Create a Photo Calendar in Publisher

To easily create a personalized monthly calendar that you can print on your own printer and write on, all you need is Microsoft Publisher. Publisher comes with certain versions of Microsoft Office and is also available as a stand-alone program. It’s certainly not the most powerful desktop publishing program out there, but for most home applications, it is more than adequate.

The screen shots and instructions in this article apply to Publisher 2003, but you should be able to adapt most of what you read here to older and newer versions of Publisher.

Creating a Basic Calendar

Publisher comes with many calendar designs that give you a good starting point. You may not be too thrilled with the layout, color, and font options Publisher gives you out of the box, but the calendar wizard itself saves you a lot of work. The calendar wizard takes care of the tedium of creating a table of dates with the correct number of columns, rows, and day numbering. Once the wizard generates the calendar tables, changing the visual characteristics is easy.

The first thing you should do at the start of any project is set goals. I think we’ve established that your primary goal is to create a monthly calendar, but I’m betting you have additional reasons for why you want to use Publisher to create one for yourself. I’m going to share my goals with you here so you understand the rationale behind why I chose to do some of the things I did to create the sample calendar for this article.

  • I want my calendar to have a theme. The theme for my calendar is “Scenes of Sandpoint,” which based on some of the many pictures I’ve taken around this area over the past few years.
  • I want each month to have its own picture that was taken during that month.
  • For fun, I want to include some contact information for our company and a little promotional text. This information would be the same on every page.
  • I plan to print the calendar on our color laser printer so the pictures look nice, but I don’t want to waste a bunch of toner by using big blocks of color around the other page elements.

Even if your goals are radically different from mine, I’m sure some of the techniques I show you in this article can be helpful to you in your project.

Using Publisher Calendar Designs

To get started, open a new project in Publisher. You should see the New from a Design options in the task pane. By default, the task pane sits at the left side of the main window.

Click the Publications for Print option. Publisher shows you a series of additional options, including the Calendars option. Click Calendars, and Publisher displays a window of calendar design options (see Figure 1). One of the first designs in the list is the Art Left Calendar. Click the Art Left Calendar design. Publisher generates a calendar for the current month, using a default color and font scheme (see Figure 2).

fig 1

Figure 1: Calendar Design Options in Publisher.


Figure 2: Art Left Calendar with default color and font schemes.

Warning: your first reaction to the calendar you see may be “Yikes! What were they thinking?!” At least on my installation, the default color scheme is Glacier and the default font uses Comic Sans MS. Let’s just say those would not be my first choice. Unfortunately, most of the other built-in color schemes are not much better, and some are substantially worse.

Not to worry, you can easily change the colors and fonts. In fact, if you want to eliminate big blocks of color to save ink or toner, you are going to delete most of the color blocks, so the most important aspects of the color scheme you choose are the colored lines in the calendar portion.

Setting the Date Range

One of the first things you should do when you are creating any calendar is set the design options that control the overall calendar layout. When you first select a calendar design, the Calendar Options task pane gives you options to control the page orientation, monthly or yearly style, the date range, and (in certain designs) the placement of a schedule of events.

In my case, the default orientation of landscape and the monthly style were fine. The Art Left Calendar design does not include a schedule of events, so that wasn’t an issue. The only thing I needed to change was the date range.

When you click the “Change date range” button, Publisher displays a small dialog that lets you select the starting month and year for your calendar and the ending month and year (see Figure 3). After you select the range you want to use and click OK, Publisher generates a page for each month in the range. Publisher also puts little page images at the bottom of the main window. To access any given page, you can just click on the appropriate page number.

fig 3

Figure 3: Change Calendar Dates dialog

You should be aware of the fact that changing the layout characteristics later (including the date range), can make a big mess. If you change the date range, Publisher generates new pages for that range using the current layout, color scheme, and font scheme selections. It does NOT base the new pages off of the customizations you’ve made up to that point. In fact, it may completely wipe out your changes, depending upon how you change the range.

Changing Colors and Fonts

At this point, your task pane should still show “Calendar Options” at the top, and you should see the Color Schemes and Font Schemes options (see Figure 4). If it doesn’t, select “Calendar Options” from the dropdown at the top of the task pane.

fig 4

Figure 4: Calendar Options task pane

If you plan to change the color or font scheme, I recommend that you do so before you make any other changes to your calendar. As with changing the layout, applying a color or font scheme later is somewhat risky because it may reset some of your design elements in undesirable ways.

If you aren’t a fan of the default color scheme, click the Color Schemes option, and Publisher shows you a long list of additional selections, with the current scheme highlighted. Click the items in the list that appeal to you, and Publisher updates the color scheme in your calendar accordingly. I chose Mulberry because I liked the maroon and teal lines it put around the calendar. I didn’t like the block of teal behind the sample image, but I knew I was planning to remove that block of color later anyway.

If you would like to replace the default font selections, click the Font Schemes option, and Publisher shows the font options in the task pane. Again, the current scheme is highlighted, and you can change the scheme by clicking on a different one. I chose Archival because I liked the way the Georgia font looked. I discovered later that Georgia is also surprisingly easy to read from a distance, which for a calendar is an important consideration.

After changing the colors and fonts, my calendar looks like Figure 5:

fig 5

Figure 5: Calendar with new color and font schemes.

Customizing the Look

Now you have a calendar with the best layout and design features that you can get out of the Publisher presets (i.e. the wizard and the built-in themes). At this point, you can start customizing the look to your own taste. Before you get started though, it is a good idea to revisit your goals. You can save yourself a lot of time if you have a clear idea of where you want to go with the design before you start making changes.

I found that my goals fell into three distinct categories with regard to how they affected the design:

  • Things that could be accomplished with the Publisher presets.
  • Things that could be repeated on every page of the calendar.
  • Things that had to be unique for each page of the calendar.

Publisher’s Art Left Calendar wizard gave me the overall layout I wanted and generated the monthly calendars for me. The color and font themes got me pretty close to the design features I wanted, but I still had a long way to go.

Most of the work I wanted to do affected the left side of the calendar. I wanted a picture, which was already present in the layout, but I wanted a smaller image with additional text blocks above and below it. The picture and its caption would be unique to each page, but the rest of the text would be the same on every page.

After trying to tweak the existing page objects to look like I wanted, I quickly realized that the easiest way to get from where I was to where I wanted to be was to first delete all of the page objects that didn’t fit into my master plan.

To delete a page object, click on its dashed outline or in an empty area inside the object. You should see selection handles appear around the object. The selection handles are a good way to make sure you are working with the right object. Once you have the correct page object selected, just press the delete key.

I decided to delete the solid-colored background on the left side and the shadow box that is offset from the picture. That got rid of two big blocks of color I didn’t want.

I still had one big block of color I didn’t like though: The month name and year title block is white lettering on a black background. The reverse would be more suited to my simpler, more open design.

To change the background and foreground color of the month title is a little trickier than you might expect. Normally, you could just select the title’s text box and set the fill color and font color. However, the title is actually two page objects that have been grouped together: a text box that overlays a rectangle. To change the background color, you have to carefully select the rectangle object only, which is easiest done by clicking on the outermost dashed line on the right side of the title. Then you can click the fill color tool and select “no fill.”

Of course, now you have a white title on a white background, so your title disappears. Fix that by clicking in the middle of the title box. Publisher highlights the text, although you still won’t see the lettering. Click the Font Color tool and select any color other than white.

All that remains now in the left side are the image and the caption. Those I resized and moved to the location I wanted them. You can see the results of my manipulations in Figure 6.

fig 6

Figure 6: Basic calendar design with objects removed and tweaked.

Unfortunately, these changes don’t “ripple” through to the other calendar pages. Publisher considers each calendar page as a separate page with its own design features. Consequently, you have to go through the other 11 pages of your 12-month calendar and repeat the changes.

Here’s a tip you can use if you ever have to repeat the same set of changes on multiple pages: Rather than resize and move the image and caption on every page, just delete them from all but the first page, and then copy the already-modified image and caption from the first page to the other pages. By default, Publisher puts the copied page objects into the same position they had on the source page.

Working with Common Page Objects

Once you’ve done as much as you can with what Publisher gave you, you can start adding custom elements. Once again, look back to your goals before you go any further.

If you have several page elements that you want to repeat on every page, like a header, or in my case, a bunch of text boxes on the left side of the calendar, you can take advantage of a great Publisher feature called Master Pages. A master page is like a template that gets placed under all of the elements on the individual pages that use it. Anything you put on the master page “shows through” on every page that uses the master. Your publications can have multiple master pages, so some pages can use one master while others use a different master. In Publisher, every page has a master, but by default the master has nothing on it.

Master pages were just the thing I needed for the text boxes I wanted to appear on every page of the calendar. I decided to put the calendar title (“Scenes of Sandpoint”), the Publishize ad block, our contact information, and our logo all on the master.

Publisher gives you several ways to work with master pages. You can choose View| Master Page on the menu to switch to master page view. Then you can edit the master page just like you would any other publisher page. However, the problem with doing it that way is that you no longer see the rest of your document, so you have to be careful about how you position the page objects.

Another way to work with the master is to add the elements to a normal page where you can see how they interplay with the other page elements, and then use the Send to Master Page feature.

To use the Send to Master Page feature, first add the elements you want to appear on every page. When you are ready, select each one (or use Ctrl-Click to multi-select), and choose Arrange|Send to Master Page on the main menu. Publisher takes the selected items and moves them to the underlying master page.

If you switch to the master page view now, you’ll see all of the common page elements that I sent to the master (see Figure 7).

fig 7

Figure 7: Master Page view

If you look at the other pages in your calendar, you’ll see that the items you put on the master now appear on every page. Cool!

Working with Page-Specific Objects

The calendar is starting to look pretty good now. The last step is to set up the design elements that are unique to each page. For my picture calendar, I want a unique photo and caption that is appropriate for each month. Publisher gave me a sample picture and caption that I resized, moved, and copied to each page. Now I need to edit the pictures and their captions.

It turns out that changing the image displayed in an image box is a little easier than just deleting it and starting over, particularly if you want all the pages of your calendar to have their image in exactly the same place.

To change the image in an image box, select the image twice (don’t double-click) so that the image itself has grey selection handles around it. Now, right-click to display the pop up menu and choose Change Picture|From File. Publisher displays the Insert Picture dialog, which lets you choose an image from your hard disk.

Finally, click inside the caption and change the text to something appropriate for the picture.

Once you set the pictures and captions on all of your calendar pages, you have a complete calendar that is ready to print! See Figure 8 for the final results of my efforts.

fig 8

Figure 8: Final picture calendar.

Planning to Plan

Creating a basic calendar with Publisher is easy, but departing from the calendar wizard’s basic design takes a bit of planning. If you were following along with your own project, I hope my suggestions were helpful to you.

In review, you can save yourself a lot of time if you take the following approach with your Publisher projects (not just calendars):

  • Have a clear idea of what you want to create before you start.
  • As soon as you select a design template, use the built-in options to configure the overall layout, colors, and fonts as best you can. From then on, don’t touch them.
  • Clear the publication of all elements that don’t fit into your master plan to eliminate confusion.
  • Customize the design to include the features you want.
  • Take advantage of Master Pages for page elements that are common to multiple pages.

While true graphic designers may find Publisher to be lacking as a desktop publishing tool, it does a nice enough job for “the rest of us.”