A popular collage frame is the filmstrip. You do remember filmstrips, don't you? The medium used for recording pictures before digital cameras?

With the right tools, composing photos into a filmstrip collage is easier than you might think. In this article I explain in detail how to make a collage of pictures into a filmstrip, like the example below. When finished, the filmstrip can be printed or developed on photo paper and used to embellish a scrapbook layout, made into a personalized bookmark gift, or framed for displaying on a wall.

The content of the collage can take many forms to fit your needs. You may choose to place unique photos in each frame, or duplicate a single photo four times. In my example I chose a combination to illustrate two techniques; I used two different photos and created a black & white duplicate of each.

Filmstrip collage frame, featuring two unique photos and their black & white duplicates.

Filmstrip collage frame, featuring two unique photos and their black & white duplicates.

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 collage:

  • 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 collage to an online developing lab (see Online Digital Photo Developing).
  • Craft paper trimmer to cut out completed collage.

Selecting the Photos

For best results, select photos with 3x2 or 4x3 dimensions of the same orientation—portrait or landscape.

The steps below assume landscape (wide) photos. If you choose portrait (tall) photos, be sure to modify the steps by first rotating the filmstrip into a vertical orientation.

Preparing the Filmstrip Frame

The first step in making the collage is to create the frame. Once the filmstrip is scanned, the frames are removed to leave a transparent rectangle under which we insert our own photos.

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

collage frame

So that you don't have to find and scan a 35mm filmstrip, I am providing a high resolution image (788 KB) for your use. Click here for the filmstrip image download instructions.

After you have downloaded the filmstrip 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. In this example I am using 4x6" paper.

    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: 300 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: 300 pixels/inch
      • Background Contents: Transparent

  2. Place the collage frame into the center of the new image, taking up the entire width.

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

    Commands v2 & v3:
    • File > 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 filmstrip collage image (at this point it should be called "Untitled-1")
    • Click OK
    • File > Close
    • Drag a corner of the image while holding the Shift key, until it fits the width of the canvas
    • Drag inside the image to move it to the center of the canvas
    • Click the checkmark button on the toolbar to accept placement and size.

  3. Re-name the new layer created by the frame 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 blue frames, ready to be deleted.

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

    Convert the blue 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 Contiguous box
    • Click in the middle of a blue frame. All blue frames should now have the selection marquee around them.
    • Press the Delete key on the keyboard to remove blue, leaving transparent frames
    • Select > Deselect to remove selection marquees
  5. Save the collage file to your hard drive in a place where you can find it.

    Command: File > Save As

Making the Collage

At this point you should have the filmstrip frame ready and open in Photoshop Elements. Let's continue with adding our own pictures to complete the collage.

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

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

  1. Open the first photo into a new layer.

    Commands v4:
    • File > Place
    • Select the first photo file 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
    • 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 filmstrip collage image
    • Click OK
    • File > Close

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. Size and move Photo 1 into the first frame of the filmstrip.
    First photo of the collage sized and positioned inside the filmstrip frame.

    First photo of the collage sized and positioned inside the filmstrip 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 filmstrip frame
    • 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

  5. Duplicate the first photo.

    Commands:
    • Right-mouse click on the Photo 1 layer in the Layers palette
    • Select Duplicate Layer
    • Type Photo 1 B&W in the As box and click OK

  6. The above step placed the duplicate image directly on top of the original, so it appears as if nothing has happened. However, notice that there is a new layer in the Layers palette and it is selected. Move the duplicate image to the second frame of the filmstrip.

    Commands:
    • Drag within the image to move it to the appropriate filmstrip frame
    • If the image is snapping and does not align well, zoom in close and move into place. Zoom back out to view the entire filmstrip by pressing Ctrl 0.

  7. Convert the image to black & white.

    Command: Enhance > Adjust Color > Remove Color

  8. Repeat above steps for Photo 2.
  9. Save the finished collage.

    Command: File > Save

The collage is now complete and can be printed at home or uploaded to an online developing service. After the ink dries, trim the narrow filmstrip collage and enjoy.

Other Collage Ideas

I hope that you found it easy to follow the above steps, and doing so gave you the knowledge and confidence to try other variations of the filmstrip. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Long filmstrip for scrapbook page
    To create a long and narrow film strip that almost reaches across a 12x12" scrapbook page, start with a blank image size of 8.5x11". Place two copies of the filmstrip image end-to-end, reaching all the way across the 11" image. Fill all frames with photos, print on an 8.5x11" photo paper, cut out the filmstrip, and paste into the scrapbook layout.
  • Two bookmarks on a 5x7" paper
    To print two identical filmstrip collage bookmarks, start with a blank image size of 5x7". Create the collage as described in this article. When finished, choose the Layer > Merge Visible menu command to collapse into a single layer. Move the filmstrip to one side of the image, duplicate the layer, and move the copy of the filmstrip to the other side of the image. This gives you two identical filmstrips that can be printed on a 5x7" photo paper and cut into two bookmarks.
  • Large and small frames
    how to make a collage To create a filmstrip themed scrapbook layout, consider making collages of different sizes for the same page. In addition to the multi-framed filmstrips described above, you can start with the empty filmstrip image and crop it down to one or two frames that fill a 4x6" photo. To make it even more interesting, start with three frames, but when the collage is complete, crop it down so that the middle image remains intact but only a small portion of the other two remain.

Free Template Offer

To save you steps while creating the filmstrip collage, we have developed a Photoshop Elements template 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 »