One thing I really like is to personalize common household items or to prettify and embellish them so they are less of an eyesore. Custom labels for bins and binders, decals for jars and bottles, prints for the inside of drawers and breadboxes – name it, I’ve probably done it at some point already..
Unless you go completely paperless most people probably have a ring binder or two. Make that at least 50+ for me, my family and local history research tends to collect binders like that. Or maybe they’re breeding? Most of the times when I need a new binder I’ve already used up the ones I “just recently” bought… ooops!
Yes, of course I’d be able to hide my binders in a closet so they’re out of sight. But why should I do that if I can make them look interesting enough to place them on an open office shelf? Easier access too. Aside from that you can create own labels with coordinating colours or with a great variety, just as you like.
Of course you can go ahead and buy some binder labels in a stationary shop or on the internet. But I’ve found that the options didn’t tickle my fancy, especially not for 50+ binders (even though we seem to have more variety of binder labels here in Germany). For approximately one dollar per label my wallet began wincing already, just in case…
So I began to create my own custom labels to match my binders’ content. Let me show you how.
Pics of old book spines are great for custom labels
The first option is to go on a Google hunt for antique book cover images. You’ll find thousands of images. Restrict your search to large images with at least 3000 px height, otherwise the label will look grainy. If you prefer a certain colour, restrict your search to that as well. Auction houses often have their books scanned with a decent quality.
The second option is to scan one of your own books, be gentle with the cover and spine though :).
If you don’t own a book with a spine you’d like to have as binder label, ask friends and family. Maybe someone has a nice book or two and is willing to let you scan the spine. Use a scan resolution of 600 dpi for a good quality. You’ll downsize the scan later but it’s better to start with more than you need than vice versa. Just be very very gentle to those sweet antique books 🙂
Just recently a friend gave me an old book with a beautiful cover, printed around 1880. He asked me to mend it because the book cover had been torn from the block and some of the sections had been damaged where the paper was folded. Except for some dirt on the cover the book itself was in good condition, real eye candy.
Because the book cover was separated from the book block it was easier to scan gently. Still the picture above was patched together from three different scans so I didn’t have to use brute force to flatten the cover on the scanner.
I‘ll use that sweet little book to walk you through the steps of creating your own personalized binder custom labels for just a few pennies each. I’m using PaintShop Pro X5. If you’re using a different program to edit the images you’ll have to adjust the shortcuts for different actions accordingly. Check your program’s manual for that.
Crop the picture to the spine’s size
- Do you see the dark shadows on both sides of the spine? These are the book’s hinges.
- Mark the area around the spine, leave it slightly larger than necessary (see the pink lines).
- Now crop your image to the selection. That leaves you with just the book spine and small strips of both book front and back cover.
Clean up the spine’s edge
- Set your background color to black and the marginal sharpness to a few pixels to achieve a smooth spine edge. Mark a small area on one side of the spine, just wide enough to include all dark/black pixels widthwise. You’ll also include a few reddish pixels of the spine but that’s intended to smooth the spine’s edge.
- Do the same on the other side of the spine. Remove your selection.
- This area should be black now with a smooth transistion from black background to the book spine, imitating a rounded spine with shadowy edges. If you don’t like the faded edge, undo your change and play around with the value for the marginal sharpness.
- Now the book spine is almost completely singled out. Leave the background color black. Select the whole image with Ctrl-A, then use the wand to remove the unbalanced dark/black strips on all four sides. Crop the image to the selection.
- My folders usually are black so I now add an even border of a few black pixels only. Your choice whether to use a border as I do or use the spine as is.
Customize the spine
Depending on whether you want to keep the book’s title and other text on the printed custom labels or not you can skip this step.
- On most book spines you’ll find the author’s name and the book’s title, sometimes even with a volume number, like in this case. Look for the biggest blank space on the spine to copy and paste onto the text parts.
- In this case the biggest “blank” space is on top of the spine, right below the first golden border. Set the marginal sharpness to a few pixels and select that blank space with your selection tool. Due to the marginal sharpness the marked area will be slightly bigger than the area that you chose. On the screenshot you can see that some of the golden pixels are included. This is ok because the closer they are to the edge the more faded they will be.
- Copy the selected area with Ctrl-C, then paste it with Ctrl-E into your picture. Move it to the text which you want to cover. Drop it there, usually with a right-click of your mouse. With another Ctrl-E you can add another patch until the text is covered, like you can see in the upper part of the screenshot.
If you only have a smaller area to cover like you can see in the bottom part of the screenshot you need to mark a smaller area and copy it with Ctrl-C, then paste that with Ctrl-E.
- Repeat those steps until you’re happy with the result. Save the file with a new name!
Due to light and shadow as well as several dirty areas, the red in this example isn’t the same everywhere on the spine. Always try to select an area close to the one you want to cover to keep the shade of color identical.
Adjust the spine’s size to your folder’s size
Now we have an isolated book spine that we can use to create our own custom labels for regular office binders. We just have to match the size.
- First we’ll adjust the height.
If you’re using pre-cut adhesive labels, check the instructions for the proper height.
If you’re using plain ol’ (though good quality) paper like I do, the paper’s full height is what you need to know.
- On the menu bar click on “image” and “resize”. Change “height” to the correct value, pay attention to the scale unit (millimeters, centimeters or inches) ! The box for “lock aspect ratio” needs to be checked this time. Confirm with OK.
Now your label has the correct height but not yet the correct width.
- Now we’ll adjust the width for both wide and narrow office binders.
If you’re using pre-cut adhesive labels, check the instructions for the proper width.
If you’re using plain ol’ (though good quality) paper like I do, you need to measure the width of your office binders’ spines.
- On the menu bar click on “image” and “resize”. Change “width” to the correct value of the wide(!) binder, pay attention to the scale unit (millimeters, centimeters or inches)! The box for “lock aspect ratio” needs to be unchecked this time. Confirm with OK.
Now your label has the correct width and height for a wide office binder. Save that file with a new name, indicating it’s for a wide office binder.
- Now we’ll deal with the narrow binders. On the menu bar click on “image” and “resize”. Change “width” to the correct value of the narrow(!) binder, pay attention to the scale unit (millimeters, centimeters or inches) ! The box for “lock aspect ratio” still needs to be unchecked. Confirm with OK.
Now your label has the correct width and height for a narrow office binder. Save that file with a new name, indicating it’s for a narrow office binder.
Add your own text to the label
This one is a bit more tricky. If you want to use blank adhesive labels to indicate the binders’ contents you can skip this step.
If you want to pretend your own title is the “original” one you need to prepare a color sample first. In my case I had to prepare a “gilded sample” because the book had a gilded title. Luckily the whole book cover had thick gilded borders I used to create that sample.
- Open the file with the whole book cover. Set the marginal sharpness of your selection tool to a few pixels. On the cover select an area (at least twice as wide as your intended text) that has the required color or pattern. Copy the selection with Ctrl-C.
- Paste that as a new image with Ctrl-V.
- Enlarge your canvas so you can paste the selection a few times into it. Don’t worry that it looks quite pixelated because it’ll will even out in the text later.
- When you have a larger “gilded” area, set the marginal sharpness of your selection tool to zero this time. We want an unfading edge. Select a smaller gilded area and crop your image to the selection. Now you have a colour sample for your custom text. Save the color sample file with an own name!
If the book cover doesn’t provide you with enough “material” to paste together such a sample, you can search the internet for “gilded background” images. Pick one that resembles the original gilded text the most. Save the color sample file with a new name! You can delete it again later when the custom labels are done.
Now onto your custom text
- Open the file with the cropped and text-free book spine. Select your text tool, position it where your new text should be and type your new title. Don’t close the text edit window yet!
Add line breaks where necessary. Adjust the font size. You can select single words or lines and adjust them to a different font or font size than the rest. Don’t worry about the color for now because we’ll fill the text with our pre-made color sample later. Just play around until you’re happy with font and fonts sizes. Confirm it by clicking on OK.
- Do NOT unselect the text yet! Move the text around until its position is fine. Still keep the text selected!
- Now open your color sample file. Select everything (Ctrl-A) and copy it (Ctrl-C). Switch to the image with the new title. Paste your color sample into the selected text with Ctrl-Shift-L. Now your text should be gilded or colored.
- If you’re happy with the result, unselect the text with Ctrl-D and admire your new label. Don’t forget to save the file with a new name!
If you want to add a slight shadow around the text for a teeny-tiny 3D effect, keep the text selected after gilding or coloring. In the menu bar click on “effects”, then choose “3D” and “drop shadow”. Set the values for offset to 2 pixels each for a start, opacity to 50 and blur to 5. Confirm with ok and unselect the text with Ctrl-D.
Check if you like it. If not, undo unselect and shadow with Ctrl-Z two times. Try a new shadow with other values for offset, opacity and blur. If you’re happy with the result, unselect the text with Ctrl-D and admire your new label. Don’t forget to save the file with a new name!
Printing your custom labels
- If you’re using pre-cut adhesive labels, check the instructions for the proper printing procedure instead of steps 2-4!
- Depending on the width of your binders, you can fit 3 wide or 4-5 narrow labels on one sheet of paper.
- In the printer menu choose “portrait” and “fit to page”, in the printer “properties” check the box “borderless printing”.
- Print a draft page first and check if everything fits right where it should. Print in good quality if everything’s looking fine.
- If you printed on plain (though good quality) paper you need to let it dry for a day or two before you cut it with a cutter knife. Otherwise the paper might tear easily, especially at the corners. Waiting for a day or two will also prevent color bleed when you glue the paper onto the binder spine. Would be a pity…
- Dab a slightly moist sponge all over the back of your printed label. The paper fibers on the label’s back will expand and make the label roll up. That’s fine, don’t panic! When the moisture reaches the front side fibers, those will expand as well and the paper will flatten again.
- In the meantime apply clear-drying glue (modpodge or the like) to the back of your binder. When the label has flattened again, position it on the still slightly wet glue and gently (!) apply pressure. Wet paper tends to tear easily! “Dab” it onto the binder’s back, rather than rubbing. It’s a decoupage technique, no more, no less. When everything’s at its place you may use a hairdryer to speed up the drying process. Gently heat up the inside of the binder to dry the glue while giving the paper fibers enough time to shrink again.
- When the glue is dry, cover the label itself with some more modpodge. That’ll keep the label from getting smudged too easily. Depending on the type of printer ink you’re using it will also prevent it from fading out quickly.
My family sometimes rolls their eyes when I get enthusiastic about a new set of binder labels. What about your family? Always happy with your decorating mind?