Creating Photo Collage Toolkit Template PSD files Tutorial

User Feedback

While most user feedback has been positive with requests for additional features, there have been some complaints that it's too hard to create Photo Collage Toolkit Template PSD files. While I do not agree with this, I do understand that if one wants to make collages with a lot of images, it is a very time consuming and tedious process. Most of the time when someone wants a lot of images in a collage, they also want a very organized structured Collage. Organized structures are very good candidates for automation but beyond my scripting abilities for I'm just a hacker. I usually try to point them to Photoshop's Plug-in Contact Sheet II and I point them to Adobe's Web site where they can download it for CS5. Adobe removed this plug-in from CS5. Contact Sheet II is a plug-in and should be faster then any action or script can be. These are not compiled programs and Contact Sheet II requires no template. On the Web there is also a download for a CSX script. CSX stands for Contact Sheet Extended. While it is beyond my scripting abilities, I did locate a Photoshop Photo Collage Template building script on the web. Its author has given me permission to hack his script and distribute it with my Photoshop Photo Collage Toolkit. I have developed two ways to use it within my toolkit for developing templates.

I also believe that many existing Photoshop Photo Collage Templates PSD files can easily be edited and by just adding my required "Image N" alpha channels, they would comply with my rules and be useable with my scripts.

Way to make Photo Collage Toolkit compatible Templates

  1. Manually - Follow the four rules and be creative.
  2. Automated - Use the Collage Template Builder script and use its dialog to have it generate a Photo Collage Toolkit compatible Template document.
  3. Assisted - Use the Collage Template Builder script. Use its dialog and have it generate a prototype image layer stack.
  4. Photo Collage Toolkit Template file are Photoshop PSD files that can be updated and embellished on.


I'm not going to go into detail here. Just follow the four rules and be creative. Aspect Ratios are important. Try to create Image Alpha Channels that are a good match for your images. The populating scripts use these Alpha Channels named "Image n" to position images and images will be resized to fit these Alpha channel mappings. Image composition will change if there is not a close match between your images' aspect ratio and the Alpha channels aspect ratio. Use Photoshop tool to advantage to pull out guide line to snap images to align layers to selections.

Look at some of the example templates in this package. The 2.5x3.5 Baseball Card2.psd is a good example and there is more then meets the eye in that template. There are layer groups and many layers with their visibility off. For example there is a shape for every field position.

[ Meets the Eyes ]


The Collage Template Builder script has the ability to completely automate the process of building a Photo Collage Template. Though the Rags Gardner script is very powerful and flexible, I have not always been able to generate the template I wanted to build with it. So I have hacked the script to also generate a prototype image layer stack to assist in building templates. More about that in the next section. It is sometimes more important to enter size to have the right aspect ratio than entering the correct size. The Script can often calculate the correct size and can also scale the canvas to more suit the sizes you entered.

Lets take a look at the scripts dialog and the defaults I set up. The script defaults are hard coded into variables in the beginning of the script and you can easily edit them to suit your needs. Here is what the dialog will look like the first time you use it. On the top there are options to dismiss the previous document just created. To generate a preview document or generate a template and if generating a template, it should generate an actual template or a prototype image stack.

[ Dialog ]

If you just hit enter or click on OK the script will default to generating a preview. A preview is just a background layer with image placements paint on to it. Previews can be generated faster than a template. Previews should be used until you generate a preview that looks the way you want your collage to look. If you want to use lots of images, previews will take some time to generate and templates will take a very long time. Here is the default Preview, a 16" x 20" document with an 8" x 12" image in the center flanked by four 4"x 6" images. Note the center image does not line up with the flanking images. By looking at the rulers, you can see and calculate the size the center image would need to be to line up with the flanking images.

[ Preview ]

You can see the two flanking images have a height of 6" with 2" between them. If the center image had a height of 14" the images would line up. To have a 14" height and retain its 2:3 aspect ratio, the images' width would need to be 9.33". Set that into the dialog. and click OK.

[ Dialog Settings ]

The old Preview will be dismissed and a new one will be generated.

[ Preview ]

The new preview looks good. Now generate the template. Un-Check "Preview Layout". "Dismiss Preview" will change to "Dismiss Template" in that check box. Disregard the word "Preview" and "Template". Its actual meaning is dismiss the current active document. So you can check Dismiss or not and keep the current preview around. Click OK to generate the template document.

[ Preview ]

The template document is a background layer with Image Layout painted and labeled on it. The document may also contain a Mat layer group with its visibility off and in the channels palette there will be Alpha channels with the names "Image 1", "Image 2", ... "Image n"

[ Preview ]

Now lets try another. Lets keep the 8" x 12" default main image and see if we can align the flanking 4"x 6" images to it. However, if we keep the small images 4" x 6" there would be no space between them for 6" + 6" = 12" which is what the main image size is. So change the small images height to 5" and calculate what the other side would need to be to retain the 2:3 aspect ratio. So 3.33".

[ Dialog Settings ]

Note the image sizes are OK but they do not line up.

[ Preview ]


The images did not line up the way I wanted them to be. So I programmed in a Prototype Layer Stack. That is actually taking too much credit. The original script created a layer stack and the images layers could have layer styles and they would even be drawn in the preview. My toolkit provides layer style options during population. Therefore, a single template may have different styles applied instead of having a single fixed layer style. I also removed the layer style list from the script. Previously, we generated a preview that had the image sizes I wanted but not the alignment I wanted. To position the images the way I want can be assisted by generating an Image Layer stack. Un-check the "Preview Layout" option and check the "Proto-Type Layers" option and click OK to generate a Document with an image layer stack. Then cancel the dialog -- make sure "Dismiss" is not checked.

[ Dialog Settings ]

In the layer document, drag out guide lines and line them up with the top and bottom of the main image. Then target the two upper small image layers in the layers palette or with the move tool's auto select layers option. Then use the down arrow key to move and position the layers. Repeat the process for the bottom small images layers. This is the look I wanted.

[ Layers Moved ]

Lets do another. This time I want to create a template to build collage wallpaper for my UXGA displays. They have 1600 x 1200 pixels. So I set the document width to 16" and the height to 12" and set the DPI resolution to 100DPI. Now I do not want a main image flanked by small images. I just want a 4x4 matrix of small images with some white space around them. I also want all images to match my display's 4:3 aspect ratio and my old Olympus E-20 camera's 4:3 aspect ratio. You may recall I wrote it is often more important to enter the correct aspect ratio than the correct sizes. So in the main image section, check "None don't want one". In the small Image size enter 16" wide 12" high. The script will figure it out. Enter 8% in the edge if you want some white space about the images. Also un-check "Preview Layout" and check "Proto-Type layers" and click OK.

[ Dialog Settings Prototype ]

After the layers are created, you can see the script calculated that it needed to make the images 3.7" x 3.78". Cancel the dialog without dismissing the document.

[ Dialog Settings Calculated ]

The following Image layer stack was generated with images labeled small image 1 through small image 16.

[ Prototype Image Layer Stack ]

Target the four center images layers and drag them to the trash. Next pull out four guide line to frame the center areas as the image shows.

[ Deleted Layers ]

Next add a new empty layer just above the background layer. Then use the rectangle marquee tool to drag out a selection snapped to the center guide lines. Then fill the selection with Cyan. This look good. Let's convert the layer stack to a template.

[ Added Layer ]

The package comes with a script with the name LayerToAlphaChan. It will convert a prototype image layer stack into a template. Use it to convert the prototype image layer stack into a tenplate document. Here I turn on the visibility of the Mat Layer group then I save the template to my desktop as 1600x1200Template.psd.

[ Collage Template ]

Let's test this template. The toolkit comes with a script named PopulateCollageTemplate. Point its dialog at the new template file and a source image folder. Pick some options and click on create collages. The script will populate one collage and leave it open in Photoshop so you can tweak it.

[ Dialog Populate settings ]

As it turns out, the first three images in the source image folder are Portrait images, not landscapes images. See the large center image, the top left hand corner image and the image to the right of it. Now I'm not a very good photographer. Often when I snap images on vacation, most of the time I don't concentrate on image composition. So the center of the images is often the focal point. The way these portrait images were fitted to landscape position look pretty good IMHO.

[ Populated Collage ]

Tweak the Collage a bit targeting all the text layers and use the up arrow key to move the labels up a bit. Targeted all the Image Layers and changed their layer styles. Opened the Mat Layer group and adjusted the hue and saturation adjustment layer's settings.

[ Tweak Collage ]

Maximum of 53 Images in Collage Template

Photoshop supports up to a maximum of 53 alpha channels in a document. As a result, this limits the number of images this toolkit can support in a collage to a maximum of 53 images. The scripts in the toolkit rely on having an alpha channel for each image. I do not feel this is much of a limitation, for if you were to print 53 images on a 16" by 20" paper, 2:3 aspect ratio images would print less than 2" by 3". Both the Collarge Template creating scripts are aware of this limit and will not attempt to build a template if there are more then 53 images. The collage template builder script will instead build a prototype image stack containing more than 53 images. You can edit this stack. Delete some images to reduce the number of images to 53 or less and convert the stack to a template. I used the collage template builder script and set it up to build a collage template on a 16" x 20" paper consisting of 2:3 images in 7 rows and 8 columns. It took the script less than three minutes to create a prototype image layer stack containing 56 image layers. I deleted 4 images in the middle and replaced then with a single image. The stack now contained 53 image layers which I converted to a template. The whole template process took less then 6 minutes to create. Populating that template takes around 4 minutes on my Windows 7 64bit I7 machine with 6GB of ram.

While the maximum number of images in a collage is 53 you can actually create larger collages by populating a large number of images into several collages and then populate yet an other collage template with these populated collages. Each will be placed into the collage of collages as a single smart object layer. You may want to save the populates PSD file as Jpeg files first to cut down on the overhead of having large PSD file smart object layers in the collage of collages.


[ Template ]


[ Populated Collage ]