Practical Pointers for Blog Train Success

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Practical Pointers for Blog Train Success

Back when we first started doing blog trains here, we had a lot of conversations about the practicalities of creating and offering blog train contributions. We covered everything from file naming to quality control, and the conversations were fantastically helpful to many of us budding designers.

I think there was a huge advance in our professionalism through all of us sharing our knowledge and ideas - one thing I loved coming across today in reading those old threads was current Pixel Scrapper site designer Janet Scott writing (less than a year ago!), "I don't ever intend on starting my own scrapbook blog/store/etc...just did the blog train for fun. I know mine doesn't stand up to what the pros do…" How quickly things can change, isn't that cool? smiley

During every blog train we are joined by more new designers, with every range of experience from brand new to professional. I wanted to compile all those old threads full of helpful tips and information and I'm hoping we can make this thread sticky in the blog train forum [which Marisa has agreed to do, yay!] so that each new crop of blog train contributors can get the benefit of this pool of shared knowledge.

Licensing:

There are 5 main terms you might use to label your designs and indicate how they can legally be used by others. These are also the terms to check for when you use other people's products to help you make your own designs. The license of the products you use to make your designs will determine what license you can offer in turn.
In general the meanings are:
PU - can only be used for personal projects, nothing that makes money, no freebies to give away either
S4H or S4O - Scrap For Hire and Scrap For Others - can be used in layouts that someone gets paid to make for another person, provided the file given to the customer is flattened
CU - can be used for commercial products that make money, as well as freebies to give away
CU4CU - the person who downloads your designs can use them to make designs that other people can use to make commercial products

There are many variations on these licenses. Some CU licenses only allow for physical printed products - like T-shirts or greeting cards - to be made, not digital materials like digital scrapbooking designs. Some CU licenses include CU4CU, like Pixel Scrapper's own CU license. It's important to read through the Terms of Use on any product you are considering using to make your own designs to give away. If you are uncertain, contact the creator. People are almost always happy to write back and answer your question.

Reading through Terms of Use can also help you craft your own TOU policy and wording. You are always welcome to copy and use as your own the wording of the Pixel Scrapper TOU, which has been carefully designed to be as straightforward as possible. There are both PU and CU versions.

*Something cool you might not have realized.* If you are making freebies to give away under a PU license, you can use Pixel Scrapper materials that are under a PU license. The CU license for Pixel Scrapper designs is only needed if you are going to actually be making money off your designs, or making freebies that will in turn be CU for others.

Packaging your designs to give away:

The general consensus is to compress your offering into a .zip file. If you are going to use another format (like .zipx or .rar) you might want to consider offering a .zip version as well, to increase the likelihood someone will be able to download and open your file.

Here's a link to a thread about different file sharing services you can use to host your files so people can download them.

The following suggestions are intended to make crediting you as easy as possible for people who download and then make things with your designs:

• Please put all your designs (elements, papers, TOU, preview, etc.) into a main folder and zip/compress THAT, rather than simply zipping all the separate pieces. When people download for blog trains they often unzip multiple downloads at once, and if your pieces are loose they will get scattered and mixed up with other people's loose pieces.

• Please always include a TOU with your download, don't just rely on having labeled the preview "PU" or "CU," etc. It's also a good idea to include an email address and your blog/facebook URL somewhere in your TOU. You can also include in your download an internet shortcut to your blog/facebook (although I will admit I personally consider those to be clutter and throw them away).

• For several Pixel Scrapper blog trains we used a consistent naming convention, where every contributor was requested to use the same format when naming their files. I really liked this! It made things much easier to sort and organize. An example of the format would be: PSApril13_Scrumptiously_artoverlay_nest. The important parts were the prefix PSmonth13_designername_ and then a unique name for each item. This helps group all the blog train contributions together, even if they get separated, which is nice because they all share the same color palette.

• Please follow a naming convention for every item in your download that includes, at the very least, some indication of your name or designer name. Members are split on whether to keep the name part short (some people want short file names and ask people to use initials only) or long ("SSands_ is easier to spot than ss_ -- and it's easier to feel a sense of community with a name more so than initials or a number." - Tina). Use the same naming convention on your TOU and preview, so even if all the pieces are separated it will still be easy to see which items you designed, what your terms are, and how to credit you.

• All this means DON'T just label your items flower1, paper5, etc. At the very least name it scrumptiously_flower1. Even better would be scrumptiously_vintage_flower1. Best would be PSNov13_scrumptiously_flower1 or PSNov13_scrumptiously_vintage_flower1.

• If you don't label each item (this includes your TOU and your preview, please!) those who download will do their best to relabel them, but may end up deleting them instead or using them without crediting you because they can't remember who the designer was. "It's not completely about being lazy on our part not to want to rename things. Our scrapping time can be very valuable and sparse sometimes; so it is hard to spend 1/2 hour renaming downloads to give proper credit." - Shawna

Previews

Please make it clear on your preview what type of license your designs are offered under. (PU, CU, etc.) It's also good to know that there are a bunch of community members who only download CU materials, and if you don't specify on your preview they'll assume your designs are PU and likely not download them.

Marisa has made an excellent template for making a paper preview, which can also form a nice base for a complete kit preview. Next to the template you'll find a link to a tutorial on how to easily adjust it to accommodate different numbers of papers.

If you want to use the Pixel Scrapper logo on your preview, here's a link to that.

There is a thread here about previews that discusses both what we like as consumers and some of the experience of making them as designers that I think is worth reading. Although there are differing opinions about what makes the best preview, some areas to pay attention to are shadowing, texture, size of the preview, sharpness, whether or not to show everything, whether to show everything in one preview or break it up into multiple previews, what background you use for your preview. Remember that the quality of your preview will be a major determinant of whether someone downloads your designs!

There's an updated preview file here.

Quality Control

Besides your natural inspiration/creativity, quality control is the #1 most important thing needed for a great blog train contribution. It's also the #1 thing that stresses people out!

Some basics:
Papers are generally sized 12x12 (some here do 8 1/2 x 11) and they and everything else you make should have a resolution of 300dpi. It's really common when you're starting out to be off on one or both of these and end up with tiny papers, so check!

Save your files in the correct file type, balancing high quality with smaller file size. Papers should always be JPG (unless they are some shape other than square/rectangular, in which case PNG will be your best bet). Play with the quality settings when you save your papers - switching in Photoshop/PSE from 12 (max quality) to 11 or even 10 (high quality) usually won't make any difference to how your paper looks but will make your file size considerably smaller. We want to be respectful of the space we get to take up on people's hard drives! Elements will usually be PNG. Journal cards may be JPG if they are rectangular but will be PNG if they have rounded corners.

Things to check for before you zip up your designs and give them away:
- stray pixels
- missing pixels
- jagged edges
- untrimmed element files
- resolution
- blurriness (this one is REALLY common - if you use a brush or texture and make it bigger than it was originally, it will probably end up making your design blurry, so you really want to avoid doing that at all costs)
- appropriate element size
- appropriate file size
- overlapping shadows
- gamut check
- pixelation

Here's a great post from Karen Diamond Designs that links to her articles on all of these topics.

Here's a link to The Daily Digi's Quality Manual, which you can download as a PDF and have to refer to as you are quality checking your designs.

Quality Checking can seem overwhelming or confusing, but I urge you to do it! It will make the difference between someone using your awesome, inspired creation and throwing it away.

As a final miscellaneous tip, here's a link to instructions on how to make and save a color swatch in Photoshop and PSE. Really helpful when you're designing from a blog train swatch.

If you have thoughts to add or different opinions about anything I've compiled here, please add your voice to the conversation!

Wow! You put together a great resource for everyone who wants to participate in the PS blog train (or any blog train for that matter). Excellent! I'm sure a lot of people will find it very helpful...

Violet: How very sweet and generous of you to put this all together in one awesome post! Thanks for doing such a great thing for the digi scrapping community we have here! You're the Best! smiley

LOVE this post Violet, thank you for stopping your busy life to make ours simpler smiley

Violet, thank you so much for posting this smiley Your tip about the papers was extremely helpful to me, and I'm sure these will be as well.

Oh wow, Violet, what a great resource collection! I just spend the last half hour Reading the dialiydigi manual, somehow I missed that one. Thank you so much for taking the time to group all of our collective insights in this wonderful post.

Thanks so much!!!

Awesome resource, Violet.

You're all very welcome! I am glad it feels helpful. Writing manuals is one of the things I do professionally, so communities I'm part of tend to eventually end up with one or more "instruction manuals" of some sort.

I think our community here is great; I love how we support and nurture each other's creativity and growth. I also know how excited I get when I see my download counter tick up ("they like me! they really like me!" smiley) and I wanted to make sure everyone had access to all this great advice about making their designs as professional as possible from a practical point of view.

Thanks Violet for the hard work you put into it. It's a very good manual. smiley

@Violet Thank you sweetie for all this very resourceful info,appreciate you taking the time to put this together.I am always learning something new concerning this world of digital scrap,sometime i get confused,however,i am learning and this info you placed here was just another learning experience for me.LOL,hopeful my brain can keep up with all the info i've learned and am still learning.
Blessings!!

300x

Great tips! Thanks for putting this together smiley
Bre

Great Tips, Thanks!!

Thanks so much for writing this Violet!!

Thank you, Violet, for this information! I went back and made some unifying changes in my kit for the blog train. It feels good! smiley

Bummer, the link for the Daily Digi's Quality Manual is no longer valid. Is there another link somewhere?

@Julie: Here it´s working. try right-click it and "save as".

Thank you so much Lorien. There is so much to learn, and this site is overloading my mind=that's a good thing! Thank you for the time you took to put the practical points steps together!

Many Thanks Violet! So nice of you to put all of this together for everyone.

Thank you for sharing. I just recently learned about QC'g my stuff (so only my latest items have been thru this process). Gamut check was the last thing I learned and as I was going through some stuff I made using the Dec blog train color scheme, I noticed that every single one of my red items was out. So, I went back to the color palette and used the exact color to just fill in a space and the color was an out of gamut color. I think it would be good to check the colors for any trains/collabs before setting them in stone, perhaps. Might help us all to have better printable quality items from the start. smiley

Violet - Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to put all this info together! Much gratitude your way. smiley

Thanks Violet for the info. I have one question--what is a Gamut check? I also read Amanda's comments so it must be something about checking color against the color swatch--but would you please explain for me? Thanks

Thank you, Violet! Your comments will be very helpful in my future attempts at designing. I'm another who doesn't understand gamut.

@Donna & Phyllis ~ Check out the links to Karen Diamond's blog and the Daily Digi Quality Manual, both of those have sections on gamut checking, what it means and how to do it.

You're very welcome, everyone, I am glad this is helpful!

@ Donna - Gamut check is checking the colors used against their printable quality...meaning, will they print the same color as they look digitally? Not all colors used will print exactly the same way they are displayed on screen. In Photoshop, you can press ctrl - shift - y and it will highlight in gray any areas that are "out of gamut." Those are areas where the color printed will not match exactly the color on screen. The difference may be subtle or it may be great. The example of the Dec blog train was quite different as far as the brightness of the shade of red. I actually made a printable flyer for someone using a couple items I made for the Dec blog train and hadn't checked yet (assumed it was ok) and the flyer did NOT print near as lovely as it looked online. It was a little frustrating. So...it's important especially if you will be printing your layouts. Awful for something to look so beautiful on screen and then when it's printed, it's horribly dull or the colors have changed to a completely different shade. Anyway, the manual links Violet provided are a lot of help. To fix it, I just change the color mode to CMYK, it will change the colors and you can see (or barely notice) the difference, then change it back to RGB and do the the check again. Usually it's ok and the colors have not changed so much that I need to throw out the element/paper. I've learned, though, and now check my colors BEFORE beginning anything. Hope that helps. smiley

Thank you! This is great!

And @Amanda, thank you! I use Gimp so I have to learn how to do it there, but I really do need to be better about checking Gamut

Thanks, just getting back for the response and I really appreciate it. Since I do print out many of my layouts, this is something I need to learn more about. Very helpful and appreciated! Hugs!

Violet - Thank you! Very helpful and informative post.

Thank you Violet for the great resource! I will put it to good use. Always nice to have something like this handy.

This is stupendous! It just goes to show how much WORK all ya'll put into this! I truly appreciate all the info. thanks!

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