How to Get Started Scrapbooking


Do you have piles of photos stuffed into cabinets? Boxes of them? Old style “magnetic” photo albums bursting with photos, clippings and memorabilia? Have you ever looked at them and wished you could organize them into stories and share with other people your feelings about the events and people in those photos?

Have you ever seen a modern day scrapbook? Wished you could express yourself creatively through telling stories about your ancestors, your children, your everyday life? Thought it was so daunting that you didn’t know where to start?

Have you ever walked through a scrapbook store or the scrapbook department in a craft store and been completely overwhelmed, not knowing what you need, what’s the “best”, how to start?

Agonize no more! This article will provide you with the very basics you need to dip your toe into the world of scrapbooking. Obviously there is much more you can learn about scrapbooking such as page composition, color theory, an infinite number of techniques and embellishment tips; the list is endless. Of course, with so much to offer, getting started can seem very overwhelming and here I will try to give you some information and steps to begin with confidence.

Scrapbooking has been around forever and was a favorite pastime in the Victorian era. Women saved dried flowers, scraps of fabric from favorite dresses, letters, ticket stubs, all kinds of memorabilia and notes in books. The current scrapbooking craze was started by a woman who created several “memory books” in the 1970’s to chronicle her ancestors. She brought these books to a conference and people were inspired to create their own. In 1981 she opened the first known Scrapbooking store and the rest is history.

Now, scrapbooking is a multi-billion dollar industry, spawning magazines, books, stores, websites, blogs, discussion groups; everywhere you turn people are scrapbooking!

Why Scrapbook?

So, why do people scrapbook? There are as many reasons as there are scrapbooking styles, but the main reasons are that people want to preserve their photos and memorabilia and thoughts and words for future generations and they enjoy having a creative outlet in creating books that depict everything from special occasions to everyday moments.

Watch for Acid

One of the most important things to know when embarking on your projects is to remember to ensure that everything you use in your books is archivally safe. This term means that all your products will do everything to enhance the preservation of your books and not cause them any damage. One of the most important things to consider is to make sure that all your products are acid free. Acid will eventually destroy your photos! Most, but not all, products that are made for scrapbooking are acid free. You can verify this by examining the package for the words “acid free” or to use an acid testing pen in an inconspicuous place to test the item for acid content; there are corrective deacidification sprays available.

One of the leading publications on scrapbooking, Creating Keepsakes, endorses the products of many manufacturers and notes these products with a “CK OK” logo and symbol on the packaging. Any package you see with this symbol is safe for use in your books.

Non-acid free items CAN be used, but you will want to make sure that you do one of the following: either spray the object with a deacidification spray OR place the object on your page in a way that it is not touching your photos. Using buffered paper will help tremendously in this case, as it will prevent acid from migrating to the photos. Look for papers that specify that they are buffered if you are planning to use an item containing acid on your page.

You will also want to watch out for PVC, polyvinyl chloride. PVC was once a popular material used in photo albums, but it eventually breaks down into acids and also eventually destroys those photos!


You will also want to ensure that any paper you use in your scrapbooks is lignin free. You know how when you leave a newspaper out in the driveway it turns yellow? This is because the lignin in the paper is breaking down and yellows and becomes brittle. Eventually, anything containing lignin will do the same in your books. Most, but not all, papers sold for scrapbooking are lignin free. If you purchase papers specifically in scrapbooking stores and departments you will be safe but using papers that are NOT specified for scrapbooking should be reconsidered before using.

Protect Those Beautiful Pages

Once you have completed your pages, you will want to protect them from little sticky fingers, big sticky fingers and dust and everyday grime. You will do this by using page protectors designed for the type of album you choose. I highly, highly encourage people to use them all the time. They also protect your embellishments from catching on each other and pulling off the page and help to create a “slide” between pages, preventing wear and pulling on the photos.

Pick a Them, Any Theme

Another thing to consider before you jump in is what kind of album do you want? Will it be a book of your everyday family life? A book commemorating a relative? One recognizing a special event? An everyday book will naturally need to be larger than, say, one you create to welcome a new niece or nephew into the world. Keep your projects in mind as you shop for your album and materials.

Basic Tools

At the very minimum you will need a paper trimmer, a good pair of sharp scissors, some adhesive and a journaling pen. In addition, of course, you will also need papers or cardstock, pages, page protectors and any embellishments you want to add but here we will cover just the tools.

I recommend that you purchase the best tools you can afford. Scrapbooking tools are one area where you certainly get what you pay for. For instance, inexpensive decorative scissors (scissors that create a decorative edge) are tempting since they are priced so low, but, and I speak from sorry personal experience, they are far inferior in quality and lasting power than those from a brand like Fiskars.

There are many different forms of adhesive that are specifically designed for use in scrapbooks. I recommend that you purchase a couple of different kinds and try them out to see which style you prefer. What you choose to use will depend on your comfort level and the ease of use you have with them. It is worth repeating here that you should NEVER use rubber cement or white glue in your books! Both dry out, crack and your pages will fall apart!

A journaling pen is an essential because you will always want to note the basics – who, when, where – on every page. You may choose to note some of facts through your title and captions but I always recommend that people include a small bit of their own handwriting somewhere on each page. Wouldn’t you love to know what your grandmother’s handwriting looked like? Think of future generations discovering your world through your eyes in your hand.

On To The Good Stuff

Ok, you say, enough with the warnings – I wanna scrap! How do you start? It is easier than you think!

1. Choose your photos – select the photos that depict the subject you want to scrapbook. Edit them carefully; reject any that are completely out of focus, show people who are not integral to the story, are blurry, etc. Carefully look over the ones you have remaining. Remember that you do not need to scrapbook every photo. You want to select the ones that best illustrate the story you want to tell through your page.

2. Select your colors – take a good look at the photos you have chosen. Are the colors in them bright? Jewel toned? Is there one color that is predominant? Sample several colors with your photos and choose the one(s) that best complement your photos. Determine which color(s) you want as your background and which one(s) as accent colors.

3. Crop your photos – Ok, I can hear you now; “I can’t CUT my photos!”. Yes, you can! It might be hard to get over, but once you start you will do it without hesitation. Simply trim off from the photo anything extraneous; people, background, someone’s foot, a stain on a shirt……..just lop it right off! Your photos will look better and thus your pages will, too!

4. Begin to compose your page(s) – lay your photos out, with your background color(s) under them. Choose a photo to serve as your focal point, that is where you want people to look first, to look to learn what your layout is about. Work the other photos around it in an arrangement that you find pleasing. There is no right or wrong with this! This is YOUR creation and you should have fun with it.

Now select your embellishments. Here is where you can really show your creative side! You can choose from ribbons to stickers to die cuts to charms to premade titles and phrases to nothing extra at all. The most important thing to remember is this is supposed to be FUN and there are no real rules other than making sure that your items are archivally safe.

One note – always be sure to leave room for journaling. Journaling can be as simple as the “who, what, why, when, where” of the page or you may want to create a narrative that will give the reader all the details you have of the occasion depicted. Just make sure that, at the very least, you have the name of the subject and the date on every page. People 100 years in the future will thank you!

5. Begin to assemble your layout – mat your photos on your accent colors, create your background, adhere your photos, add your borders and accents. Add your embellishments. Do your journaling. Step back. Admire your work!


You have completed a page! Wasn’t it fun?

Now that you know the basics, you can expand your repertoire of techniques and experiment until you discover your style. Some people like the simplicity of one or two well-chosen photos with pure colors and simple lines. Some people love the “collage” look with loads of embellishments and hand lettering. And there is everything in between, so experiment and play and you will find your own groove.

The Author:

Brenda Crawshaw



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