Making a photo greeting card – image editing and manipulating

Over on the other side of Café Ludwig you can see my Happy Holidays greeting post. Here I would like to tell about the process and tools I used to transform a photo into an abstract image. This also gives me the opportunity to introduce some newcomers to the concept of layers in photo editing. Layers is a powerful feature found in image editing programs. These programs can be intimidating because there is so much to learn to master them. For this project I did not use a photo editor at all, I used Microsoft Office Word 2010. This “text editor” has some great “Picture tools” that are simple and easy to use.

I started with a nice enough photo, but wanted to make the picture to be more like a painting. The “Artistic effects” tool called “Cutout” reduces the continuous tones into just a few shades. After trying several settings I liked the effect best with six shades. The resulting images was nice enough for me to use on greeting cards. For this project I wanted to do a little more. Here are close-ups of the candle in the photo. The first (left) image is the original photo, the second (middle) picture is the results from the “Cutouts” effect transformation. More about the third image a bit farther down.


I wanted to add a glow and light “spikes” around the candle flame. The glow should go behind the flame. When using terms like behind or above we come to “layers”. In Word it is quite easy to place one image over another one. That’s all there is to layers, one image over another. In “Picture tools” there are also tools for setting “transparency”. The first one I used was picking one color to be transparent. The third image (on right) shows the result when I picked the black color to be transparent. In this case the “white paper” is seen wherever the image had been black. stack

Now I could put this image over another and see the layer underneath wherever the picture had been black. Let me describe what I did in a little more detail. The picture on the right here will explain the steps and the layers.

I used the drawing tools to make a black rectangle. This would serve as replacement for the black that I had made transparent in the photo.

I made a smaller black rectangle and placed a blue radial gradient on it. You can see it at the right. I put this rectangle, or “layer” over the large black one in place so the center of the blue glow would wind up behind the candle flame. I then positioned the image layer over both of these.

The glow behind the candle was now in place.

I used drawing tools again to make a small four-pointed star. In Word you can freely rotate an image, so I set the angle to an orientation that looked good to me. The star was also filled with a gradient of yellow color. It is pretty hard to see in the “stack” illustration here. Placing that over the flame completely hid the details behind the star. This is where the “transparency” setting comes in. This setting is for the whole image, not for a single color as I used before. A transparency of 100% means that the image is like a sheet of glass with nothing on it. Set to 0% means that the image blocks everything behind it. At intermediate settings the image is more or less faded and allows details from a lower layer to shine through.

There was a little problem once I had the transparency just right for the spikes. The center of the flame was now covered with the star which showed detail. So I made a small oval shape, the size of the flame part that I wanted to be completely white. I placed this shape over the flame. That was a bit hard to do with a white oval – it was hard to see. So I made the oval red. You can see it just barely in the stack illustration. Once it was in the correct place I reset the color to white.

This completed the picture part of my project. I had made the black rectangle a bit smaller than the photo so the two candy decorations would hang out of the “frame”.

Word, of course, is great for text and text effects, so the “Happy Holidays!” message was easily added. Here is a view of the finished project.


I enjoyed preparing this image to wish you the best for this holiday season and for the year to come. Maybe my explanations also gave you some insight and ideas for your own enjoyment.



One comment on “Making a photo greeting card – image editing and manipulating

  1. chriscaff says:

    Very interestin post with some good ideas. I will be back!


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