Today I'm going to teach you more things that you can do with the amazing (and free) photo app called Picasa. If you want to see other articles I've written in the Picasa Series, you can click that link to see a list. This post will be about how to use the collage and text tools in order to create a custom blog header graphic that you can use for your ActiveRain blog.
In order to illustrate the points in this blog, I worked with Leah Stern in order to update her blog page. You can see below, the page makeover that we did together and I will teach you in this post how you can do similarly if you want to.
First of all you need to find a few photos that you want to use in your header. Ideally they need to be in the same folder so that you can select them together and then click once on the collage button. If they are in different folders, you can create a custom Album that brings together photos of different folders and displays them in one "virtual folder" that Picasa calls an album.
So once you have found your photos and you have selected them specifically, click on the collage button (you will find it on the bottom toolbar). Next you will want to create a "canvas" that is a custom aspect ratio which is 960 x 130 pixels and is the size that you need to use for your blog header graphic.
When you are working with a collage, you can control the appearance of each photo by clicking on it.
Notice the orange "handle". By pulling out/in you can size a photo and by rotating it you can change the angle. I often also use the white border option on the photos to help them have more of a 3D appearance on the page. Try it with and without and see which you like better in your case.
Next, let's give the canvas (background) a color. Pick the eyedropper tool and then as you move your pointer over the colors in the chroma chart, notice how the background dynamically updates so that you can see the result of your color selection. Click the color you want to lock it in. Another idea you might consider trying is to sample a color from one of the elements in one of your photos. This would give it a matching theme look to your imagery.
We are done with part 1 of our task, so go ahead now and click "create collage" to lock in all of your edits so far.
The next part of your header should be to add some text. Perhaps you want to put your blog title (which often includes your geographic location). Also, maybe you have a good tagline. I also like to recommend a phone number or email reference. The goal is after all to have people contact you! The nice thing about the email reference in the graphic is that that people can see it but spambots will have a very hard time to harvest your email address.
Click the text tool and then click on your graphic where you want to place the text. Pick a nice contrasting color for the text (i.e. light on dark or dark on light). Select a font that you like. You can size (and optionally rotate) the text in the same way that you did with the photos - select the text and grab the orange handle to adjust. Each new text line you want, click again a new point and start typing. When you are done with the text, click the "apply" button
Now your graphic is ready to use. You will need to export the collage file to get it to size just right for placement in your blog. Click the Export button (found on the bottom toolbar). In the box alongside the slider, type in the exact value 960 for the size and then click OK. The folder it sends it to will pop up. Note this folder as you will need to know where to get it at a subsequent step.
When we set our background color in Picasa, it does not tell us the numerical value of the color we used so we need to find out for ourselves another way. Most photo editing apps have an eyedropper tool that you can sample a color and then it tells you the RGB value (and equivalent HTML hex code) that you want to use. Let's illustrate this using the free web app www.splashup.com when you go to that page, click the "jump right in" option. This starts the photo editor web app. On the File menu choose Open, then choose the big browse button right in the center of the screen and load your new header graphic.
On the lefthand toolbar, you will see the eyedropper tool. Click it and then click a point on the graphic to sample the background color at that spot. On the color palette, you will notice the hex number that HTML uses to identify color. Make a note of this color number (and better yet, copy it to your clipboard).
In ActiveRain, start on your "My Home" page and then on the left sidebar at the top you will see the "customize" link. Click it and then on the following page you will see a button "choose file" to upload your custom header graphic. Also, you will want to apply the RGB hex value that you determined to both the "Page Background" and the "Header Background" settings.
The reason why you want to use the same color for the header background relates to the cases of extra wide blog posts. Occasionally you might have a blog post that is wider than standard (e.g. on a re-blog) and it forces your blog to expand bigger than your header graphic is wide. If you have a strange color for the header background, it will look bad. At least if you match the page color, it will be less noticeable.
Whew! That was a slightly longer lesson than I normally do, but I couldn't stop halfway on this one! Hope you find it helpful if you feel like your blog header needs a refresh!