These days we are all swamped in digital images. Our camera and smartphone grab these pictures and they are stored on our computers and, hopefully, backed up somewhere safe because these little vignettes can be irreplaceable. In fact, I recommend at least two backups — one local on a home server or external drive and one off-site in someplace like CrashPlan (my choice) or Carbonite.
Organizing and editing all of those images is a whole different story. There are free editors, online web apps or rather expensive options like Photoshop.
I prefer free solutions whenever possible and I recently found a great one that can take your choice of images and turn them into one larger picture, known as a collage. There are online web apps that can do this, but I always prefer a good desktop app because it avoids the process of uploading and downloading all of those pictures.
The best free solution I have found so far is simply called Shape Collage.
Download and Setup
Get started by heading over to the Shape Collage site to grab the free download. The app is compatible with all versions of Windows, plus it promises a long list of other benefits.
The software comes free, but users can also upgrade to a Pro or Commercial version of the computer app. Those run $40 and $75 respectively.
The download file is pretty small, but keep an eye out because it requires Java to be installed and the Oracle software tries to bring along the Ask Toolbar. There is also a web-based version of Shape Collage if you are so inclined to take that route.
Getting to Know the Program
Once you open Shape Collage you will be greeted with a fairly simple and straight-forward interface. To begin with, let us familiarize ourselves with that interface.
The menu options are quite simple here. Across the top of the screen you will find File, Project, Options and Help. These are mostly self-explanatory.
The File menu contains the basics you should expect — add photos, add folders, create collages and a few more. If you are using the free version, as we are in this tutorial, the Project contains only one option — New Project. Even the Options menu is sparse, with only a chance to change languages or profiles. Help is, obviously, exactly what is claims to be.
Now, Let’s Get Started!
Enough with all of that background stuff. You are reading this because you want to turn some of your photos into a collage. And, after all, that is what this app is all about. So let’s get down business.
The first thing you are going to need is, of course, images. That should be easy since most of us have our digital photos stored on computers these days — and please tell me you have them backed up as well. You can go about this in a couple of different ways — open Windows explorer and begin dragging and dropping pictures into the clearly marked area within Shape Collage, or click “File” and then “Add Photos” in the menu area.
Once you have added the images for your collage, click on each to add it or, more simply, click on the first and last while holding down the “Shift” button to highlight all of them. Then tap the “plus” button below the images and choose “Preview” beneath the center column. You will then have to give your new creation a name.
The image will save as a JPEG file and you cal alter the quality which affect the size of the image — keep that in mind if this is something you wish to email to friends and family.
Not it is time to have some fun with your new creation, which you should see in the middle pane. The creativity comes in the right pane, where your can choose what shape you would like to make your image into. The default choices are Rectangle, Heart and Circle — others are available via the paid versions. By default your new create is set to rectangle.
If you wish to choose one of the other shapes then click the radio button and then hit “Preview” one more time to watch the image transform. You can also choose from size, spacing and other options.
But there is more. There are two other tabs in this area — Appearance and Advanced. Both provide more options and control over your new creation, with things like background, border, rotation, shadow, boundary and a whole lot more.
Once you have perfected your artwork you can save it by clicking the “Create” button. If you do not have things quite right then you can save it as a project for later work.
While the free version of Shape Collage provides lots of functionality, the paid versions offer much more. It really comes down to how much you feel you will actually use the program. If it is simply “every once in a while” then free should get you by, or even some of them excellent web apps may work for you — providing you are patient enough to wait for each image to upload for editing.
If you go searching the internet for alternative software to this then I should pass on a warning about the number of sources posing as such that are actually malware. If Shape Collage is not for you then just be careful and research what you do choose. Otherwise stick with this — it is tested and works and will not bring hard to your computer.