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Postcards from the Edge


Paranormal PSP8--Tutorial Index--Text--Postcards from the Edge

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm more inclined to "teach a man to fish" rather than hand him a plate full of fish sticks.

As you go through my tutorials--some of which are a trifle bizarre--understand that the point is to learn techniques that you'll apply to your own work in new and creative ways.

This image has been reduced in size and quality for the purposes of the PSPower newsletter, which has a image size restriction of 25K.
To see a larger, clearer (72K) version, click

In this tutorial, you're likely to learn how to

  • Create extruded text
  • Use the layers palette
  • Work with Alpha Channels
  • Use the Deform tool and Object Selector  to size, position and rotate objects
  • Crop Photos
  • Create text on a path
  • Use some of PSP8's new text features


Maybe you've just come back from vacation and you are looking for an interesting way to display your pictures on your website. Maybe you're involved with a community project and you want a fun way to highlight the most unique features of your area. Maybe you're planning a reunion or a party and just like the retro feel of the vintage postcard look for your invitation-- whatever the inspiration, this tutorial will teach you how to reproduce the look of "large letter" postcards of the 40's and 50's.

 To see images of real vintage large letter cards

Historical Museum of South Florida

The Postcard

The Large Letter Page

US Postal Service Stamps Page

Even if you're not familiar with the term, you've undoubtedly seen "large letter" cards (they still make them, though they are not as typical as they were half a century ago) where the name of the locale is spelled out in a bold font, and often each letter of the font is filled with an image-- originally illustrated, later photographic-- of a key point of interest. If you find any real ones in Mom or Grandma's attic, they've become highly collectible. Originally printed by one of five or 6 companies, in July of 2002, the US Postal Service released a series of commemorative stamps celebrating this unique nostalgic art form. (It should be noted that the USPS stamps did not use photos to fill the letters due to their small size, but given that they created one for each State of the Union, it is an excellent source for inspiration.



To complete this project you'll need

  • •a heavy, bold font, most frequently without serifs. Dozens of these are available for free download on the web. Fonts you might consider are Broad, Club, Impact, Fatso, Broadway, Lithograph, Futura Extra Bold or similar. This will be used to create your "large letters." FontFreak.com is one good source of free or inexpensive novelty fonts. There are many others. We're going to use Impact here because you probably already have it installed, but in your own work, experiment with others.
  • •A script font like Cataneo, Monotype Corsiva, Park Avenue, WhisperWrite, Heather, Holiday-India, or similar. This will be used to create your "Greetings from" text. We're going to use Park Avenue here because you probably already have it installed, but in your own work, experiment with others.
  • •Several small photographs of key points of interest. A zipped file with some of mine can be found on the Resources page. You will likely have your own.
  • •Two or three pieces of cheesy clipart typical of your area. Look at the large letter postcard samples for ideas. Palm trees and flamingos are great for Florida, but when you look at the examples, you'll see cactus in the southwest, dice and roulette wheels used for Las Vegas and Reno, ears of corn in Iowa, bass in the lakes regions, etc.  The more stereotypical the better. Be more cautious looking for this stuff for free on the web, you can end up in a Pop-up and spyware nightmare. If you don't have at least one crummy clipart disc in your collection, (they can be had for under $10 just about anywhere) if you're a user of Microsoft Word you have access to their Clips Online. The ones I used are also on the Resources page.



It should be noted going in that "subtle" and "understated" are not part of the plan here. "Outrageous" "oversized" and "over the top" are more like it. Really look at the vintage samples. (links provided) These postcards were "baby billboards" and about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
OK, now we're ready to design a "masterpiece" of travel kitsch!



1. Open a new image. The actual pixel size will depend on your planned usage (print or web) but the proportion always remains the same: 4 high x 6 wide. For this exercise we'll open an image 800 high by 1200 wide with, for the time being, a white raster background.



2.Colors are more primary than subtle in this sort of postcard, so flood fill your background with a bright solid color or gradient.  I chose the Landscape Morning gradient that ships with PSP8




3. Create a new layer. On that layer, with a simple 5 pixel round brush, I drew some random lines in black and white over the green areas. Perfection isn't necessary, or even desirable. (Image cropped and size reduced in these illustrations by 50%) It looks like this.





4.  Choose Effects>Distortion>Wave. When the dialog box opens, set these parameters:

Horizontal Displacement: Amplitude 4, Wavelength 10
Vertical Displacement: Amplitude 2, Wavelength 30
Edge Mode Transparent
And click OK. You'll end up with





5. But the real "magic" comes into play when you
a) change the layer blend mode to Dissolve 50% in the layers palette and
b) Choose Adjust> Blur>Motion Blur and set the angle at 90% and the strength at 100%. Then you end up with




If we were doing a project a little more subtle than large letter postcards, I might recommend something else, but for our purposes here, this is fine. It doesn't look a lot like real waves, but so little of this will be visible in the finished piece that more detail isn't needed. Right Click on the layer in the layers palette and choose Merge Down from the context-sensitive menu which appears



 6. Choose the pen tool. (this is going to be invisible later, so line color and fill is not important) Beginning in the lower left hand corner and extending to a point just above the horizon on the right side, draw a vector line segment. There are many ways to do this. I prefer to use the pen tool options as shown here.

After your line is formed, right click on the End node and choose "Curve Before" from the context-sensitive menu which appears. An adjustment handle will appear. Drag it upward to create a curved line. Now select the Start node and right click on it. Choose Curve After and drag downward on the handle to change your line to a smooth S-curve as shown. (I have greatly exaggerated the thickness of the line so you can see it better. A single pixel is fine, as it is going to serve as a guide only) Do not deselect your line before moving on to the next step.



7. Choose the text tool.  Hover the mouse over the curved line until you see the text icon change to a capital A over a curved line. This is the symbol for "text curved to a path"  Click on the line and the text entry dialog box will appear. Type in your text and highlight it. I placed a bright orange color in the foreground swatch and yellow in background swatch, then I set the tool options as shown. Do not deselect your vector text. There are a couple of new/changed options here worth discussing before I move on.

 The first is Font Size. I once used a font size of 150 in a tutorial and got dozens of complaints because "the menu doesn't go higher than 72!" That's true. If you want a number higher than 72, you have to type it in.

The second option is Warp Text. This is new to PSP8. What this does is stretch the tops and bottoms font in order to make it conform to the curve more smoothly. Try your text both ways, both warped and unwarped. I opted to keep mine warped because I liked the look of it. You may find you don't like the way it looks with your font or text.

The third issue, not really shown here, is alignment. I chose center alignment, but found that I had to add a couple of spaces after the word "Clearwater" to get it to line up on my curve properly. Go ahead and add spaces before or after your text of you need to do so to get the look you want. No one will ever know.

And last but not least is the subject of kerning and leading scales. In PSP8, the scale of these has been changed radically. I could not get a definitive answer from Jasc, but it appears that 1 unit of kerning or leading is approximately 1/4 of a pixel or less. This means that the tool is more flexible and accurate than before, but it also means that any kerning or leading setting used in tutorials from earlier versions will not produce the same results in PSP8. (Just an FYI)

Moving on....



8. In the tools palette, expand the plus sign to the left of the Vector 1 layer to show the objects on the layer. Click the Eye icon next to "new shape" to place a red X through the eye and hide the line. Then make sure your text object is highlighted and choose Selections>From Vector Object. A marquee will appear around each letter. Do not Deselect. Choose Selections> Load/Save Selection>Save to Alpha Channel. Accept the defaults and click Save. Do not Deselect.



9. Hide the vector text layer and create a new raster layer. Make the effects toolbar visible. With the selection still active, click the Drop Shadow icon on the effects toolbar. When the dialog box opens, reset the settings to the default by clicking the curved arrow icon in the upper right corner, then change the Color of the shadow to Orange and the opacity to 100%. Click OK.

10. Deselect, then click the drop shadow icon on the effects toolbar again. Change the horizontal and vertical offset settings to 1, and change the color to a darker shade of orange. Click OK. Now hold down the shift key and click the drop shadow icon 10 more times.  Release the shift key and click the icon again. Change the color to black and the blur to 0. Click OK. Then hold down the shift and click the drop shadow icon 4 more times. This creates a soft-looking extrusion as shown below. (If you prefer a crisper looking extrusion, set the blur to 0 throughout steps 9 and 10)





11. Make your text layer visible again and drag it to the top of the stack in the layers palette. Set your background color to black and your foreground to null and choose the text tool again. Click in the upper left corner and using a Park Avenue 72 point bold font (or other script font you prefer) set the words "Greetings from" on the page. Do the same with the word "Florida" just below the curve of the text.





12. This is starting to look like a postcard, but it's far too tasteful at this point. Open the flamingo clipart found on the Resources page and copy and paste it as a new layer. Drag the layer down so it is just above the background layer. Do the same with the palm tree and hibiscus files, using the deform tool to resize and position them. You may find that you need to move the words "Greetings from" and "Florida" around a bit. To do so, just click on them in the layers palette and choose the object selection tool (the last one on the tools palette) to shift them without disturbing anything else.

13. We've almost reached maximum tackiness now, but we still have to get your vacation snaps integrated into your masterpiece.
There are lots of different ways to do this. This one moves quickly and may be an approach you haven't tried before.

  • a)Open the first snapshot that you want to include.
  • b)Select the portion of the image  you want to place inside the lettering and copy and paste it as a new layer.  (You can close the original snapshot as soon as yu copy it to the clipboard.)
  • c)Reduce the opacity of this new layer to about 75%.  
  • d)Use the deform tool to resize and position it roughly over the text as you wish.
  • e)From the selections menu, choose Load Selection from Alpha Channel. When the dialog box opens, place a check in the box that says "invert selection" and click "Load"
  • f) When the marquee appears, press the delete key to cut away the excess, then Select None (CTRL+D) If any of your letters accidentally overlap the others, it it easy to use the eraser for touchups now BEFORE you merge the layer down.
  • g) Open the next snapshot. Repeat steps a,b, d,e,and f above, but do NOT reduce the opacity of the new layer. When you've completed step f, right click on the layer in the layers palette and choose Merge Down. (the opacity will automatically drop to 75%)
  • Repeat step g for each snapshot. When all the letters are filled in, reset the opacity of the layer to 100%  

14. When all the letters are filled with images and they are all on the same layer, drag that layer below your vector text layer.  Double click on the vector text object that contains your large letters. ("Clearwater" in this example.) When the text editing options open, change the text fill color from yellow to null to let the pictures show through behind the orange frame. After all was said and done, I also opted at this point to change the color of the text for the word "Florida" to yellow and make it a bit larger.

And there you have it! Funky retro style with your own snapshots! (If you have any luck, you'll go someplace interesting on vacation. If you have brains, you'll choose a place with a name shorter than Clearwater for your first attempt at this technique. Wish I'd had great pictures of Taos or Nome!)