Amping Up Your Embellishing Skills

Amping Up Your Embellishing Skills

Do you get flustered by clusters?  You’re not alone.  A lot of people feel unsure about creating them.  Good news is…clusters don’t have to be complicated to be eye-catching.

When I was a paper scrapbooker, I always tried to limit how many elements I piled onto a page.  Nobody wants bulging albums.  And you have to be careful that all of those dimensional elements don’t cause damage to underlying layouts.  With digital layouts you can be as dimensional as you’d would like.

I absolutely adore the way floral & element clusters look on scrapbook layouts…but I do sometimes face challenges when creating them on my own.  Seriously – give me a pile of elements and tell me to make a cluster, and I’ll fuss and fidget with it for 40 minutes only to end up frustrated with the result.  And I have to admit that as someone who can be a bit OCD that’s a very conservative time estimate.

But if you were to look through the layouts in my galleries, you’ll find clusters everywhere.  So, how have I faked it?  How have I worked around my cluster composition issues to fill my albums with pretty bunches of flowers, cute elements, and greenery?  I’ll give you a few tips…

Note: The featured image was created using elements from “Autumn Song” by Kimeric Kreations.

Pick A Style

One thing I’d recommend if you’re struggling with clusters is to look at ones that you have liked in other layouts you’ve seen.  You can do something similar to what I suggested in one of my very first blog posts – “Thinking About Going Digital?” 

Spend some time looking on the internet (Google search, Pinterest or other such sites) to get some inspiration and have a starting place so you do not feel completely overwhelmed staring at a blank screen!  Just type in “Digital Scrapbook Clusters” in the appropriate search bar.  This should generate not only layouts with clusters but also clusters that can be purchased.  You may also find some cluster templates in this search.  I’ll talk about those next.

And please feel free to also browse through all the galleries on my blog.  Wherever your searches take you, as you find examples of clusters that are appealing, save them for future reference.

Once you have an idea of what style(s) you’d like your clusters to be you’re ready to get to work.


Cluster Templates

Specifically, cluster templates.  You see, even though I do regularly create my own clusters, I also have some cluster templates. I can pull these into any layout at any time and quickly create a well-designed, balanced, and beautiful cluster if I’m in a hurry or just not super inspired.  And I know they’re well-designed because they come from professional-designer templates.

Some designers will create “adjustable” clusters for a kit.  These will come in both PNG & layered (PSD or TIFF) formats.  With the layered version you can modify the cluster as you see fit.  Other designers will offer templates specific for creating clusters.  You can search for them at most shops and on the internet.  A couple places I’ll recommend:  Digital Scrapbook, Scrap Girls, Snap Click Supply, & The LilyPad.  I’m sure there are more but this will get you started.

But if you have a favorite designer that specializes in templates, you also likely have a vast array of cluster “templates” just waiting to help you out.  More on that in a bit.


This is actually something I do quite a bit.  If I see a layout with a gorgeous cluster, I’ll save the image to my computer.  Then I can try to replicate the cluster with my own supplies.  This can get a bit tricky if you don’t have the exact same supplies.  But it definitely gives you a road map.

I just pull the image into Photoshop Elements (PSE) and ensure the image size is 3600×3600.  This helps ensure that whatever cluster I create will be sized appropriately for a “full-size” layout.

From there I just grab elements I plan to use and layer them over the image following the order and positioning as closely as possible.  When I’m happy with the cluster I apply appropriate shadowing, link the layers & copy them to my intended layout.

Occasionally I will also save this scraplifted cluster to my own “library” of clusters.  To do this I just remove the layout image I used to create the cluster and crop the file to size being sure to leave enough space to include any shadows completely.  You’d be surprised how easy it is to cut off edges of shadows when cropping.  So, I always zoom in pretty close whenever I’m cropping.

I then save this cropped cluster as a template (PSD) file under an appropriate name.  Generally, a name that will remind me what layout I created it for.  Sometimes I’ll even included a reference to kit(s) I may have used to create the cluster. Below is an example of one such cluster:

Grandma's Recipe Cluster

Referencing back to a layout in my “Incorporating Handwriting” post I named that cluster GrandmasRecipe-DeliciousTimeCluster#1.  You can see that layout in my 2023 gallery.

Build Your Cluster Library

But what about those times when you don’t use a template?  Or when you base your layout on a sketch, or you use a template that’s minimalist or “clean-and-simple”?  What’s a cluster-loving design-challenged scrapbooker to do?

Well, that’s when it’s helpful to have a cluster “template” library.  And building yours is easier and faster than you probably think.  Remember I said you likely already have a lot of cluster templates?  Are you still trying to figure out where?  Well, here’s where they are…

Pick one of the layout templates you’ve purchased that contains cluster(s) that you love.  This is where you can start to build your cluster library. It’s a simple (well sort of) matter of grabbing the cluster layers from this layout template and saving them for future use. So how do you do this? Read on my friend…

Let me show you some examples.  All of what follows was done using PSE.  If you don’t use PSE, I’m fairly certain you can accomplish the same in whatever software you are using.  And if you need more help, I know there are a variety of online tutorials.  Just search for tutorials specific to your software.

I’m going to be using the “Retro Spring Add-On Template” by Alchemy Wild Studio (formerly Southern Serenity Designs).

Retro Spring Add-On Template

First, you’ll want to remove/hide every layer that isn’t a decorative element.  Specifically, anything that isn’t part of a cluster.  Hiding these elements’ layers is safer than actually deleting them.  This way I can always add things back in if it seems something is missing.  I also hide rather than delete just in case I would accidently save the altered layout template.  Another safeguard would be to save the original layout template under a different name before you even begin this process.

Now, below you’ll see that I’ve gone through and hidden all of the layers (except the background) that I don’t care to use as part of my clusters.  Leaving the background for now will help isolate the elements for each cluster in the following steps.

When I’m “cloning” clusters like this I typically don’t include the photo spots.  I also eliminate any “scatters” that aren’t expressly part of a given cluster.  All of these things are easy enough to add in later.

Some layout template designers group all elements of one cluster together, some don’t.  And that’s the case with this template.  So, I took the time to color code each element in each cluster so I could then arrange the appropriate elements for each cluster into their own “group”.  I used red for the bottom cluster, green for the right cluster & yellow for the left cluster.

Appropriately organizing the layers for each cluster requires moving the layers of the same color together.  You have to be careful doing this so you don’t disrupt the intended order of the layers.  The best way to do this is to start at the bottom of the layers panel and move the first red layer up to the next red layer then move those two up to the next red layer, and so on.

Once you have all of the layers for each cluster grouped accordingly you can do one of two things. You can either crop the template to include only the layers for one cluster at a time. Or you can copy the cluster layers to a new (blank) file and save it. If you really aren’t interested in building a cluster library you can also just copy the cluster layers to your current project. 

Option 1

After hiding the background layer, here’s what happens if I crop out (again being careful to leave enough space to include any existing shadows completely) all but the bottom cluster.

Then save this cropped cluster as a template (PSD or TIFF) file under a new name.  Preferably a name that will remind you what template cluster you cloned (i.e., something like RetroSpringCluster#1).

Then undo the crop and repeat the same steps for any remaining clusters.

Now, cropping doesn’t remove any of the other layers so you will still need to go in and delete those in your new cluster template.  But that’s pretty easy since all you have to do is delete everything that’s not the correct color.  I hope this makes sense.

Option 2

Now, you actually may find this alternate method of cloning a bit easier than the first option. You still need to go through the process of getting all of the layers for each cluster grouped accordingly. But instead of cropping the layout template you’ll actually “move” the cluster layers to a separate (new) file.

Just create a new transparent document that is slightly larger than what is needed for the cluster layers you want to clone.  Generally, it’s just easiest to use a size like 1800×1800 to allow plenty of room.

Just select File> New> Blank File and choose Transparent for the background contents and set the height/width based on what is needed then click OK. First, be sure to link all of the colored (in this case red) layers together then drag them from the original template to the new blank file.  Then crop to size (again being careful to leave enough space to include any existing shadows completely) and save it as a template (PSD or TIFF) file under a new name as described above.

And there you have it…a cloned cluster that you can use to build your own cluster templates library.

Now you know my secret for faking cluster magic.  Let me know if you’re going to start your own Cluster Template library.  And if you get lost or too confused, please don’t hesitate to “Message Me”.  I’ll certainly do whatever I can to assist.

Building Your Own Cluster

If you’re feeling brave and want to tackle creating a cluster from scratch…I’m proud of you!  It’s really not that difficult and there are just a few simple rules to keep things looking lovely.

First things first, try to build your cluster from the bottom up.  Having said that, you should still start with the main ingredient; this can be a flower, a journal card or even a photo. Just start with whatever you want the central/focal element of your cluster to be.

Then work on the background or foundation layer.  This is usually a scatter, paint or brush layer like what you see above in my “Grandma’s Recipe” cluster.  You don’t have to include things like this in the background.  They just make things more interesting.  But, as with a lot of things…it might be best to keep it simple.  Especially if you’re a beginner. And there’s nothing to keep you from adding paint, stamps, brushes or other elements later.

Background layout or not, you will likely want some of your elements to be behind your central element.  So, start layering those in next.  Lastly, I top it off with a bow, or dimensional element that also serves as a visual “attachment element”, something that contains stitching or is anchored to the page somehow (i.e., a button with a bow or thread through the holes).  Something that has visual weight, appears heavier, like acrylic buttons.  But you can also use something airy that feels lighter and almost fluffy above the layout, like a butterfly.  It’s more eye-catching if you mix in a variety of visual weights.

And don’t forget to shadow your elements appropriately.  Just remember that the shadows need to be soft and diffused when an item is further from the page, and crisper and darker when the item is closer to the page.  I use Fiddle-Dee-Dee Designs Shadow Styles a lot, but there are many different styles available.

Using Your Clusters

A lot of the tutorials you find about scrapbooking (digital or traditional) tell you to follow what I refer to as the “Odd Number Principle”.  This simply means using odd numbers of the same elements/photos on a layout to better attract the eye.  Selecting elements in numbers of 3, 5, 7 and so on.  Somehow, the eye is more drawn to odd numbers of elements.  For example, 3 fabric flowers, 5 photos, 7 buttons, etc.

This would also apply to adding your clusters to your layout.  Typically, you should try to have three main spots of embellishing points.  They should be big, medium and small.  The largest should visually anchor your focal photo and draw attention there first.  Then the medium, should serves as an entry point into the layout.  The smallest is best used at the intersection of two photos or somewhere between photo(s) and journaling, completing a visual triangle for the layout.

Now those “rules” are based on designer’s guides to creating a visually pleasing layout.  But you are not required to follow all the rules all the time. Seriously, they are generally recommendations rather than hard and fast rules.  Every layout is different and sometimes that many clusters just isn’t appropriate.  What is required is that you are happy with the end result.  Besides that, based on the odd number principle you could add only one cluster to your layout.  After all, one is an odd number, right?

Single Most Important Tip About Clusters

When cloning clusters from a layout template some layers may already have shadows applied.  It’s totally up to you whether or not you keep those shadows.  I usually do.  I can always adjust the shadow settings later if necessary.

As with all the other things I’ve talked about in prior posts…the more you work with clusters the more comfortable you’ll be when creating and using them.

If you’d like more information about creating clusters you can also search for more tips & tutorials on the internet. But please feel free to “Message Me” and I’ll do what I can to help!

Thanks for stopping by the blog for another edition of the Tuesday Tip seriesIf you want to see what’s in store next week click “Follow Me” to stay in touch.  And as always…“Happy Scrapping!”

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