into Photoshop (or GIMP, or whatever)
  4. I could have handwritten on the tags with a silver Sharpie, but I felt like putting the recipient's name into the printed tag would make it 5% more fancy, and underscore that this wasn't just some grocery store tag; I made it for them, and them alone. So I used Photoshop's text tool to add "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Birthday", and "To: Mom / From: Dave" and so on.
  5. This is out of order, but in most cases, to make the label more festive, I pre-rotated the canvas so that the label text was at a jaunty 36 or 40 degree angle to the horizontal. I'm pretty sure the golden ratio should be involved. One radian? Something.
  6. After adding text, I antialiased the text layer and rasterized it.
  7. I then used the magic wand tool to select the text, expanded the selection by three pixels, and feathered the selection by three pixels. This got me a blobby selection that surrounded the text.
  8. I made a new layer and filled the selection with a color contrasting the text color. If I used white for the text, I used black for the fill. This created a shadow, to increase contrast. Many times, my backgrounds were very busy, so without a shadow, the text would have been hard to see.
  9. drag the shadow layer just beneath the text layer
  10. rotate the canvas back so that the original picture is back in its starting orientation. This seems like an awkward way to get rotated text - perhaps one of you can tell me of a simpler process. At this point in my process, my picture is now contained within two larger rectangles (as the canvas grows each time you rotate it by something other than a multiple of 90 degrees). So I cropped back to roughly the original size.
  11. I resampled/resized the resulting image to 4"x3" at 300 dpi. In some cases, this was upsampling, which I tend not to like to do, but since my printer would be printing at 300 (or 600?) dpi, there was going to be upsampling, no matter what, so I'd rather have Photoshop do it than the printer driver.
  12. I then flattened all of my tag artwork images into one layer per image, and cut and pasted the tags into new scratch images so that I could print multiple tags per page. I printed to cardstock, and cut using a papercutter that I have for just this sort of project. Or for making homemade card games. Whatever.

Not expensive - the worst part is probably the few cents of ink that I used, or the few cents of cardstock. All of which I already had. I imagine that my sister will notice and comment on the fancy tags, and perhaps one of the other folks around the Christmas Tree. Perhaps it'll make their Christmas marginally more merry. It's already made me more excited about the act of giving, which is really the point.

If I had spent more time on it, I could have really searched carefully to get pictures that really match the recipients' interests - as it is, my brother-in-law is getting a tag with a bicycle covered in snow. My sister and he bicycle a fair amount, so that jumped out at me as I was looking through search results.

I imagine that someone more adept at using Photoshop could have automated the rotation / text / shadow / counterrotation process. If you're pressed for time, skip the rotation and have the text extend horizontally.

If I wanted this to be a really helpful tutorial, I'd have screenshots from Photoshop and photos of the completed project. Bah, that's surely not necessary. You get the idea. Something made is better than something bought. Make your holidays happy!

Rocky (1)

Like most of us, I grew up in a culture where "Yo, Adrian", "Cut me!", and the training montage culminating with running up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art were in the air, so I've managed to get by this long (32 years since it came out) without actually seeing the movie.

It's a surprisingly simple movie for two hours - Rocky's a bum, he coulda been somebody, but he's a bum, he's got turtles, and he works really hard to come up with jokes to impress the chick at the pet store. After an hour of this, he's offered the chance to fight the champion in a staged bit of sports theater. (What, a sporting event that's something other than a completely fair match?) And then they fight, and the movie's over.

I'm a little curious to see some of the other movies in the series now to see how the formula gets adapted to sequels. If nothing else, Rocky II has "Eye of the Tiger", Rocky III has Mr. T, Rocky IV has Dolph Lundgren. Oh, dear God. I just watched the trailer for Rocky IV, with Dolph clearly set up as the high-tech cold war nemesis. Remember when the Russians were a high-tech cold war nemesis?

Still to go (ostensibly by the end of the year, but unlikely):

  • The Elephant Man
  • The Deer Hunter
  • Nashville
  • American Graffiti
  • The French Connection
  • Manhattan
  • The Last Picture Show
  • Das Boot

The last two I can watch on the XBox, the last 3 I can watch on my PC, and the first one I'll get started on tomorrow morning. I think I'll miss my goal, but only by a bit.