This month I interviewed Marie McFadden, a very talented graphic designer in our Creative Services group, in the hope that she would give up a few trade secrets. When Marie designs a page in AncestryPress, she seems to achieve a magical balance between elegance and simplicity. Her pages are always visually compelling but never kitschy or cluttered.
After talking to Marie, I realized that many of her tricks of the trade really boil down to a few common sense guidelines. By “common sense” I mean they seem totally obvious after someone with many years of professional training and experience has pointed them out to you.
But the point is that you don’t need to be a pro to make an amazing book in AncestryPress because, first, Marie and her colleagues are busy creating lovely backgrounds for you. Second, our product team has engineered the book-building tool with you, the average person with no design training, in mind. And third, Marie has provided helpful tips for combining all the different elements of your book into a beautiful, harmonious whole.
With that in mind, I’d like to tell you about some new features that will make it easy to amp up the “wow” factor in your AncestryPress projects.
I hope you’ve been taking lots of photos this summer — or scanning lots of old ones — because as soon as you’ve finished reading this blog, you’re going to want to experiment with our new frames, masks and corners. Go to the new Frames tab on the left-hand side of AncestryPress. You’ll see three separate folders for frames, masks and photo corners.
Let’s start with frames. Since these frames look like embellishments, your first instinct will be to grab a frame, drag it over to the page and place it on top of a photo. But hold on a second. These are smart frames. To apply a frame to a photo, just select the photo…
…and then click on the frame.
The frame will magically appear on the page, perfectly centered over the photo. The frame automatically resizes itself to fit the photo. However, if the photo has a different aspect ratio than the frame, but photo gets automatically cropped to fit the frame’s aspect ratio.
What if your photo magically cropped itself and something important got lost? No worries. You can adjust the crop by dragging the photo within the frame. Just select the photo and then click the pointy icon with four arrows in the image editing toolbar (it’s just to the right of the Zoom icon).
Move the photo…
…and then click somewhere else on the page (anywhere outside the frame) to apply the change.
Note that you cannot rotate these magical frames. So if you apply a horizontal frame to a vertical image — as I’ve done in the example above — part of your photos will get cropped off. If you want to rotate a frame, you can use a non-magical frame from the Other Content tab (click the Embellishments folder and then the Frames sub-folder).
Think of a mask as a cookie cutter that you use to change the shape of your photo. You apply a mask in exactly the same way you apply a frame. The only difference is that no frame appears on the page.
Again, select the photo…
…and then click on the mask you want to use.
If the crop doesn’t turn out quite right, drag the image within the frame…
…and then click anywhere outside the frame to apply the change.
This page shows some of the different effects you can get by using masks. Notice that the photo in the bottom left corner is a rectangle with rounded corners and the photo across the top of the page has fuzzy borders. In my opinion, the fuzzy borders work particularly well with sepia and black-and-white photos. In the example below, I’ve made the top photo 30% transparent so that it blends into the background, which makes the other two photos stand out a little more.
The photo corners work in a similar manner, except that there’s no automatic cropping or resizing. Select a photo and then click on the photo corner you want to use. It will be magically applied to all four corners of your photo.
In case you’d rather apply your photo corners in a tedious, manual fashion, you’ll find an identical set of corners in the “Borders & Corners” folder under Embellishments (in the Other Content tab). I can’t imagine why you’d want to use the non-magical corners, since they require a lot of copying, rotating and nudging, but there they are. Just in case.
I can think of some reasons why you’d want to use the non-magical borders in the Borders & Corners folder. Sometimes you want to put a decorative border around an image without changing the shape or aspect ratio of the image. In that case, you can adjust the size and shape of the border to fit the image.
Pick the border you want, drag it over to the page and resize it to fit vertical sides of the image. You’ll need two copies, since there are two vertical sides. Then repeat the process for the horizontal sides. In the example above, I followed Marie’s advice to put a frame around a census record. It does look better without the black edges, no?
Of course, you can automatically apply a solid-colored border without changing the shape of the image by using the drop-down menu and color picker in the image editing toolbar.
On a separate topic, we’ve recently made it easier to add pages to your book. To insert a new page, right-click on a page thumbnail at the bottom of the AncestryPress interface. You’ll see a little fly-out menu that lets you add new pages from templates, add a single blank page, or delete or copy the page you’re currently on.
If you select “Add pages,” you’ll see a screen that looks like this:
Note that you can only add one family history template at a time. That’s because most of these templates are based on an online family tree and you have to select a tree and starting person for each template. But for photo book themes, you can add as many pages as you want. Use the Control key to select multiple pages.
Let’s say you want to add record pages for all the records linked to a particular person. Click the Record Page thumbnail and then click the “Add Page(s)” button. Select the tree and the person. You’ll see a list of all the records that are linked to that person.
Check all the records you want to include in your book and then click “Add Page(s).” In this example there’s only one record available, but if there were 10 or 20 records I could include all of them — or just pick the ones that contain the most relevant information.
Facing Tree Pages
Finally, if you feel that a single page doesn’t give you enough space for a family tree, you can now build a spread with two family trees — a left-facing tree and a right-facing tree.
This approach essentially lets you create a combination tree with a starting couple and four generations of ancestors, whereas a single-page combination tree lets you include a starting couple, two generations of ancestors and one generation of descendants.
We’ve got lots of good stuff coming out in the next few weeks — including several new themes and some new output options — so please check back often and tell us what you think.
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NOTE: AncestryPress is now MyCanvas
In October 2008, AncestryPress was relaunched under the name MyCanvas. It is still a free, online software program provided by Ancestry.com. For current information about products and features, please see my more recent blog posts.