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Filmstrip Photo Collage

By Diana Day  ·  Issue: May/June 2010 (v7n3)

Diana shares a fun, stress-free way to combine multiple photos into a single image by adding a filmstrip element.


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31 Replies to Filmstrip Photo Collage:

  1. Thomas

    May 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Dumb question, but can I open 7 files in the editor by ctrl-clicking them in the organizer then selecting ‘Full Edit’?

    • Diana

      May 23, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      The easiest way is to Ctrl-click on the photo thumbnails in Organizer, then press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-I to open them in Editor.

  2. Carol

    May 21, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Can not open file.

    • Diana

      June 3, 2010 at 9:19 pm

      Hi Carol… which file are you referring to that you cannot open?


  3. Larry

    May 23, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I am trying to make a filmstrip photo collage as shown on page 30 of the May/June issue. When I get to step 7 and click on the green arrow to accept the change, my filmstrip disappears. What could I be doing wrong. I am using PE 7.

    • Diana

      June 3, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Larry,

      If you are using the custom shape, after dragging out the shape, then rotating the filmstrip shape so it’s vertical, it should not disappear when you click the commit checkmark. It would be difficult to troubleshoot the issue you’re having without being able to see a screenshot of your layers at the point this happens. If you can post a screenshot of what you see on your monitor when this happens, I would be glad to see if I can figure out what may be happening.

      To get a screenshot of your screen view, press the PrtScn key, usually at the upper right of your keyboard. Open Elements, then from the menu: File > New > Image from Clipboard. Once the screenprint opens, save it as a JPG file to your desktop. Then use these instructions to post the screenprint image:



    • Charlene

      August 24, 2010 at 7:01 am

      I am having the same problem. Filmstrip disappears after I rotate and then click the check mark. I am on a mac, and using PE8. I have tried for 2 hours, and can’t get it to work. If I open a new file, I can draw the filmstrip, and it stays, but as a layer, I can’t get it to work.


    June 2, 2010 at 12:03 pm

    I have all the steps working properly until I get to the part where I crop in the photo…. I have it loaded UNDER the film strip like it is supposed to be but when I go to the lasso, go around the pic to crop it and hit delete, it tells me that I cannot do it. I tried several times and it just will not crop it…. I am sure I am missing something simple, but please any suggestions?
    Thank you!

    • Diana

      June 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm

      Hi Juanita,

      If you are getting a message saying “Could not complete your request because the target is not a pixel-based layer,” it may be that you have th filmstrip layer active in the layers palette, rather than the photo layer. Make sure in the layers palette, that you have the layer containing the photo as the active layer.


  5. Rita

    June 4, 2010 at 11:46 am

    I thought your article was top notch. I completed a collage of some of my granddaughter’s senior portrait shots and it turned out great. I really liked the way you explained step by step the downloading process and how to go into the Element Presets folder to save it. I learned several new things by following this one article. Thanks.

    • Diana

      June 4, 2010 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks Rita



    June 4, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    It tells me (could not complete your request because the smart object is not directly editable?)
    Is it that I have the wrong layer???? I have the layer with the photo on it chosen?

    • Frank

      June 4, 2010 at 3:39 pm

      Diana, Juanita,

      I have the same problem. I have selected the layer with the photo on it. When I go through the steps and select delete, I get the same “smart object is not directly editable” prompt. I’m using PSE 6 Version 6.0 for Mac on an iMac with a 2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Processor and 3 GB 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM memory and 22 GB available disk space. I’ve tried Step 10 about 20 times — with the same result. What am I doing wrong? Thanks.

    • Diana

      June 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

      Juanita and Frank,

      I believe that may have happened due to the way the photo was added to the photo collage. In some versions of Elements, when you drag a photo up from the photo bin to the project image, it becomes a smart object.

      Try copying and pasting your photo into the photo collage, this way: With the original photo active in the workspace, press Ctrl-A to select all (or from menu: Select>All). Then press Ctrl-C to Copy (or from menu: Edit>Copy). Next, make your project image active in the workspace and press Ctrl-V to Paste (or from menu: Edit>Paste). This should get your photo into the photo collage without it becoming a smart object.

      If the photo layer gets pasted in above the filmstrip layer (rather than below), just drag the photo layer below the filmstrip layer. Then proceed to resize the photo to fit in the filmstrip frame and select, inverse, and delete the edges, as described in the tutorial. Sorry for the confusion.


      • Diana

        June 4, 2010 at 11:52 pm

        Frank, if you’re using a Mac, rather than the Ctrl key for the keyboard shortcuts I mentioned above in my answer to Juanita’s question, you would use Command-A to select all, Command-C to Copy and Command-V to Paste.


  7. Kelly

    June 5, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Juanita and Frank,

    Another option that should work is to right-click on the layer that is giving you trouble and select Simplify Layer from the menu that appears. It should then be editable.


  8. Carla J

    July 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    This worked like a charm for me, and I love it. All of your tutorials, articles and “shorts” are excellent and I use them a lot.

  9. Janice

    August 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    I think you all are the best and I so appreciate your tutorials. I used this technique on a poster and it looked great. Thank you so much!

  10. Charlene

    August 24, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    I am having trouble with the filmstrip. I click and drag, then rotate the layer, then I click the check mark, and then it disappears. It also is not coming out black which is what I have my top color set to. It is coming out looking like a rainbow. I thought it was something I was doing wrong on my Mac in PE8, so went to PC where I have Windows PE5. I tried it and it was exactly the same.

  11. Diana

    August 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Hi Charlene,

    I am so sorry you are having trouble with the filmstrip shape. I have repeated the steps over and over and cannot duplicate the “disappearing filmstrip” problem. A couple other people posted previously that they had that happen, too. Yet, others have posted it works just fine. The only way I may possibly be able to troubleshoot this is for you to post a screenshot of your workspace and layers palette, just before you click the green checkmark that makes it disappear. Perhaps I can see something looking at the screenshot that may indicate the problem.

    Here are instructions to create and post a screenshot:

    To get a screenshot of your screen view, press the PrtScn key, usually at the upper right of your keyboard. Open Elements, then from the menu: File > New > Image from Clipboard. Once the screenprint opens, save it as a JPG file to your desktop. Then use these instructions to post the screenprint image:

    Please post your screenshot either here or on


  12. Diana

    August 24, 2010 at 11:41 pm


    For those having trouble with a disappearing filmstrip when you click the green checkmark to commit the transformation, with Charlene’s help, the mystery is solved.

    It appears you have used the Cookie Cutter tool (a star icon on the toolbar), rather than the Custom Shape tool (a heart icon). Step 5 of the tutorial instructs to press U to go to the Custom Shape tool. Both the Cookie Cutter tool and the Custom Shape tool use the same shapes, so it can be confusing. Also, Step 4 instructs to turn off the visibility of the background photo layer by clicking the eye beside the layer. With the visibility of the photo layer turned off, you would have been unable to use the CC tool. I tried the steps with the background photo layer visible, using the Cookie Cutter tool and it creates a transparent filmstrip shape at first, then when you click the green checkmark, it does disappear. So I think that must be what is happening. Try using the Custom Shape tool and see how it goes.


  13. Robert

    October 14, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    “Unable to open this file due to security settings.” This is the mesage I get when I attempted to open the filmstrip custom shape file. My computer is XP. Can you help me (or somebody) help me with this?

    • Diana

      December 4, 2010 at 9:33 pm

      Hi Robert,

      I’m sorry I didn’t see your question sooner. It sounds like you may be trying to open the filmstrip file directly into Elements. The filmstrip file must be installed and then used through the Custom Shape tool.

      The original magazine article gives instructions where to move the filmstrip.csh file after downloading and unzipping it:

      Move this file to Elements’ Presets folder:
      For Windows:
      C:\Program Files\Adobe\Photoshop Elements\Presets\Custom Shapes

      Then restart Elements.

      Hope this solves your problem.


  14. Eileen

    November 23, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    I am having a problem with Step 7. I am in the shape layer and when I rotate the film strip the picture also rotates and is then sideways. I am working with Elements 9.

    • Diana

      December 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm

      Hi Eileen,

      I’m sorry I didn’t see your question sooner. When you go to the Image menu and select Rotate, the dialog that pops up has three sections. The section at the top affects the whole image and the section in the middle affects only the selected layer. Make sure you select the filmstrip layer, then click on Layer 90 Left or Layer 90 Right in the middle section to rotate just the filmstrip.

      Hope this helps.


  15. Liz

    January 23, 2011 at 10:39 am

    With a photo and the filmstrip showing, using either the polygonal lasso tool or the rectanular marquee tool, after I select the area within the filmstrip frame, when I check Select > Inverse nothing happens. I still get the marching ants marching around the inside of the filmstrip frame but not around the border of the photo. Plus, the portion of the photo within the borders of the film frame will not delete. Can you tell me what is wrong?

    • Diana

      January 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm

      Hi Liz… It’s hard to tell what might be wrong without seeing your workspace and layers palette, but it sounds like you may have the wrong layer selected in the layers palette. Make sure you’re on the layer containing the photo. Try it again and let me know if that was it.


      • Liz

        January 23, 2011 at 4:56 pm

        I could delete the part of the photo that I wanted to keep but I could never get the program to act when I used either the drop down menu or the keyboard commands to invert the selection. I finally discovered that pressing backspace is also a command to invert and delete. By using backspace I was finally able to remove the outer portion of the photo so that the first frame of the filmstrip was filled. So, I was successful, but do not know why it was so difficult. Thanks a lot for your interest in helping me.

  16. Anne

    January 27, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Well I got as far as getting all my photos into the film strip properly, and with the right color…but try as I might, I cannot get the gentle curves shown in your article. With anything more than a hint of a curve, the “holes” on the film strip either were cut off, or they somehow duplicated themselves with a larger curve. On deadline for the project, so I gave up and used the filmstrip without curves – no one but me will ever know that’s not what I intended, but I sure would like to know how to make it work! Thanks,

  17. shelia

    March 31, 2011 at 7:06 am

    I am having problems with getting the pictures for the filmstrip from the bin to the filmstrip. When I try to select the pic from the bin and move it to the work area where the filmstrip is, the picture I selected becomes the background and what I have preciously done goes to the bin..I am using photoshop elements 9. Please help I want to do this exercise, it is so neat. I am new to Photshop Elements, so am I skipping a step not in the directions or what. Thanks so much, I just love this site.

  18. kim

    March 20, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    There isn’t a green check box after draging and rotating the strip? What to do?

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