As this year's Thanksgiving came to a close, I began reminiscing about Christmas during my childhood. One of those memories took me back to the times when my family made garlands as Christmas tree ornaments.

Start a new tradition by making this easy Christmas crafts project with your kids.

Start a new tradition by making this easy Christmas crafts project with your kids.

These were simple garlands, made mostly from colored paper circles. Today, access to inexpensive digital photo processing makes it possible to create very unique photo garlands.

If you are looking for Christmas craft ideas that your kids will remember into their adulthood, follow along as I show you how to create the photo garland.

The steps in this article use "layers" in Photoshop Elements. Step-by-step instructions are provided; however, if you are unfamiliar with layers, you may wish to start by reading Editing Photos with Layers.

Tools You Will Need

In addition to digital photos, you will need the following items to make the photo Christmas tree garland:

  • Digital photo editing software with layer capabilities. This article provides step-by-step instructions for Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, 3.0, and 2.0. However, if you are familiar with another editing software, you may be able to follow the steps and translate them to commands in your own software.
  • If you have a photo printer, you will need photo paper and ink.
  • If you rather not do your own digital photo printing, then upload the completed garland images to an online developing lab (see Online Digital Photo Developing).
  • Craft paper trimmer or scissors, to cut out photo squares.
  • Decorative string to which the photos will be attached.
  • Double-sided tape or glue for attaching photos to string.

Determine Garland Length

In order to know how many photo squares you will need, decide how long a garland you would like to make. The length is up to you—I will use 6' as an illustration. In addition to the 6' segment containing photos, leave a foot or two of extra string on each end so that the garland can be tied to the branches.

Next, determine how much space you would like to leave between each photo. About an inch looks good to me.

Now we can calculate how many photo squares we need. Each photo will be 2" square. If we leave 1" between them, then each photo will take up 3" on the garland. We convert our desired length of 6' to inches and get 6 × 12 = 72". We divide the space required by each square into the total and get 72" ÷ 3" = 24 photo squares.

Just one more simple math and we are done: We have determined that we need 24 photo squares, but we need to double that number because each square will have a picture on both sides. So, then, our final answer is that we need to print 48 2x2" photos to make a 6' garland.

Six 2x2" photos fit on a 4x6" print, therefore, we need a total of 8 prints.

Selecting the Photos

Example of six photos on a 4x6

Example of six photos on a 4x6" print, ready to be cut into squares and affixed to garland.

Since the individual pictures will be relatively small, select photos or portions of photos featuring one or two subjects. Photos with many people may not be recognizable on a 2x2" print.

In the previous section we have calculated the number of individual pictures required for a certain length of garland. It is up to you if you would like all of them to be unique, or if you wish to select a smaller number and repeat them.

Preparing the Pine Needle Frame

You can make the garland from photos without frames, but I wanted to add a Christmas flair by placing pine needles around each. I accomplished this by creating a frame with six openings. Using a frame also makes it easier to size and position the individual photos inside the garland image.

Tip: Skip the steps in this section by taking advantage of our free template offer at the bottom of this page.

Pine needle collage frame

So that you don't have to find a picture of pine needles, I am providing a high resolution image (490 KB) for your use. Click here for the pine needle frame download instructions.

After you have downloaded the pine needle frame image to your computer, continue with the steps below.

All steps apply to Photoshop Elements 2.0 - 4.0, unless indicated otherwise as v2, v3, and v4.

  1. Create a blank image in Photoshop Elements according to the dimensions of the photo paper—this is going to be the garland image template. In this example I am using a 4x6" image at 200 ppi.

    Commands v3 & v4:
    • File > New > Blank File
    • In the New dialog box enter the following settings and click OK:
      • Width: 6 inches
      • Height: 4 inches
      • Resolution: 200 pixels/inch
      • Background Contents: Transparent

    Commands v2:
    • File > New
    • In the New dialog box enter the following settings and click OK:
      • Width: 6 inches
      • Height: 4 inches
      • Resolution: 200 pixels/inch
      • Background Contents: Transparent

  2. Place the pine needle frame into the new image, taking up the entire canvas area.

    Commands v4:
    • File > Place
    • Select the pine needle file you downloaded and click Place
    • Click the checkmark button on the toolbar to accept placement and size

    Commands v2 & v3:
    • File > Open
    • Select the pine needle file you downloaded and click Open
    • Right-mouse click on the image name in the Layers palette
    • Choose Duplicate Layer
    • In the Document drop-down list select the name of the garland image template (at this point it should be called "Untitled-1")
    • Click OK
    • File > Close
    • If the image is not filling the canvas area:
      • Click the Move Tool Move Tool
      • Drag a corner of the image while holding the Shift key to size it
      • Drag inside the image to move it
      • Repeat the sizing and moving steps until the image fills the canvas
      • Click the checkmark button on the toolbar to accept placement and size

  3. Re-name the new layer created by the pine needle image to Frame.

    Command: Double-click the current image name in the Layers palette and type new name, then hit Enter

  4. Selection marquees around all red frames, ready to be deleted.

    Selection marquees around all red frames, ready to be deleted.

    Convert the red frames to transparent.

    Commands:
    • Click the Magic Wand Tool Magic Wand Tool
    • On the top toolbar set Tolerance to 100
    • On the top toolbar remove checkmark from the Anti-alias box
    • On the top toolbar remove checkmark from the Contiguous box
    • Click in the middle of a red frame. All red frames should now have the selection marquee around them.
    • Press the Delete key on the keyboard to remove red, leaving transparent frames
    • Select > Deselect to remove selection marquees

  5. Save the garland image template to your hard drive in a place where you can find it.

    Command: File > Save As, and give it a file name such as garland-template.psd

  6. Close the garland image template.

    Command: File > Close

Making the Garland Image

At this point you should have the garland image template with the pine needle frame on your computer's hard drive (created in previous section or downloaded). Let's continue with adding pictures into each of the six frame openings.

All steps apply to Photoshop Elements 2.0 - 4.0, unless indicated otherwise as v2, v3, and v4.

  1. Start Photoshop Elements.
  2. Make a copy of the garland image template so that the original is not disturbed.

    Commands:
    • File > Open
    • Select the garland image template file that you created or downloaded and click Open. The file should be called garland-template.psd
    • File > Save As
    • Enter a unique file name for this copy of the garland image, such as garland-1.psd
    • Click Save

    The above steps opened the original template file, saved a copy under a unique name, and closed the original template file. You now have a copy of the garland image template open on your screen.

  3. First photo is placed into the garland image, taking up entire canvas area and covering the frame layer.

    First photo is placed into the garland image, taking up entire canvas area and covering the frame layer.

  4. Open the first photo into a new layer.

    Commands v4:
    • File > Place
    • Locate and select your first photo file on your computer's hard disk and click Place
    • Click the checkmark button on the toolbar to accept placement and size. Leave the photo size as placed—do not size or move yet—we will do that next.

    Commands v2 & v3:
    • File > Open
    • Locate and select your first photo file on your computer's hard disk and click Open
    • Right-mouse click on the image name in the Layers palette
    • Choose Duplicate Layer
    • In the Document drop-down list select the name of the garland image
    • Click OK
    • File > Close

  5. Re-name the new layer created by the photo to Photo 1.

    Command: Double-click the current photo name in the Layers palette and type new name, then hit Enter

  6. At the moment, the Photo 1 layer is on top, covering the Frame layer. Move the Frame layer to the top.

    Command: In the Layers palette drag the Frame layer with your mouse above the Photo 1 layer

  7. Size and move Photo 1 into the first frame opening of the garland image.
    First photo sized and positioned inside the frame.

    First photo sized and positioned inside the frame.



    Commands:
    • Click on the Photo 1 layer in the Layers palette to select it
    • Click the Move Tool Move Tool
    • While holding down the Shift key, drag one corner of the photo image to size it. At this point an approximate size is sufficient.

      Tip: Always remember to hold down the Shift key on your keyboard while sizing photos to prevent distortion.

    • Drag within the image to move it to the appropriate frame opening
    • Repeat sizing and moving steps until the photo fits the frame opening to your satisfaction.

      Tip: To make it easier to place and size the photo, zoom in close by pressing Ctrl = several times. Zoom back out by pressing Ctrl -.

    • Click the checkmark button on the toolbar to accept placement and size

  8. Repeat from step 3 for the other five photos.
  9. Save the finished garland image.

    Command: File > Save

  10. Close the finished garland image.

    Command: File > Close

  11. Repeat from step 2 to create additional garland images containing different photos.

At this point each garland image is a collage of six small pictures. Once you have enough pictures to fill a garland, print as many copies of each garland image as required, cut out all of the picture squares, and put on the garland string.

If you rather not do your own digital photo printing, have the images developed. This is a great opportunity to take advantage of the free print offers, or, if you don't have time to wait for the prints to arrive in the mail, upload the images and pick up locally.

Most online developers only accept JPEG files; before uploading, open all of the garland images and re-save them as JPEG (JPG) files with the File > Save As command.

Garland Assembly Tips

Assembling the garland by placing one photo facing down

Assembling the garland by placing one photo facing down (image upside-down), two strips of double-sided tape applied vertically, and string passing over the center horizontally. Another photo to be applied on top.

Assembling the photo garland is not rocket science, but I thought I'd pass along a few pointers that I discovered during my first attempt.

  • Double-sided tape works great for sticking two photos together on the string.
  • Affix the double-sided tape vertically to the bottom photo. This will bond the photos and the string, preventing the photo squares from sliding.
  • Turn the down-facing photo upside-down and the top-facing photo right-side up. When the photo squares rotate on the string, the one facing out will always appear right-side up. Otherwise, the back photo will be upside-down, just like my dog in the sample garland at the top of this page.
  • Don't forget to leave about a foot or two of extra string on each end so that you can tie the garland to the Christmas tree.
  • I used a pair of scissors to cut out my squares. This produced satisfactory results for a craft, but a quality paper trimmer would have made nicer edges.

I hope this homemade Christmas craft will bring your family as much pleasant memories as it did for me. Enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas.


Free Template Offer

To save you steps while creating the garland, I have developed a Photoshop Elements template containing the pine needle frame, into which you can insert your own photos.

To use the template, you will need the following:

  • Knowledge of how to download, save, and open ZIP files.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, or the older 3.0 or 2.0 versions, installed on your machine.
  • Basic knowledge of how to use Photoshop Elements.

* Go to the Template Downloads page »