This is how to make a full-color page-a-day photo calendar, where there is one photo per page for every day of the year, with the pages adhered together at the top so that every day the previous day's sheet can be peeled/torn off (just like the page-a-day calendars you can buy.)
Photo calendars make great gifts for relatives, but most photo services only offer 12-month custom calendars with one photo for each month. 12 pictures for an entire year seems like too few given how many digital photos we shoot now-a-days. I wanted to have a page-a-day full-color photo calendar, but couldn't find this offered as a photo service and certainly didn't want to pay a professional print shop to do a custom job.
My requirements for success were:
- A finished unit price (per calendar) of less than $20 US
- in a size similar to off-the-shelf page-a-day calendars
- in full color
- printed in at least 300dpi — and preferably 600dpi — quality
- all using free software
- without having to do anything uber-technical like write code.
This instructable is how I first achieved these requirements in 2012 and made a 5.5 x 4.25 inch custom page-a-day calendar for Christmas. I've improved the steps in each subsequent year since. This probably is not the only way to make a DIY page-a-day photo calendar, but I'm pleased with the results, amount of work, and cost, and my family members are thrilled to get these each year.
Step 1: Acquire Assets
You will need (or at least what I used):
- a Windows PC. (My process is also possible with Macintosh, but will require a few workarounds.)
- 366 digital photos (one for each day of the standard year plus an extra photo for leap year, when applicable)
- a copy of PowerPoint or OpenOffice 3.4.1. I supply templates for both. (Note: I originally used Open Office 3.4.1 to first make this calendar and the screenshots in the instructable will show the Open Office screens, though the process is similar in PowerPoint. You can, at the time of this instructable, still download version 3.4.1 of Open Office since photo insertion doesn't seem to work correctly in version 4.1 and above. This bug in version 4 has been noted.)
- a PDF file creator/printer utility that produces compliant PDFs for professional presses (I used CutePDF Writer for Windows and had no problems. If you're on Macintosh, there is a workaround in steps 7 and 8.)
- a copy of the Adobe Reader (or some other PDF file viewer)
- an image/photo-editing piece of software like GIMP (may not be required, but is useful when needing to resize photos)
- notepad padding compound (can be obtained at a craft store or ordered online)
- a small craft paint brush
- a cutting mat/board, pen knife, and metal ruler. (You could also use a paper cutter if you own one. A nice large pair of scissors could work okay, but only if you're a very straight cutter.)
- a small sheet of card stock (at least twice the thickness of cereal/tissue box cardboard, like the back of a legal pad)
- a few small pieces of dense uncrushable cardboard, fiberboard, or thin plywood (no more than 1/8 inch)
- clamps large enough to fit around a 2-inch stack of paper
- the plastic back/stand off an old page-a-day calendar (or you could make your own from thick cardboard)
- hot glue gun and glue, or an all-purpose glue capable of bonding plastic and cardboard
- money to pay for the printing costs (and cutting costs, if you choose to have the pages professionally cut)
- enough time. Please read all steps before embarking on this project. You will need time for the photo selection, slide/software work, printing time (possibly including shipping), cutting time, and adhesive/glue drying time. Plan accordingly.
The following steps in this Instructable assume you've installed the necessary software already and are a proficient user, in general, of computer software. It also assumes you know a little bit about PDF files and digital photos.
Step 2: Select and Organize Your Photos
Go to your photo collection and select the photos you want to use for your calendar. Believe it or not, it's difficult to select exactly 366 photos without having a lot of images that are similar. While it's easy to snap a lot of photos at one event or occasion, you want your calendar to be interesting for your recipient each day. If you must use photos from the same day or occasion, don't worry. You can spread them out across the year.
Give thought to special dates throughout the calendar year that you may want to represent with a particular photo: holidays, birthdays, etc. Especially if giving the calendar as a gift, this will make it extra-special for the recipient on those days. Make a note of these dates as well so that you can assign the right photo to the intended calendar date later.
It's also important that you try to use photos taken in the landscape (horizontal) orientation since that is the orientation of the calendar and will make the best use of the page space. Yes, you can use portrait (vertical) photos, but they're going to be sized to fit on that page that is only 4.25 inches high (minus the space for the date). I did use some portrait photos and it turns out fine, but it just leaves a lot of white space.
For organization, I suggest making a separate folder on your computer and putting a copy of the photos you wish to use in there. It will make it easy to sort and rename them later. (For now, the file names don't matter.)
Step 3: Create (or Download) Your Calendar Template
The calendar itself is created using a slide presentation tool, either Open Office Impress or Microsoft PowerPoint. (This is probably possible to do with other presentation tools in other office suites as well, but your mileage may vary.) You will use this software to to create the template that will act as the "shell" for your calendar before you insert the photos. You need to create a new presentation with one slide for each page in your calendar plus any extra pages you wish. In mine, I had a title page, a concluding page, and the 366 slides to represent each day of the year (including February 29, in case of leap year). If you wish, you may download my template (at the very bottom of this step) to skip the remainder of this step. Otherwise, continue reading below.
If doing this from scratch, start a new presentation in standard (not widescreen) aspect, and then create a slide that has a title and the multi-type content placeholder container right in the middle of the slide. The slide format you want to use (both in Open Office Impress and PowerPoint) is: Title & Content (where the content has the muti-media box.). I suggest moving the Title holder to the bottom of the slide and the content holder to the top. Your photo will eventually be inserted into the multi-type content box and the date will go in the title text field.
Type January 1 in the text field. This is your chance to pick a font you like, as the default will likely be not very pretty. Once you have the size and type of font you like, your slide should look like the above photo for this step.
Now you're ready to duplicate this slide 365 times! That's right, use the duplicate slide feature to duplicate this one slide once for each remaining day of the calendar year.
Then go through the entire set of slides from the beginning, changing "January 1" to the next day of the year. Yes, this will take some time.
Last, create any other slides to represent your other calendar pages, like a title page or concluding page. It's important that you make these pages/slides last. Don't put the title slide at the start of the presentation. You want the January 1 slide to the #1 slide and the January 2 slide to be the #2 slide and so forth. So make any other non-photo pages at the end of your presentation. You'll reorder these when you assemble the physical calendar in a later step.
Again, you can download my template to save yourself a lot of work or just to get the idea of how the presentation can be constructed. Just pick the zip file for the format you want: Open Office or PowerPoint. (You'll note that I put February 29 at the end of the presentation, as most years it will not get used.)
Step 4: Rename Your Photos to Numbers for Each Day of the Year
Now it's time to rename your 366 digital photo files numerically to match the slide number in the calendar template. For example, the photo for slide 1 (January 1) will get renamed from something like IMG2864.jpg to 001.jpg.
First, revisit your list of special days for which you've previously collected special photos. By referencing the slide number for that day in the presentation, you'll know the day of the year you need to number the file. For example, February 14 is slide 45, and your photo for it should be named 045. By renaming the special photos first, you leave the rest to be largely "random." I suggest switching your file view to thumbnail/preview so that you can quickly spot these special photos. Once you're done renaming these, putting your file view back to a simple "list" will help make the rest go smoothly.
Now, rename at random all the rest of the files, starting with 001 and working all the way up to 366. Since your file view should be sorting these numerically, you'll be able to tell when you arrive at a "special" day number that you've already taken care of. Just skip that one and go on to the next. Remember that this is your opportunity to "shuffle" photos that may have come from the same occasion and would normally have sequential file names. By picking files at random to rename, you'll be spreading such collections of photos throughout the year.
At the end of this step, you should have a folder full of 366 images, with names from 001 to 366, and that these numbers should correlate to the slide numbers in your presentation for the actual calendar day.
Step 5: Judge Whether You Should Resize Your Photos
This step may be optional, depending on the camera on which your photos were taken. If you have a 8 MegaPixel (MP) camera or above, please read the following just to be safe. And this is where a little knowledge about digital photos comes in handy. (For some basics in digital image resolution, this Common Craft video is helpful, though it describes the exact opposite problem you'll have.)
In a later step of this instructable, you'll be inserting all 366 pictures to one PDF file and sending this file to a print/copy shop. The higher the resolution of your photos, the larger the final PDF file will be because the full resolution of the photos you insert into the presentation/calendar template will be used in that final PDF. And when you multiply the resolution of your photos by 366, that file gets big quickly. In fact, it may become so large that you might have difficulty transferring it to the printer across the internet, or it may be so large your print shop cannot accept it. In my case, I've used photos varying from a 2MP cell phone, and 4, 6 & 8 MP cameras; my final PDF files are generally between 300-400MB. I've always been able to transfer the file successfully using a file transfer service. But many modern cameras can take substantially higher resolution photos than I used. So why might this be an issue?
Recall that this calendar's pages are only 5.5 by 4.25 and it's likely going to be printed at 600dpi (though there is a chance it could be higher since some advanced digital presses can print up to 2400dpi). In short, you may be putting a lot more data into your PDF than will actually be printed. That why you might consider resizing your digital photos before you insert them one by one to the calendar template in the following step. Again, this may not be necessary. I've never yet had a print shop unable to print a large PDF, but if the PDF file becomes unwieldy, you may have trouble transferring the file to them over the internet and may need to resort to burning it on a DVD and mailing (or hand-delivering) it. Resizing the photos will be the only way you can reduce the file size. If you have to do this, remember to use 5.5 inches x 600dpi to figure out the new width of your photos.The only reason this step is listed here is for you photographers shooting very high resolution photos. It's far easier to re-size all 366 images before you insert them, because if you re-size them later, you'll have to re-insert them all again.
A quick way to make this decision: check the total size of that folder all your calendar images are contained in. Your finished PDF is going to be about the same size. If your print shop can accept a file that large and your file transfer service can also accommodate it, you should be fine. If not, resize accordingly before proceeding.
Step 6: Insert Your Photos
First, put on some tunes, because this part is a little mind-numbing.
Starting on slide 1, click the Insert Picture button on the content box. Select file 001 from your collection.
Advance to the next slide and repeat for all remaining 365 slides.
Make sure to click the Save button periodically, and be aware that saving the presentation may take a while each time due to the amount of imagery you're inserting.
You can use the shape tools and other drawing tools to add labels over the top of special photos.
Step 7: "Print" Your Presentation to a PDF File
(At this point, if you're a Macintosh user, skip to the bottom and read the alternate steps. If you're a Windows user, follow the following standard steps.)
Select Print from the File menu
Select your PDF writer under Printer. The default options should be fine, but verify that all slides are set to print.
Click the Properties button to bring up the options for the PDF writer. Under the Layout tab, make sure the orientation is landscape. Under the Paper/Quality tab, make sure Color is selected (not black and white).
Click the Advanced button to check the PDF output options. The defaults here will probably be fine, but you might want to make sure that the print quality is set to at least 600dpi. Click Ok until you return to the first Print dialog box.
Next, the following is VERY IMPORTANT: Click the Page Layout tab, select 4pages per sheet. (Also, if you are planning to cut the pages apart by hand instead of paying a professional shop to cut them, check the box marked "Draw a border around each page.")
Finally, click that Print button. You computer will likely take a while to process the entire presentation and eventually you will get a "Save file" dialog box. Give the file a name and save it.
Be sure to open the resulting PDF file in Adobe Reader and flip through each page to make sure every page looks right. You should have 92 pages in color, with four calendar pages on each sheet divided by lines.
Proceed to next step!
Alternate steps for Macintosh only:
Because Macintosh printing doesn't work the same was as Windows, you'll be unable to "Print" 4 slides per page to a PDF.
So on this step, you need to use the Export PDF option under the File menu to create a standard PDF with one slide per page. (If that option isn't present under the File menu in Open Office Impress, it should be possible
on Macintosh to create a standard PDF from any program's Print menu using this process: How to Print to PDF in Mac OS X.)
You will compensate in the following step by needing to ask your print/copy shop to set the print job to four pages per sheet instead.
Step 8: Send Your Calendar PDF to a Print Shop
This is the key to having your page-a-day calendar look great and be affordable. My local print/copy shops charge too much per color page to print 92 pages. After looking extensively online for a less expensive option (but still meet my high-quality print requirements), I finally found Best Value Copy. (It is, of course, your choice which print vendor you select; your mileage may vary.) Getting my large PDF file to them required using a large-file transfer service, but in the end, this worked out fine and was preferable to me mailing a CD.
As you place your order, It's important to remember that you're printing 92 unique pages and getting one copy of that document for each calendar you want to make. Normally, high-volume print shops fulfill orders that are just the opposite — printing a large quantity of a short (often one-page) document. Not so in this case. Make sure you enter that you're printing 92 pages, not 92 copies. And if you're making more than one calendar, do request that your prints be collated so that you don't have to separate and sort your prints.
Special instructions for the print job that may make your project easier:
IF you plan to cut the pages by hand (in the next step), ask the print shop to print the PDF at "actual size" (what the printing press may refer to as a “bleed to edges” option), not reduce the PDF page sizes to fit the paper (which will generally be the standard way of printing). You actually want the black border around the outside of each page in your document to represent the edge of the paper; you don't want it to be inset and printed (because you'll have to then trim all four sides of your pages, making much more cutting work). If the document is printed correctly, you'll only need to cut down the middle of the sheet of paper.
BUT if you plan on having the pages professionally cut for you (see following step for the "stack cutter" option), having the print shop scale the PDF to the page size (which, again, is usually the default) is probably better. This will inset the border (by a default margin) resulting in more cutting required to trim, and your calendar pages will be slightly smaller as a result — more like 4 inches high by 5 inches wide. But this will usually fit the plastic calendar backs better in the end (see step 13). So the “actual size” or "bleed to edges" option is only necessary if you plan to cut it yourself by hand.
IF YOU'RE UNCERTAIN about how you're going to cut the pages (or don't know if you have a local shop that can cut them), you should pick the first option and "bleed to edges" at actual size, as that will make less cutting work no matter which method you end up using.
Additional step for Macintosh users only, per the previous step: Ask the shop to modify the print settings in Acrobat to print 4 pages per sheet, Horizontal. Make sure the layout is set to print Landscape. Again, if you plan on cutting all pages by hand, make sure to check the "page border" checkbox option that draws a full border around each individual page/slide, which isn't quite as nice as the way Open Office's print system does it, but it'll work.
Once the print shop is done with their work, you'll have a box full of pages ready to be cut apart and assembled. Onward!
Step 9: Cut Pages and Back
Following the dividing lines, cut each sheet of four calendar pages apart with your metal ruler and cutting knife. It's important to cut the top edges straight because that's where the adhesive compound will be placed. While the calendar will look nicer if the sides are straight as well, it's less important. I cut the middle line (for the top of the calendar pages) with the ruler and knife but let my kids cut the sides with scissors.
As you cut the pages apart, stack them in order. I preferred to turn each page face down and work through the calendar year in order. Put your title/cover page at the front and your concluding/tagline page at the back. If it's not a leap year, discard February 29th.
Lastly, cut a piece of your thin cardboard/cardstock to match the dimensions of your calendar pages and put it at the very back of your stack, after your concluding page. This is the back of your calendar that will eventually be glued to the stand.
When finished, you should have a stack roughly 2 inches high/thick.
Optional but VERY helpful: if you prefer not to spend time cutting all this by hand and you're willing to spend a little more money, most local print shops can likely cut your pages down to size using their "stack cutter" for a small fee. After spending hours cutting all my pages by hand the first time I did this project (ugh!), in subsequent years I found I could pay $10 to have a local shop cut the pages. The size was perfect and the edges beautifully straight. For the nominal additional cost spread across all copies of the calendar, I definitely think it was worth it. Consider it!
Step 10: Q/A Check and Alignment
Now it's time make sure all calendar pages are in the correct order before you clamp and bind them. Make sure you have your fiberboard/plywood and clamps handy before you start this step. Also, place your cardboard backing piece at the back of your stack before you begin (so that the moisture in your fingers doesn't warp the last few pages as you do this step.)
Next, I suggest turning the entire stack onto what will be the top edge of the calendar, with the title page facing you, on a flat surface like a counter top or table. It helps to have a box or wood block(s) to support the front. Then, flip through the pages one at a time, checking to make sure each following page is the correct date and that it's aligned correctly.
Turning the calendar upside down to do this step has two advantages:
First, as you flip and align each page on that flat surface, it will make the entire calendar have a nice flush top, which helps all the pages get bound correctly. Trust me on this. While you can tap a deck of cards to straighten them out, you can't shake or tap your stack of 360-some pages to get the top flush. The pages aren't heavy or glossy enough. Flipping through page by page — separating each page momentarily — is really the only way to get all pages lined up. If this isn't right, pages will slip out of your calendar because they won't get adhered to the padding compound at the top. You can also temporarily use your press boards to help top alignment by placing them on each side and "shaking" your calendar back and forth to help the pages settle.
And second, upside down (at least with the template I provided) the dates are closer to you when the calendar is upside down, making them easy to check as you flip through (although you do have to read them upside down).
Once you have this done, keep the stack together and proceed straight to the next step: clamping!
Step 11: Clamp
Now it's time to clamp that stack of pages (and cardboard back) together. Normally, the clamps would bend the pages, so this is where the fiberboard or plywood is used as press boards. If possible, first cut the fiberboard/plywood close to the size of your calendar pages. (This just makes it easier to work with. You don't want it so large you can't get your clamps around it.)
With your upside-down calendar still on your flat surface, put your pressboards around the front and back and then apply the clamps toward (what will be) the top of the calendar. Clamp tightly, toward the top of the calendar. You'll note on mine that I left a very small gap so that my pressboards didn't fully meet the top of the calendar. I achieved this gap by putting a scrap piece of fiberboard next to the calendar before I applied the pressboards. I was trying to avoid adhering my pressboards to my calendar in the following step and also wanted to leave enough room to get the adhesive around onto the back from the top (to strengthen the back.) If you can't leave a small gap like this, don't worry. If you get the adhesive onto your press boards, you can just peel them off (just like you would a page of the calendar).
Once you've got the clamps tight, you can safely turn over your calendar. The stack should be wide enough that it should stand up on its own. Inspect the top for signs of any pages slipping. Again, the top is the crucial part. It should be smooth. If all looks good, you're ready to stick your pages together with padding compound. Onward!
Step 12: Apply Padding Compound
To stick the pages together, you'll use Notepad Padding Compound. While I couldn't find this in my local craft stores, I was able to order a small bottle online easily. This stuff is the consistency of Elmers all-purpose glue, but dries somewhat transparent and will be rubbery but tough.
Make sure the top edge of the calendar is clean of dust. Then apply padding compound to the top of your calendar with the brush. For my first coat, I try to rub the compound into the top and brush it in well to try to make sure all the page edges are adhered. After the first coat, the rest are for strength.
You can apply the compound liberally, but not so much that it drips. It's runny enough you want to apply it with the calendar being level (to avoid it dripping down one side). Make sure you get a good amount on the edge with the cardboard backing because the back will support all the weight of the calendar. The back is the only side it's okay to have drips. In fact, it may be helpful to have a little bit of the compound extend down that back, to help for strength. (If you haven't left a slight gap as described in the previous step, this may have to be done after you remove the clamps.)
You may also want to put just a little at the top of the left and right sides of the calendar (where the sides meet the top) to help lock the pages in. See the diagram for reference.
Plan on at least three coats, but you may need more. While it seems to dry quickly, make sure it's not tacky before you apply the next coat. Note, if it isn't fully dry and you touch it, your fingerprints will be imprinted in the top adhesive. (You might consider using a fan to help it dry faster.)
Once you get enough coats on and the padding compound is dry, remove the clamps and you'll be holding your nearly finished calendar. You're almost across the finish line!
Step 13: Adhere to Stand
Last you need to glue your calendar to a stand. I happen to have collected old plastic page-a-day calendar stands from friends, family members, and coworkers. (But if you don't have this option, it's possible to make a stand out of thick cardboard fairly easily.) Rectangular stands fit the dimensions of our calendar better than the square ones. The black stand pictured here came from a Dilbert comic page-a-day calendar and was the perfect size for our 5.5 by 4.25 inch calendar. The square stand (red) is a little bit taller, which leaves part of the stand exposed, but the width is still fine. Either will do the job, but I like how the black rectangular stands provide an optimal fit.
Glue the calendar back to the stand with the stand lying flat on your work surface (not standing up). You can use hot glue or superglue if the plastic stand has no paper on it anymore. If paper remains on the plastic stand from the previous calendar, leave it. Usually they're glued with an amazing adhesive that will be difficult to remove, and it's actually better to have this. Instead of hot glue, you can simply use all-purpose glue to glue your cardboard back to the paper on the old stand.
Once the glue is dry/cool, you're done! Stand it up and admire your own page-a-day calendar!!
Please drop a comment below if you use these instructions to make your own!
p.s. If you're giving it as a gift, a small gift bag will work well. If you'd prefer to wrap it in a box, I've found a Triscuit cracker box to be very close to the perfect size. Wrap the calendar in a single sheet of tissue paper, and pad the ends of the box as needed.