Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Tech Tip: A Quick and Easy Way to Make 1.25 Buttons

Regular readers know that we make a lot of buttons in our various tween and teen maker activities and one of the most popular sizes is the 1.25 size button. These are great for backpacks and are super popular with the youth. And if you go into a place like Hot Topic, you can buy them there for all your fandoms for about $1.00 each. But if you have a button maker, you can make your own! Although I will of course, always caution you about copyright. So consider yourself cautioned.

Thing 2 and I (age 12) are both super into instant photography and photo printing at home. In fact, we have moved a way a bit from the true instant photography because you don’t have great control of your final outcome (and we are just maybe not that good at it). So we have started printing our own photos onto instant paper, and there are several printer options. I have tried many versions and they all have their pros and cons. I’m particularly a fan of the Polariod square instant printer. HOWEVER, I came across the Canon Ivy printer and want to recommend it to those of you that make 1.25 buttons FOR ONE VERY SPECIFIC REASON:

The Canon Ivy printer has sticker paper that works perfect for the 1.25 button maker. So you can format and print your photos using their app and print them onto stickers, like this:

Those stickers work perfectly in the buttons:

Our placement is a little bit off in the picture above, but we eventually worked it out and it’s amazing!

The great thing about this process is that:

  1. You can make original buttons using your personal photos quickly, you no longer have to worry about copyright and you can make very personalized buttons.
  2. Using a smart phone and various apps gives you much more control over what those photos look like, and then you can print them and print them again, whenever you would like.
  3. The Canon Ivy stickers fit perfectly in the 1.25 button size and who doesn’t love a quicky, easy, personalize button.

With a smart device, a printer, some sticker photo paper and a button maker, you can walk tweens and teens through the complete button making process in a program or makerspace setting. You can make fun giveaways to take home after the program. And honestly, it’s just really cool.

The Canon Ivy printer is around $100.00 and the photo paper is around $24.99 for 50 sheets. That’s about $.50 cents per sheet, and two stickers per sheet. So you’re looking at $.25 per sticker and it’s another $.10 per button piece, so it’s about $.35 per button after your initial investment of the printer and the button maker.

So if you want a quick and easy, and relatively inexpensive after initial investments, way to make personalized buttons, this is a great way!

Puppets! They’re Not Just for Storytime: Creative Digital Media Fun, with a Shark Puppet

I am a huge fan of teaching teens how to engage with digital media and I am also super into instant photography, which I have posted a lot about here. I’m even in a instant photography group, which is where this idea comes from. A member of that group posted a picture they had taken with a shark puppet, making it look like they were being attacked by a shark, and I thought: THIS IS GENIUS AND FUN! So I ordered a shark puppet (It was $10 off of Amazon). And then the fun began and my programming brain started spinning into full gear.

Thing 2 is shocked to see a shark nearby

So here’s what I’m thinking.

As a library we can buy a variety of hand puppets to circulate. There aren’t just sharks, there are dinosaurs and unicorns and so many more. OR, we can make grab and go/make and take kits with the materials to make your own hand puppet. Either option would work.

Make your own puppets grab and go kits would be a great way to clean out those supply cabinets and inspire creativity in our tweens and teens. You would need to include something like felt pieces to make a higher quality hand puppet. Then a bunch of random things like googly eyes, pipe cleaners, yarn, etc. Pretty much anything you can think of to make a hand puppet. This could also be a good tutorial for teaching basic handsewing (which you will need to provide the supplies for as well because I believe we should never assume that someone has what they need at home to supplement a make and take kit.) Here’s a great tutorial on DIY hand sewn puppets: http://www.oneacrevintagehome.com/felt-hand-puppets/

Then you challenge tweens and teens to take fun photos of their hand puppets and share them online. You see a lot of these types of photo challenges everywhere, especially on Instagram. All you really need is an idea and a hashtag. I know that I’ve seen some libraries doing photo challenges during the pandemic, how fun would it be to add a prop?

You could make it open ended or do a daily challenge model. Here’s an example of a daily challenge outline that I found doing a quick Google search:

I would definitely avoid any challenges that asks kids to reveal personal information or space, like the where you sleep challenge in the example above.

One of the things that I did with my shark puppet is I wanted to learn how to make it look like it was wet and in the water while it was no where near the water, and there’s an app for that.

Then I decided I wanted to try and make it look scarier and like it was in a black and white movie. At one point I even added red filters to try and make it look bloody. But it was fun to use an app to explore digital media, photo manipulation and my creativity. A lot of tweens and teens are already using Insta and Snap, so they have ready access to a variety of filters. There are also a variety of fun and free apps that they may be using. And don’t forget, a shark puppet would be so cool in a Tik Tok.

There are some problems and limitations with this idea, of course, because it means that our tweens and teens have to have access to a device to take and share their pictures. A lot of them do, but there are always exceptions which we need to keep in mind. And one day when our library doors fully reopen and our makerspaces are safe, it would be a fun MakerSpace digital media station and challenge.

Puppets, they’re not just for storytime!

Though I love and use a wide variety of photo apps, all the pictures in this post were made using PhotoShop Express on an iPhone.

Embracing Content Creation Queries – Guest post by Lynette Pitrak

“I want to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer.”

“How do I insert text over my video in iMovie?”

“I want to take pictures of the fall leaves on the trees in my neighborhood… but it’s really cloudy today.”

I’m paraphrasing here, but all three of the above are questions I’ve received from teenagers over the past week. When confronted with complex content creation issues, I usually find myself having two thoughts simultaneously:

“I have the best job EVER— teenagers are so cool!!!”

“OMG I have no idea how to do that—  I am the worst librarian in the world!!!”

Maybe some of you can relate? If you’re anything like me, you had a specific major in college (for me— art history/painting) and then completed an MLS or MLIS degree to become a librarian. I didn’t study computer science/filmmaking/music editing/photography in college or graduate school. But still, patrons ask me questions about all of these things (and much more :)) on a regular basis.

And to make things more overwhelming, I want to give the right answer! Librarians are people pleasers; we got into this profession because we LOVE helping people and want to add value to their lives– whether that be in connecting someone with a new favorite author, finding a historical stock price a patron needs when filing taxes, recommending a great gluten-free cookbook, or helping a teenager capture a photographic image. Sometimes, it can feel to me like content creation questions are more daunting than any other kind, because in that situation, a teen is trying to make something that is dependent on the help I am giving them. Luckily though, as a librarian, I have some pretty awesome training and resources to rely on:

  1. LIBRARIANS CREATED THE REFERENCE INTERVIEW! This is one of the first things we probably all learned in library school, and still so important. This is usually the first thing I will try to remember when helping a teenager who has a content creation query. For example, when working with the teenager who wanted to design a Gandalf figure to print on the 3D printer, it was very helpful for me to ask a few background questions. The first of these was, “What program are you using the design the figure?” By asking this, I was able to have a great conversation with this teen. I realized she hadn’t ever coded anything before and wasn’t sure what kind of program to use. She just wanted a Gandalf figurine! This was awesome because first, I could direct her to a program called Thingiverse. This program contains pre-designed 3D images which can be downloaded and then printed on a 3D printer. Natalie was able to get her Gandalf figurine easily this way. Even cooler, she was really interested when I was explaining about how use a program like Tinkercad to code a design that could later be printed on the 3D printer. So we set up a future appointment so that I can teach her to use this program to do some basic coding! She’ll learn some new skills to gain confidence for designing her own figures (and, over time, maybe build up to coding something as complicated as a Gandalf).
  2. LIBRARIANS ARE SURROUNDED BY BOOKS AND THE INTERNET! When working at the library, I am literally surrounded by books and computers with internet access. The librarians who order in our 000s area have built and maintained a wonderful collection of books focused on effectively using technology. It has been important for me to remember that there is no reason why I should feel awkward grabbing one of those books to look up how to do a specific thing, such as laying text over video in the iMovie program!! This is exactly what I did when working with Sam. I consulted our copy of My iMovie by Craig Johnston and Cheryl Brumbaugh-Duncan and used the table of contents to locate the section that discussed text overlays. Sam didn’t think I was unintelligent for having to look up the answer to this question! He was just so happy that I was excited to help him, and that I was able to work with him to try out the techniques recommended in the book until we ended up with what he wanted to do in his film. Next time, he’ll not only know where we keep our resources for computer help, but he’ll also remember that the librarians are always willing to help him. I also use YouTube videos all of the time when answering questions like this. This super easy-to-follow and informative video is just 3 minutes long, and answered all of the questions we had about text overlay in iMovie. Videos such as this one were created by regular people to help viewers do particular things that the creators of the video have also struggled with, and they are in abundance on YouTube!
  3. LIBRARIANS KNOW HOW TO PLAY AROUND! When Chicago Public Library opened their first YOUMedia space, they centered the space around the HOMAGO (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) philosophy. One aspect of this model is that hands on, playful exploration leads to real learning. Working with content creation equipment and software is enhanced by being willing to experiment and play. When Jade asked me how to best take photographs that would emphasize the colorful falls leaves without becoming too dark (because the day was overcast), this was an opportunity to play with the library’s DSLR camera. A rule of thumb is that when shooting on a cloudy day, traditionally the camera’s aperture should be set to f/2.8 to f/4. However, other factors are also important to consider, such as depth of field, balance of shadows and light, and image clarity. Trial and error is key, and it is important to take a lot of bad pictures before finding the right combination. After consulting our library’s amazing IT Department assistant manager (shout out Jason!) for recommendations, we just played with the camera. I showed Jade how to use the DSLR camera’s menu settings to change aperture and shutter speed, how to check the light meter, and how to zoom in and out with the camera’s lens. Some pictures were totally washed out and some were blurry, but when we discovered a combination that worked (f/2.8, 1/100—tripod needed!), the results were beautiful! And now Jade feels confident that she can mess around with the DSLR to teach herself, which was the best part of that experience.

Too much light

Too much light

Not enough light

Not enough light

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

Good combination of aperture and shutter speed

I hope these examples of some of the experiences I have recently had have been helpful for you!! Next time you a  re approached by a teen with a complicated content creation question, just take a moment to breathe and recall your librarian training… And recognize how lucky you are to have such amazing teens asking you for help!!! 🙂


Read more about Lynette’s work with teens in a creative makerspace setting:

View From Behind The Lens

View From Behind The Lens, It’s a Wrap!

View From the Director’s Chair

View from the Director’s ChairP It’s a Wrap!

TPIB: Photo Shrink Jewelry Charms

shrinkydinks4Although we have some permanent stations set up in our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, we also occasionally rotate in some different stations to make sure our teens have a variety of activities to engage in. One of our permanent stations includes a bank of iPads which we encourage the teens to do many things with, including create digital media and do photo manipulation. If you have read many posts here at TLT, you know that I am quite obsessed with photo apps and photo manipulation and creation. It is one of my favorite things to do (my phone currently has 14,000 pictures on it and that is not hyperbole). And I then like to find creative things to do with those photos: like turn them into shrink plastic jewelry.

If you are thinking Shrinky Dinks – well, you are right, kind of. Shrinky Dinks are a brand name, there are other types of shrink plastic. And there is shrink plastic that you can put right into your printer, which is my kind of shrink plastic. So this summer, we made photo shrink plastic jewelry with our teens. Today I’m going to tell you how.



  • 2.25 circle punch. I use this one, but you can also just shape fill a 2.25 circle on your computer’s graphics program and a pair of scissors. I like the circle punch because it is a clean circle and it is quick.
  • Standard single hole punch (1/4 inch)
  • Photo printer shrink plastic, as pictured above. There are a few brand options, just make sure it says photo or printer friendly.
  • Some type of technology and a printer
  • A heat source: I recommend a toaster oven
  • A brown grocery bag or lunch sack
  • A metal tray (this usually comes with your toaster oven)
  • Oven mitts
  • A hot pad or trivet
  • Jewelry making findings and tools

Step 1: Creating your images

Before your can print and shrink your images, you need to create your images. For example, you can use Instagram images. Or use any variety of apps to create the images you would like to create(see below for a list of my favorites). When creating or choosing an already existing image, you want to make sure of two things:

1) That they will fit into the 2.25 inches size nicely and

2) That putting a hole in the top or on the sides – more about this in a moment – won’t obscure the important parts of the image. For example, if you are doing a photo with people you’ll want to make sure that you won’t be cutting off their heads when you put a hole in the top.


For my example bracelet, The Mr. had created a series of Doctor Who inspired silhouette drawings to decorate The Teens room. I took pictures of those pieces of art and used a variety of apps to add backgrounds, text, etc. I then uploaded the images to my laptop so that I could print them.

Step 2: Printing your images

You’ll want to follow all printing instructions on your shrink plastic. For example, you will want to reduce the color intensity because the colors gets darker when the images shrink.


For making jewelry charms, after much experimentation, we have found that 2.25 inches is a good size to begin with pre-shrink. In addition, a standard hole punch at the top shrinks down to a good size for a top loop and threading onto some type of jewelry finding. You can alternately put a hole on the left and right side using your hole punch to make a fitted charm bracelet where you loop thread or o rings through both sides of the charm.

After you print your image you’ll want to make sure not to touch the image so that the ink doesn’t smear or smudge.

Step 3: Shrinking your images

Again, you’ll want to follow all the package instructions for using the shrink plastic. Typically you set your toaster oven to 325 degrees. You’ll want to place your images on a piece of brown paper bag that fits inside your toaster oven; this just makes it easier to remove for cooling. The paper goes on the metal tray which you put in the oven (though it also works if you lose the metal tray which I’m not saying I did but the image below proves). When you take the metal tray out you can remove the paper and set it on a heat safe surface to cool. We used a left over piece of ceramic tile, but any type of hot pad or trivet will do.


The shrinking happens pretty quickly so you need to stay right there and watch your items in the oven. They will briefly curl up and it will scare you because you think, “Oh no, they’re going to fold in on themselves.” And yet somehow they don’t. When they are flat again, wait like 2 beats more and then remove the tray to cool.

We have done this in the library with teens and you want to make sure you have an adult supervising the toaster oven at all times. The items get hot and letting them cool down is essential.

Step 4: Turning your images into jewelry – or something

In the most basic sense, you can thread a single charm onto a basic hemp cord and you have a necklace. You can also string beads between several charms and create a necklace or bracelet. I happen to be lucky and my Assistant Director does chain mail as a hobby and this is a fantastic way to make a charm bracelet. Here are a couple of our creations to give you some ideas.

shrinkydinks3  shrinkydinks


Don’t want to make jewelry? Don’t put any holes in your plastic, shrink like normal, slap a magnet on the back and you have one of a kind magnets.

There’s a Book for That

And because we try to have a book for every activity we do or station we create in our Teen MakerSpace, we were very excited to find this book:


A Couple of Notes

We experimented with other shapes, but found that circles worked best and didn’t have any rough edges that could poke.

You can technically do this with traditional shrink plastic and hand drawn images as well. For example, we found that our teens loved to make their initials or names.

Some of Karen’s Favorite Photo Apps

How Did You Do That? Photo Apps Version

App Review: Prisma

App Review: Aviary

App Review: FotoRus

App Review: Image Chef

Tech Talk: App Review – BeFunky

Generate Marketing Creativity with iPhone Apps

Meme the Apps

More Photo Crafts

Instagram crafts

10 Things to Do with a Blank Canvas part 1 and part 2

Share it! Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

TPIB: Photo Word Bookmarks (Or Instagram Photo Booth Strip Looking Bookmarks)

tb3Sometimes I learn about stuff at the library and go home and do it with my kids, but sometimes I do something at home and it turns out to be a great library/Teen MakerSpace activity. The Teen recently turned 14 and she wanted to have a taco birthday. It was very important to me that we have a taco themed birthday without having a Mexican Fiesta type birthday because this is not our culture and I didn’t want to appropriate it or do something that appeared to be mocking it. But The Teen, she does love tacos, so we had a taco themed birthday.

We ended up having a taco taste test where we drove around to various taco places and ranked their tacos. At the same time, our guests were invited to take pictures to spell out the word “taco” using architecture and every day objects which we would then turn into bookmarks.

The rules were this:

You had to appear in one and only one of the pictures.

You couldn’t use an actual letter, like from a sign.

Have fun, be creative.

If you are doing this in a library, you will want to set some additional parameters and perhaps a time limit.

Materials Needed

  • A photo device of some sort, like a smart phone or tablet
  • Printer
  • Clear contact paper
  • Scissors
  • Craft floss to make a tassel
  • PhotoShake app

This is a fun, quick and easy project to do. After you take the photos, it takes about 15 minutes to complete.

Making the Bookmarks

Participants then texted their pictures to me and I made them into bookmarks using the PhotoShake app. Since I have a bank of iPads in my Teen MakerSpace that each have this app downloaded, it’s easy for us to have the teens email their pics to a generic email to download and make into bookmarks. After receiving the pictures and downloading them, I delete the emails immediately. You could also just use a hashtag and then download the pictures that way if you are worried about email.

Using the PhotoShake App to Make Your Word Photo


After opening your app, choose the Wide Photo option to make your bookmark.


At the next screen, you will choose the Horizontal option.


Select your photos under the Shake option. Then choose Edit. It will ask you if you want to Edit your photos manually, say yes. You can then put your photos into the correct order to spell your word. If you’re not familiar with this app, you’ll want to spend some time getting to know the various things you can do with it. For example, you can erase the borders if you wish. In addition, you can add filters, crop and more.

You will then save your photo, which is found under the Share option. You can then print your and cut your photo to size using your regular print options. Ours looked like this:


To make the bookmark more durable, we covered both sides in clear contact paper. We then punched a hole in it and added a tassel. Instructions on how to make a bookmark tassel can be found here.


In addition to spelling fun words like taco, we have also done names and nicknames.

Taking the pictures and seeing how everyone made the letters for their words was the funnest part of all.

As an alternative, you can use this same process to make Photo Booth Strip Bookmarks if you have a green screen or a photo booth in your library. Even if you don’t, it’s a fun and easy way to combine Instagram photos into a Photo Booth Strip Bookmark. You would simply choose the vertical option instead of the horizontal option for your layout.


View from Behind the Lens: It’s a Wrap! a guest post by Lynette Pitrak

makerspaceMy previous post detailed the first half of View from Behind the Lens, an eight-week advanced photography workshop for middle school and high school students.  In the first few weeks of class, Downers Grove-based instructor Mike Taylor and I worked on teaching the students camera basics, various types of photography shoots, and working with both natural and artificial lighting.  We did some great walking tours through Downers Grove at all times of day, to capture full sunlight, dusk, and night scenes.

field tripMidway through the program, we took an amazing field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography to take a docent-led tour.  A graduate student in Columbia College’s photography program showed the View from Behind the Lens students a special collection of work, and facilitated a discussion about choices in shot framing, Photoshopping, and lighting.  Then, the students had half an hour to explore the rest of the museum on their own.  We finished the day with a fun stop to Chicago’s beautiful Millennium Park, so the students could see some amazing outdoor sculptures by artists like Jaume Plensa, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and of course, Anish Kapoor, who is the artist behind Cloud Gate (aka The Bean).

For the last class sessions, we focused on photography editing using Adobe Lightroom software.  The students had a great time playing with the filters, cropping, changing color photographs to black and white, and adjusting file sizes so that they were set to print most cleanly.  

Students then had the opportunity to take the cameras home for one month, in order to shoot on their own.  At any time, they were able to come to the library to access the Lightroom software to edit their photographs.  After this month-long period, each student submitted two photographs to be hung in Downers Grove Public Library’s art gallery.  The beautiful show hung for the entire month of February, and attracted a lot of attention from library visitors!!  The community was incredibly impressed by the professional and creative work done by these teens.

meet the artist receptionFinally, on the last day the show was displayed, we hosted a Meet the Artists event in the library’s gallery.  Around one hundred members of the community came to meet the teen photographers and talk to them about their work.  Over half of the photographs sold too, many being the students’ first sale ever!  It was a truly wonderful experience, and so exciting for Mike and I to see the students’ talent and passion come to life during the final show.

Thank you for giving Downers Grove Public Library the opportunity to share this program with other librarians and educators, and please feel free to get in touch with questions at any time.

Lynette Pitrak is the  Teen Services Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois. 

How Did You Do That? Photo Apps Version

I get a lot of email where people ask how I created such and such of a graphic. Today, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips, tricks, and filters. A decent portion of my current teen programming involves teaching teens how to do fun photo tricks and then to translate that into their own artistic creations. I myself use these tips to create images that I use on social media, both personal and for the library, on crafts that I create, and I even use them to make a variety of photo announcements. Each year I make party invitations and keepsakes for the girls designed to capture the essence of who they are in that year. I also like to design my own party invitations and holiday cards.

The Grid Photo

I like the grid photo as it is a great overlook of an event, a year, or a relationship. For example, when The Teen got her black belt this summer I created a grid photo that highlighted the events of that day. I use the grid photo choice in the Photo Shake app to make my grid photos.

Black belt day

Black belt day

Hey look, it's TLT!

Hey look, it’s TLT!

A Variation on the Grid Photo: The Stacked Photo

The Teen and The Bestie

The Teen and The Bestie

I made this stacked – also called a collage photo – using the DipTic app. You can put a variety of pics together in various sequences using this app.

The Blended Photo

I am currently obsessed with blended photos, which I create using the Fused app. This is two photos blended together. The first photo is the Sunburst background that I found in the Pic Effect Free app. The second photo is of The Teen on black belt test day. Before I could use the photo I first had to turn it into a white silhouette, which I did using the Silhouette app. Then the Fused app blends the two together to create an awesome looking photo.


Here’s another example. In this one, Thing 2 is turned into a silhouette and blended with a galaxy pic.


The Image Overlay

Although there are many apps that can do image overlays – like Aviary and Be Funky to give a couple of examples – you can also do this using the Fused app as well. This is the foundation of one of the six – yes, six! – variations of Christmas cards I made this year.


As you can see, I used a grid photo of the girls and fused it with a silhouette of a Christmas tree. I then went on to add text, snow effects (stickers in the Candy Cam app), and such to make it look like a photo card worthy of one made in a store or online.

example59The Blue Brick Wall

Another thing I am obsessed with: the blue brick wall. Here’s what it looks like:


Here’s how I make it happen. First, I took a picture of a painting that The Mr. did a couple of years ago:


Then I used the Stenciler effect on the Be Funky app to make it look like this:


And then I just added my text. This one is quick and easy but has been one of my favorites.

Galaxy Effect


Just in time for Star Wars Reads Day, I discovered a cool way to make galaxy effects on my photos. First step, use the Space Effects app to put stars and galaxy effects on your photo. And then, use the Fish Eye filter in the FotoRus app to give it that circular planet look. It helps that I was dressed up as a Jedi and had a R2-D2 prop on hand.

Some of my other favorite Be Funky effects include: Holga Art, Motion Color and Pop Art 6 (which makes it look like a comic book page).

Image Chef

While helping The Teen with a recent poetry project, I stumbled across an app called Image Chef – there is also an online version – that can help you create fun images quickly and easily. Behold:

example44 example43 example42

The Shanghai Filter

If you, like me, loved the cover of A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, then you will like the Shanghai Filter. I swear they used it to make the cover of this book. This is a filter in the Hipstamatic app. Hipstamatic is an awesome – though it can get expensive quickly – app that I love. The only issue I used to have with it is that you had to select a combination of film and lens before taking your picture and it required you to really understand how they would all work together. In the newest update of the app you can now take a picture with your regular camera and then use the various films and lens on your picture to find the combination that works best for you. Hallelujah! And it goes without saying that right now my favorite is Shanghai:

example46 example39 example5

Adding Stickers for Pizzaz!

There are a lot of apps out there that have what they call stickers. My favorite to date is Candy Cam. They had a wide variety of amazing winter and holiday stickers that I used to create my various Christmas cards. I mentioned I made six of them, right? Yes, I have issues. But the stickers in Candy Cam allowed me to take my photo from this:


To this:

example65By the way, the snowflake picture itself was created using the PIP feature in FotoRus.

Putting It All Together

I am not an artist. I am not a photographer. And I am not a graphic designer. I’m just a YA librarian that loves to make displays, flyers and promo materials and a mom that is obsessed with her kids. But using a variety of apps I am able to transform a really crappy picture that looks like this:


Into something else altogether. First, I make the image more focused and cut out all the extra bits using filters and the vignette effect in the Aviary app:


Then I add text using the Over app. There are other ways to do this, including right there in the Aviary app, but I am most comfortable using the Over app.


Then, I load my saved picture into Candy Cam and add my sticker effects. In this case, I chose snow.


It may seem like a long process, but I do it so often that I can create entire images in less than 5 minutes. There are probably easier ways to do this. A graphic artist could do these same things using one program I imagine. That is not my skill set. So I use apps. Often times I will use multiple apps to create one image, saving each step of the way in case I make a mistake. And in case you are wondering, my cards printed out nicely and I could mail them traditionally or electronically to whomever.

And as I mentioned at the beginning, I don’t just do this for personal use. I go through these steps to create images for various promotional materials at my library. And I have created images that I have later used in crafts to make original gifts for people.

So these are some of my favorite apps, tips and tricks. What are yours? I’m always looking for new ways to create some fun so please share in the comments.

Photo Apps Mentioned:

Aviary (general editing and filters), Be Funky (filters), Candy Cam (stickers), Diptic (collages), FotoRus (Fish eye filter, picture in picture), Fused (blending photos), Hipstamatic (Shangai effect), Image Chef (quick images), Photo Shake (grid photo), Pic Effect Free (sunburst effect), Silhouette (turn a pic into a silhouette), Space Effects Free (planet, galaxy effects)

See also: Generate Marketing Creativity with iPhone Apps

View from Behind the Lens: Advanced Photography for Teens, a Guest Post by Lynette Pitrak

makerspaceIn the fall and winter of 2014, I had an amazing experience coordinating a filmmaking workshop for high school students called View from the Director’s Chair.  To highlight a different aspect of our library’s Media Lab this year, our IT Department Manager and I created a similarly-structured workshop called View from Behind the Lens.

View from Behind the Lens began October 21st, and will continue through December 16th.  We were lucky enough to hire Downers Grove-based photographer Mike Taylor, a professional photographer and college professor, as our instructor for this program series.  Along with Mike, our library’s IT Assistant Jason, myself, and eight teenagers in middle school and high school meet weekly to learn advanced photography skills!!  

teens pose with tripods near a monument

View from Behind the Lens Halloween Photo Shoot

We are now several weeks into this workshop, and have learned a lot about digital photography techniques!!  The students in class are working with a combination of Canon and Nikon cameras (and everyone is VERY loyal to their chosen brand! :)).  We have gone over the basic settings of the cameras, including f-stop, aperture, and white balance. Mike has also discussed various kinds of photography with the students, such as stop-action, motion-blur, infrared, and night photography, and how to use the lenses and settings to achieve the desired effects.  To put this instruction to work, the students have gone on in-class walking tours through Downers Grove.  We have done daytime landscape shoots, portraiture, an architectural shoot, and a fun night shoot in the cemetery to celebrate Halloween!

girls pose for portraits in funny wigs

View from Behind the Lens Portraiture Shoot

In one week, we will be taking a field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography to take a docent-lead tour of a special photography exhibit.  Because the museum is staffed by volunteers from Columbia College’s photography program, the View from Behind the Lens students will have the opportunity to talk about what it is like to major in photography.  

In the last weeks of class, students will learn how to edit their photographs with Lightroom and Photoshop.  Then, they will have a month to shoot on their own, to prepare final photographs for a gallery show and Meet the Artists event on February 28, 2016!!!



Lynette Pitrak is the  Teen Services Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois.

App Review: A Beautiful Mess

Last week while discussing the Candy Camera app, suggested by The Tween and the Bestie, librarian Maria Selke reminded me of the A Beautiful Mess photo app. I am a huge fan of the A Beautiful Mess (ABM) blog, so I had actually purchased the app well over a year ago. The only problem is that I had an older device with an older operating system and it never worked for me. Fast forward to today and I had to get a newer device and I decided to re-load the app and it does indeed work. But would I love the app as much as I love the blog?

The short answer is, no.

A Beautiful Mess is a blog run by two women, Elsie and Emma, that focuses on crafts, DIY, food and photography. The crafts/DIY and photography tips section are the parts I love most. So I was looking forward to this photo app.


Availabe for both iTunes and Androids

The 411:


$0.99 for the app itself. But you have to make a bunch of additional in app purchases if you want more functionality.

The Basics:

You can alter a photo or create a collage.

Using the backgrounds provided, you can also make whimsical quotes or create a background with a photo overlay.

There are about 25 filters in the version I have, which is the basic version.

You can add doodles and text overlays, which is the part of the app that excels.

Here are some pictures I created with the app:



For this picture, I used a photo that I had created and filtered in the Candy Camera app, as you can see the Candy Camera watermark there. I went in and added the whimsical elements, the border and wording, using the ABM app.


This last image is made using the background feature, for obvious reasons. It is my favorite part of the ABM app.


Final Thoughts:

If I had to describe the A Beautiful Mess app in one word, it would be whimsy. This is obviously an app designed to help you create those whimsical photos with your cutesy borders and text overlays. It accomplishes that well, though I want an app that does a little more than that.

It has a list of some of the top in-app purchases, which I have not purchased:

  1. Font Pack$0.99
  2. Dainty Borders$0.99
  3. Mod Backgrounds$0.99
  4. New Phrases (One)$0.99
  5. New Phrases (two)$0.99
  6. Sketchbook & Shape Borders$0.99
  7. Arrow & Symbol Doodles$0.99
  8. Word Bubble Doodles$0.99
  9. Geo Backgrounds Pack$0.99
  10. Font Pack 2$0.99

So it’s possible that by making some additional purchases I could do more things and would be more impressed, but all those in app purchases add up and I am on a tight budget so this app is not the right app for me.

What Others are Saying:

This comparison chart allows you to look at the features of A Beautiful Mess that matter most to you and explore some other photo app options. It’s kind of a Consumer Reports feature on the ABM app.

C-Net called it “cute and crafty, but not much else.”

Canvas Pop liked the retro feel and ease of use.

Final Thoughts:

If you want to make cute, crafty, or whimsical pics, this app is probably for you. It definitely would make great blog pics for crafty/DIY blogs that were going for a certain type of audience. I think I still like OVER best for adding texts to my graphics. It’s a little costly to get the full functionality of the app, so it’s not my go to app by any means. It has a pretty decent overall rating on the iTunes store.

There is also this A Beautiful Mess Photo Ideas Book, published in 2013. I haven’t seen it, but they have great tips and ideas on their blog so it might be worth checking out.


My top 5 photo apps are:

  • BeFunky
  • ComicBook – makes great comic book pages
  • PhotoShake – I use it to make bookmarks and grid photos
  • Over – for adding text
  • Hipstamtic – for the various lens and film combinations

Definitely check out the A Beautiful Mess photo tips and e-courses.

More Tech Talk

App Review: Candy Camera

Knowing my obsession with pictures – my last smart phone had over 14,000 of them saved by the time it bit the dust – The Tween and The Bestie came to me a couple of days ago and shared that their new favorite photo app is Candy Cam. They declared it better than Instagram – gasp. And if you work with Tweens or young Teens you know that Instagram is incredibly popular.

I tend to take a lot of pictures one, because I’m a mom who loves her kids and two, I use them on the blog, to make posters and signage for the library, etc. You can also upload pictures and use them to make GIFs, ads and short movies. So I care a lot about high quality photos. To be honest, I tend to take a regular photo and edit them afterwards so that I can manipulate the same photo over and over again until I get the picture I like. So the primary appeal of Candy Camera for traditional users, that it takes real time photos, isn’t a strong appeal for me. The app description says it is good for editing photos but I can not speak to this feature because I am not interesting in laying down $7.99 to try that part of the app out.


Info page http://www.jp-brothers.com/#!candy-camera/c1j5v

So why Candy Cam? The Bestie says it has better filters and it allows you to choose a filter before snapping your pic. The Tween says it just makes the best pictures.

Candy Camera is available for both Android and iPhones. There is a free version, which is what we downloaded to review. You can purchase an upgrade for $7.99, which is kind of pricey for a camera app in my opinion. But the upgrade allows you to have more editing capacity and add stickers. I don’t care about adding stickers, but I am always interested in finding quality post photo editing options for my smart phone or tablet. However, as I mentioned, I thought $7.99 was kind of a steep asking price for a photo app.

Here are some selfies that The Bestie took using Candy Camera:




Here are a couple of pictures I took of The Tween:



What I liked:

Candy Camera allows you to select your photo size. I am fond of the square size pictures used in Instagram while The Bestie prefers more traditional sized photos. You can set up your photo size and layout before snapping a picture. In fact, if you choose say a series of 4 pictures it will take the picture in quick succession similar to a photo booth type setting and create a collage for you.

A screenshot of The Tween taking a picture of The Bestie using the sketch filter.

A screenshot of The Tween taking a picture of The Bestie using the sketch filter.

You can set up a timer to snap your picture, choosing between 3, 5, 10 and 15 seconds as a countdown option.

It does have some nice fitlers.

If you upload a picture it gives you an option to create this kind of layered effect, which I adore:

A button we made feature DUMPLIN' by Julie Murphy, an upcoming book that should be on everyone's best of 2015 list.

A button we made featuring DUMPLIN’ by Julie Murphy, an upcoming book that should be on everyone’s best of 2015 list.

I really like the way it fuzzed the outside edges. And it does allow you to kind of move the main picture from side to side and choose the positioning of the fuzzy edges.

It does have the options to adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, etc. It also allows you to whiten, rotate and crop.

What I Didn’t Like:

Candy Camera was not intuitive to me to begin using and it didn’t have the best instructions. Luckily I had the tweens to teach me how to use the app.

What Others are Saying:

“Candy Camera is one of the leading ah-mazing photo editing apps to master the art of selfie. Even coming as freeware and featuring a plain interface, the application packs a real punch. Alongside standard editing options like adjustable brightness, cropping, or rotating, you can apply dozens of great looking yet natural filters in real time, which means you get the results even before you take a picture. The popular Lomo and out focusing effects are also very convenient in the app, while (please, don’t go mad with the power) the slimming and make-up functions will make you look fabulous and your ex extremely jealous.” – Source: http://articles.informer.com/5-powerful-apps-for-selfie-addicts.html

“Candy Camera comes with more than 30 filters, which you can preview in real time as you’re getting ready to take the shot. It can remove blemishes, apply make-up, and enhance your images with variety of frames.” – Source: http://www.phonearena.com/news/10-camera-apps-for-taking-the-perfect-selfie_id52635#1u3pVIpGKqjeuAgT.97

Final Thoughts:

Although both Tweens swear by this app, BeFunky is still my current fave. You can read my review of it here. You can find all of our Tech Talk posts and App Reviews here.

Price: Basic app is free. The pro package is $7.99 which I did not purchase and can not review.

What you can do:

  • Edit your photo, including cut and paste and several beauty edits
  • Choose from around 30 filters (though the filter labels are hard to read)
  • Set a short timer
  • Choose your photo size, including choosing several multi-photo format options
  • Shoot a short video

My rating: 3*, mostly because I like the wide variety of filters you can choose from

My top 5 photo apps are:

  • BeFunky
  • ComicBook – makes great comic book pages
  • PhotoShake – I use it to make bookmarks and grid photos
  • Over – for adding text
  • Hipstamtic – for the various lens and film combinations