Creating the TEL Handbook Image – Part 2

Screen capture

To give the iPad ‘book cover’ the appearance of displaying a web-page I could have taken a photograph with the iPad actually navigated to display an appropriate page.  Getting a decent photograph of a screen with enough detail showing can sometimes be difficult however due to reflections, how bright the display can go and potential screen-refresh capture issues.  I was also less sure, at the photography stage, of what we might want displayed on the ‘book cover’.

Although a bit more work, putting in the screen afterwards provided me with more flexibility and control over the display.  I found the page I ultimately wanted to have displayed and then set it’s window to a roughly similar aspect ratio to that of the iPad display.

To make a screen capture under Microsoft Windows launch the ‘Snipping Tool’ app (it’s built into Windows) and then drag the ensuing cross hair across the area of the screen you wish to capture.  When your captured image appears in the Snipping Tool’s app window, save it as a PNG.

If you are using OSX press ‘Command+Shift+3’.  This will save a capture of your entire display(s) to your desktop in PNG format.  If you want to capture only a specific area of your display, then press Command+Shift+4.  This will change your cursor to a cross hair allowing you to drag a box across the area you wish to capture (which again saves the captured area as a PNG to your desktop).

Now you can open your screen captured image in PIXLR and, if needed, crop it down to size using PIXLR’s crop tool.


As with other image editing operations, for accuracy it’s worth zooming in on your image when cropping.  PIXLR provides the ‘Magnifying glass’ tool on the main tool palette for zooming (click to zoom in and hold Shift down while clicking to zoom out).  You can also use your mouse-wheel or the View menu for zooming.  When zoomed in holding the Space bar down will allow you to click and drag your canvas around.

I’d also save your trimmed file to make sure you have an unprocessed source to go back to in case of later distortion mishap.  Once appropriately trimmed you can then copy and paste the screen capture from its own document into the document in which you want to incorporate it (see part one of this post for how to copy and paste between documents in PIXLR).


Free distort

With your screen capture pasted on to its own (automatically created) new layer you can access PIXLR’s ‘Free distort’ tool (from the Edit menu) to conform the screen capture to the iPad’s screen area.  When ‘Free distort’ is active you should find that the screen capture image now sports a bounding box with four anchor points at the corners.  Drag these anchor points around to distort the image into a position that positions it nicely within the iPad’s screen area and then double-click to set the distortion.


Finessing the cover image

Simply distorting the screen capture onto the iPad’s screen looks reasonably effective and you could perhaps leave it at that.  For me however this doesn’t look as convincing as it might, bearing in mind I was going for photo (or possibly hyper?) realism.  As such there was some further work undertaken to better embed the image in the scene.

Though I’m not going to cover the specific details in a stepped way (feel free to contact me if you want more on these techniques) I will overview the workflow.

As you may recall (or observe) the photographs I had taken deliberately have a narrow depth of field.  As such my screen capture should really go out of focus towards the rear, and slightly out of focus towards the front to match the focus of the photograph.  To the effect I duplicated the screen capture layer and then used a blur filter (from the Filter menu) to blur the upper layer (to simulate it being out of focus).  I then added a layer mask on this blurred layer to mask out portions of the layer where the image should be in sharp focus (thus revealing the sharp image on the layer below).  I did this with a large very soft brush to create a gradual loss of focus (you can do this with a gradient in a mask when using Photoshop).  You could, of course, erase parts of the blurred image rather than using a mask.

I also felt it was unlikely that there would be no reflections or sheen at all on the screen surface itself so I tried to subtly simulate surface reflections.  To do this I blurred a photograph I had taken outside (on campus) that included light areas (sky) and dark areas (buildings/trees etc) so it was almost unrecognisable.  I then pasted the blurred image into the iPad book document and erased any portions of the layer outside the surface area of the upward facing iPad.  Changing the opacity and blending style of this layer (using basic features of the Layer palette) to make it almost transparent created a subtle but quite convincing sense of a reflective surface again further embedding the screen capture in the scene.

Spine text

To create the text for the spine, click to enable PIXLR’s ‘Type Tool’ from the main tool palette and then click roughly over where the text needs to appear.  Enter your text in to the Type palette that appears.  Boost the text size up to roughly the correct size (if you are working at high resolution then you may need to go up to the maximum size PIXLR allows).  You can also select both the font and the colour of the font on the Type palette too.  I chose to use a free font called Byte Police (that I had previously downloaded and installed) for the TEL Handbook spine text and set it to white.


To free distort text you first need to rasterize it when using PIXLR.  Rasterization essentially turns non-bitmap information (such as text) into bitmap image information.  The upshot of this is that you can then manipulate the text as if it is a photograph or image; the downside is it is no longer editable as text.  As a consequence of this I always duplicate text layers before rasterizing one of them (make the ‘live’ text layer invisible by unchecking it in the layer palette).  Duplication and rasterization of a layer is available from the same pop up menu by right-clicking on the layer in the layer palette.

Once rasterized you can trigger the ‘Free distort’ tool (as described further above) to then conform the text into the spine iPad’s screen space.

Finessing the spine

To ‘sell’ the sense that the text is coming from a self-illuminating source I added an ‘Outer glow’ layer style to the rasterized text layer.


As noted further above I also added a subtle reflection layer to further make the spine look embedded in the scene.

The books pages

To create the interior pages iPad, I simply duplicated the base spine iPad layer, dragged the new layer below the base cover iPad layer and then mirrored the layer (Layer menu > Flip layer horizontal in PIXLR).  I then Free Distorted the mirrored spine to the appropriate angle to make it work as the book’s interior pages.

Finessing the pages

To embed the interior pages in the image I added another layer above the pages iPad layer and set it to be semi-transparent using the layer’s opacity slider.  I then painted in some shadows (with a fairly soft black brush) to darken the interior area down so that it again looked more natural.

General finessing

There were a few final additions I made to the overall image one of which was putting in a highlight line on the spine iPad to help with definition of the screen recess.

The main finessing adjustments were to tweak the saturation and colour balance of the base iPad photographs.  Because the original photographs were taken with the iPad simply lying on a desk, the metallic surfaces were partly reflecting the beige of the desk’s veneered surface.  To tone colour bleed like this down you can use PIXLR’s Adjustment menu to launch tools that allow you to adjust the saturation of a layer (how intense the colour is – fully de-saturated is black and white) and also the balance of colour on a layer.


I de-saturated the photographs a little and moved the colour balance a touch more towards the blue.

A note on saving your work

PIXLR defaults to saving your work in the PNG format.  This is fine for distribution or use of your finished work in other applications but notably does NOT save all your layers, live text or masks etc.  When saving your work, first select the PXD format to save a ‘project’ document.  Then save again in a flattened format such as PNG for use of the image elsewhere.

Saving your source project file as a PXD means you can re-open it with your layers intact to make further adjustments later.


That concludes the second and final part of this post on image editing.  I hope it has provided some insight as to the workflow and techniques used to achieve a final image of this ilk, and perhaps provided you with at least a few tips on how you might use an application such as PIXLR to manipulate images in your own work.

One response to “Creating the TEL Handbook Image – Part 2

  1. Pingback: E-Learning Newsletter – March 2017 Edition | E-Learning Development Team·

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