Now that summer is winding down and school and holidays are on the horizon, it's time to put all those photographs you took to good use. Instead of sending your creations to family and friends via email, where they will undoubtedly never see the light of day, or printing them one-by-one to adorn your walls or be hidden away in albums in your bookshelves, why not create something on your Mac that you can display or give as a gift?
Picture Collage Maker from PearlMountain Technology Co., Ltd provides over 140 customizable templates ranging from holiday, family and seasonal themes to simple group templates for photos. You use to create calendars, cards, scrapbook pages, albums or a compilation of photos suitable for any occasion. If you cannot find a template you like, the PearlMountain Store offers more designs in 10 categories for US$1.99 each. The basic program is 30% off for a limited time in the Mac App Store and the $19.99 price tag makes it a bargain. You can also download the free Picture Collage Maker Lite with 40 templates to try the program before you buy.
Even if you've never created a scrapbook page, card, or print of your photos, Picture Collage Maker makes it very easy. The welcome screen links you to a whole set of tutorials that should answer all your questions. Pearl Mountain's video introduction to Picture Collage Maker shows you in detail how easy it is to create a collage in a 4-minute YouTube video. If you are on the fence about buying Picture Collage Maker, this video tells you almost everything you need to help make that decision. My frustrations section below tells you the rest.
The templates are customizable in just about every way imaginable. Photo size or shape can be edited with masks, background textures, borders, shading, text, and clipart. The program is limited only by the fact that you cannot create scenes. That's actually what drove me to try this program. I wanted to create a winter into spring scene of a series of wildlife images I had photographed. I need to be able to use masks and gradients to create what I envisioned. Picture Collage Maker includes mask and frame templates, but there is no way to merge or edit elements of your photos.
While creating a few collages I had some issues with moving photos to the foreground and background. This was not a deal breaker, but the only commands are up and down arrows that appear when you click on a photo and that did not allow for much customization, such as placing a photo corner behind one shot and a corner in front of another photo.
The top toolbar includes a Calendar button that lets you choose how many and which month(s) to display, which is a good feature. I didn't find any other features that excited me. You can see a calendar I created in the slideshow at the bottom of this review.
One word of caution: Edit! You need to make sure your photographs appear the way you want them to look before placing them into a layout, because you cannot do much editing within the program.
The Effect panel under the Photo category on the right lets you apply various color effects, but the lateral thumbnails made it clumsy to navigate.
The small toolbar with four icons over the left column lets you display your photos, mask selections, frames, and clip art. The clip art section is divided into seven categories: Alphabet & numbers, calendar, cartoon, flower, greeting, love, and mark. The oddly named Mark clip art includes text bubbles, pushpins, and paperclips. You cannot search or mark favorites in the clip art section and each item appears in a list. Needless to say, scrolling through the different clip art sections is unnecessarily time consuming and tedious -– very unMac-like.
FrustrationsThere are inconsistent elements in Picture Collage Maker. For one, the options in the Size popup menu include a mixture of inches, millimeters, and pixels without any conversion between them.
When you add a photo to your collage, a thumbnail appears in the left column. One telltale sign that this program is ported over from the PC is that you cannot resize that column, and therefore the full name of your photo file fails to appear. You can resize the thumbnails with a slider, but long photo names are still truncated.
When you insert text, you can choose your font family and style, but you cannot see what the typeface looks like. You can open a Font Panel from inside the program, but that isn't very useful either. I used Apple's Font Book to help me choose my fonts.
You can choose any color in which to create your text, but I found no way to duplicate that color in separate text boxes. Minimally, I expected to see the RGB values, but could not find those noted in any of the color picker palettes.
PearlMountain Technology buries information about compatible picture formats in the Other category on the Support page. Common formats such as JPEG, PNG, BMP, GIF are listed and they note that RAW files are incompatible, but they never mention Adobe or other formats. From trial and error I found that the program does accept PSD (Adobe Photoshop) files.
Picture Collage Maker includes a button for automatically uploading your creations to Facebook. This feature works well, but if you want to edit the parameters, such as who can see your creation, you must do so from within Facebook. It would be nice if the developers also added a button for Flickr and some of the other photo display websites as well.
Final ThoughtI tested Picture Collage Maker 2.0 in Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) and Mountain Lion (OS X 10.8) and it worked flawlessly under both operating systems. The problem is that the program is fundamentally flawed by its obvious port from a PC program and does not contain the kinds of interface elements that would make the program more fun to use. If you need or want to create a different types of products with your photos, Picture Collage Maker offers many options and is easy to use. For the $20 reduced price, I don't think you'll be horribly disappointed and you can create fun projects, even if you stumble over some of the frustrating elements of the app.
The Slideshow below shows you the opening screen, a collage in progress, and a small poster and calendar I made.