Saturday, May 31, 2014

Customize Your Fourth of July Celebration on Zazzle

Independence Day is right around the corner here in the USA, and if you're planning on having a big Fourth of July celebration, now is the time to order your personalized invitations and other items. Check out all the cool 4th of July designs on Zazzle:

And don't forget to look for promo coupon codes.

On Zazzle
On Amazon

Friday, May 30, 2014

GIMP Tutorial: Simple Gaussian Blur Behind Text Effect


     This is a simple effect you can do in GIMP to make your text pop out a little more from the background. There are plenty of ways to make your text stand out more, such as adding a drop shadow or a border. But this is a more subtle method using gaussian blur - and it's very easy, too. After learning this effect, you can experiment and try things like adding a glow to your text or creating motion.

 Step 1: Open GIMP and create an image whatever size you want. I made mine at 1000 x 1000 pixels, 200 ppi for this tutorial. Fill the background with black.

Step 2: Next, select a medium-blue foreground color (mine is 00008F code). Select the Blend Tool and set the gradient to "FG to Transparent," with a "radial" shape. Put your cursor directly in the middle of the canvas, hold down your mouse button and drag and release at the edge. You should now have a round blue shape like this:

Gaussian Blur Text Effect 1

Step 3: Now go to Layer -> New Layer and add a transparent layer. Make the foreground color white and use your text tool to add your words to the design. I used Arial Bold, size 70, centered. When you have your text the way you want it, select Layer -> Merge Down so it becomes part of the transparent layer:

Gaussian Blur Text Effect 2

Step 4: Right click on your text layer in the toolbox and click "Alpha to Selection." Now go to Layer -> New Layer and make a new transparent layer. Use the Bucket Fill tool to "Fill Whole Selection" with black (code 000000). Now go to Select -> None. It should look like you have black text now. Move this new layer below the white text layer (your text should look white again).

Step 5: With the black text layer selected, go to Filters -> Blur -> Gaussian Blur. Set the blur radius (horizontal and vertical) to about 40. You now have a slight black blur behind your white text, making it pop out a little more. NOTE: Depending on your image and text size and font, you'll have to experiment with how much blur you want.

Step 6: If you want to make it pop out even more, simply right-click on the blurred layer and select "Duplicate Layer." I duplicated it a couple times:

Gaussian Blur Text Effect 3

Step 7: Now you can merge your layers together for the final image. Doing this simple effect can really make your text pop out from the background, while also being subtle. Experiment with different color variations. Do a dark text with a white Gaussian blur behind it. Try lessening the opacity of the blur for an even more subtle effect and experiment with different amounts. See what happens when you change the layer mode.
The final image:

Gaussian Blur Text Effect 4

That's it! Here are a few more examples. Red text on a red background becomes visible without having a harsh outline. Adding a subtle white blur behind text on a lighter image makes the text more legible. The dark blur behind the text on the right makes it easier to read against the camouflage pattern. 

Gaussian Blur Text Effect 5

This is a very simple technique to learn, but it makes your designs look more polished.

Have fun using GIMP!

On Zazzle
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All images copyright MK Hess

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Writer Prompt: The World 20 Years in the Future


I'm always afraid to throw away computer information as long as I still own the computer. After all, you never know when you might need the manual for that giant dinosaur desktop machine you still have sitting in the corner, kept solely because it plays Monkey Island games so well (and you never know when you'll need a working floppy drive!). Well, I finally gave away the old desktop and recently, I went to remove all its information from the computer drawer. To my surprise, I still had the old newspaper advertisement where I first saw the computer. It was circled on the page. Of course, I had to sit down and laugh at all the specs I thought were great at the time. 

In a little over a decade, computers had changed a lot. And if you keep up with tech news, you know there are plenty more changes in the works all the time. It's easy to see what awaits us in the coming year or two. But what about a decade in the future? Two decades? In another ten years, will you sit down and laugh at the computers and smart phones you own now? 

For this writing prompt, be a visionary. Think about all the technology in our world today and try to imagine what it will be like when today's newborns go to college. How will the changes in technology change society? How will your characters' lives be affected, for good or bad? 

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Create Your Own Custom T-Shirt on Zazzle + Coupon Codes


You can make any kind of t-shirt you want on Zazzle. You can show off your own brand, make a clever design for your favorite hobby or design family reunion shirts for your entire family, complete with name and year. As long as you don't use trademarked items like Mickey Mouse (although, Disney does have a shop there if you're looking for Mickey), the possibilities are endless. But how do you design your own shirt on Zazzle?

Here's how:

1. Follow this link, where you will find a Zazzle shirt with a template already made for you. You'll find the lowest-priced white shirt with a red square on it that says "Replace This with Your Own Design!"

2. Make your design using Photoshop or a free program like GIMP. You can make your design square for the sake of simplicity (2000 x 2000 pixels or 3000 x 3000 pixels, at somewhere between 200 and 300 ppi works well), but the available design space is actually a little more rectangular. A 2000 x 1720 pixel or 3000 x 2580 would fill the whole space. You can make it horizontal or vertical. I'll tell you how to adjust it on the shirt in step 5.

Design tip: If you want help with a GIMP issue, you can usually find a tutorial online.

Here is another design tip: If you're not very good at drawing, you can get a little help from free clip art. Try clickr or openclipart. Just be careful with free images; make sure they are public domain before you use them.

3. Once you have your design done, save it as a .PNG file in an easy-to-find location. On the Zazzle T-shirt page, click "Change" under the sample image in "Personalize It." Upload your design. It will replace the sample.

4. Now, click "Customize It" - a button that appears under the shirt.

5. You'll now have a new set of controls on the right. Find the button that says "Design Area" and select either horizontal or vertical.

6. Next, you need to make sure your design fits the printed space because anything outside of it won't print. You'll see some buttons in the top left. Click on the second one down, the one that says "Show/Hide Art View" when you hover over it. Now you'll see a close-up view of the design space.

7. Use the - and + buttons on the right to adjust your image size (hold down "ctrl" at the same time to make minor adjustments). Use the tools under "Edit" and "Arrange" to center your design and make more changes. Add text or another image. Leave Design View to see how it all looks on the shirt.

8. Do the same on the back of the shirt if you want an image there. Click on the back view of the shirt to add images to it.

9. Now select your shirt style. On the right side, farther down, you'll find the "See all styles" button. After that, select the color and size. Make sure your shirt color looks good with your image (what you see on screen is what you get).

10. Now your shirt is done! You might also find a coupon code here to make the deal even sweeter.

Have fun designing!

See my designs on Zazzle

Monday, May 26, 2014

Funny Feminist Reply to "Make Me a Sammich"

If you have a dark sense of humor and you're tired of the "make me a sammich / sandwich" chauvinist comments, here's the funny poster for you. When I made this one, I hunted for the right vintage image - the woman had to have a look on her face that was happy but also a little devious.

on Zazzle
on Amazon

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Customize Your Wedding on Zazzle


My own shops do not (so far) focus on weddings, but there are plenty of Zazzle shopkeepers who have mastered the art of creating the perfect wedding set for every style. I'm often in awe of all the beautiful designs. If you're looking for that extra special wedding invitation or save-the-date card, look here:

And don't forget to check for promo coupon codes, to keep everything within your budget.

Have a special wedding day!


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Creepy GIMP Tutorials from Around the Web


I've been teaching myself how to use the free graphic design program, GIMP, over the last couple of years. Every time I think I have a good grasp of its capabilities, I stumble across something new to learn - and have to refresh my memory on something I've forgotten. During that time, I've bookmarked quite a few GIMP tutorials from across the internet. The kind people who wrote all those tutorials have really helped me understand the program. I thought I'd give links to some of them here, for you to try. Here are a few of my favorite creepy ones to get you started (although, I recommend playing around with GIMP and doing basic tutorials first, so the steps are easier):

1. Ghost in the Forest. I loved following this one. I hope you have fun with it, too!

2. How to Use GIMP to Make a Girl Look Cold and Scary. This one is very fun and it teaches you a lot of neat GIMP features. Plus, when you're done, you'll have a picture of yourself or a friend that's sure to frighten everyone.

3. How to Make a Zombie Using GIMP. This is one of the first ones I did and I loved doing it, too.

4. Or, if you just want a zombie hand, try this one: Creepy Zombie Hand of Death. I followed a few of the steps - with some variation - when I made the hand on my book cover.

5. If you're looking for a good scary text effect, I recommend this rusted text tutorial.

Thanks to all the kind people who wrote these wonderful tutorials! I hope you have as much fun with them as I did.

on Zazzle
on Amazon

Friday, May 23, 2014

Father's Day Gifts on Zazzle + Coupon Codes

Father's Day is a few weeks away, so now is the time to order a custom gift if you want it to arrive on time. Zazzle has been expanding its list of products lately, and there are now hundreds of items you can add a personal touch to, just for your dad.

Hint: When you go to a product page, look at the top right of the screen, right over the product name, to see the estimated shipping time. (That's important because some custom-made items take longer to make, and you want your gift to arrive before the holiday).


If he brews his own beer, how about some fancy beer labels to make the bottles look professional, or a snazzy "Master of the Hops, Keeper of the Brew" apron?
Maybe he'd enjoy some saloon-themed items for his home bar, complete with his name, monogram and the year he established the place?
Or maybe your dad has a man cave and needs some custom man cave decor for it.
Does he like camouflage? Add his name or initials to 90+ different items, all featuring camo plus a cool silver-looking sheriff badge graphic.
Does he own a boat or yacht? Let everyone know that he's the captain with these customizable anchor items.
Maybe your dad hates today's social media and would appreciate a funny anti-Twitter design.
If you have something of your own in mind, you can always design your own product. The hundreds of templates here come equipped with easily-replaceable stand-in images and step-by-step instructions in the "About the Design" section of each product page. Add a touching photo or a funny phrase your dad will appreciate.

If all else fails, you can always search the Zazzle marketplace:

Happy Father's Day! I hope you find the right gift for your ol' man. And don't forget to look for a promo code.

on Zazzle
on Amazon

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Funny Novelty Gift for Writers: Story Board Dartboard


I'm excited to show you my latest design on Zazzle because it happens to be for writers. This one took a lot of detailed work to complete. The result is this funny dartboard for novelists and screenwriters:
   Funny Writers Story Board Novelty Dartboard

As a writer, what do you do when you run out of story ideas and writer's block sets in? Now, instead of staring at a blank screen, you can hang the Writer's Story Board on your office wall and "Take a Shot - Make a Plot."

The slightly tongue-in-cheek novelty dartboard is very detailed. Hit the thin outer ring and get a character motivation, such as lust, jealousy or greed. Hit the large outer ring and get a story starter or theme, like "lost in the wild," "relationship turmoil" or "crime spree." The thin inner ring gives pictures designed to get your mind thinking, like a snake, a mask or a key. The large inner ring offers up genres, from comedy to horror, fantasy to thriller. Finally, the bull's eye looks like an explosion.

The Writer's Story Board is a fun way to entertain yourself or use as an imagination exercise. Make a game of it with your friends, too: tell a story based around the subjects you hit. It makes a humorous, very unique gift for the brilliant writer in your life and works well for screenwriters, novelists or English / Creative Writing teachers. This is how bestsellers and blockbusters get written!
The dartboard appears in one of my newest stores, LaborAndLeisure, where I'm slowly building a collection of designs for writers as well as other jobs, hobbies and interests. Keep stopping in to look for more designs (and better organization) soon! And don't forget to check out the other Zazzle stores at the link below.

on Zazzle
on Amazon
All images copyright MK Hess

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Writer Prompt: Back to the 1800's

Lately, I've been experimenting with vintage images in my graphic designs. In my hunt for images, one of the sites I've visited the most is the Library of Congress page. Going through all the newspaper and magazine ads there, it's easy to get immersed in the culture of another time. In the world of a century or more ago, bicycles and typewriters were new and exciting. The ladies' fashions looked very uncomfortable. Pianos seemed to be hot sellers. Political opinions looked to be just as varied and heated as they are today.

What better way to learn about a society than to study it directly? From looking at the articles and the ads of that time, I've discovered that the people of the late 1800's and early 1900's loved a scandal just as much as the people of today. They loved entertainment (circuses, early movies, music). They sought cures for their ailments. And you could buy a new purse for 25 cents.

WRITING PROMPT: The Library of Congress images are a great place to start if you're looking for historical or steampunk story ideas. Browse through the newspapers, periodicals, photo collects, etc, in search of character tidbits, historical nuances to really round out your setting, or even find the inspiration for your plot in the headlines.

Here are a couple to get you started:

1. There are a lot of want ads on this page from 1898. Have your character respond to one. What happens?
2. This headline from 1907 would certainly make an exciting premise for a steampunk or retro suspense novel: Latest Discoveries Indicate that [Mars] is Peopled by a Race Superior to Mankind!

 Search the collection yourself and time travel into the past.

on Zazzle
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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Graduation Invitations on Zazzle + Coupon Codes

Still need custom invitations for your spring graduation? Zazzle offers a huge variety. While I haven't yet made any graduation items in my own stores, plenty of other shopkeepers have one-of-a-kind invites and matching products that will make your graduation day special.
Explore the invites here:

And don't forget to check for coupon codes.

Have a happy graduation!

on Zazzle