Pocket Scrapbooking with Project Life

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tech tips & tricks with kevin

We were recently at the Scrapbook Expo in Schaumburg, Illinois, and invited tech guru (and my brother) Kevin Allgaier to join us. Why? Well, he’s pretty fantastic to be around. But the real reason is because we regularly hear questions from you — our customers — about things that are tech-related. No one knows and teaches tech stuff better. We wanted to make him available to anyone and everyone at the show, live and in-person, to have their questions answered on the spot. That’s exactly what happened, and below are the top questions Kevin was asked at the show — and his responses — since most of you weren’t able to be there).

Have tech questions? This is Kevin’s jam. He’s happy to help and is available for consulting. Visit his website, follow him on social media (@KevinAllgaier), and check out his blog for regular tips (you can subscribe to his emails there, too).

What is iCloud?

According to Apple’s own marketing material, “iCloud connects you and your Apple devices in amazing ways. It makes sure you always have the latest versions of your important information—like documents, photos, notes, and contacts—on whatever device you’re using. It lets you easily share photos, calendars, locations, and more with friends and family. It even helps you find your device if you lose it.”

If you are part of a family or group of fellow co-workers, iCloud allows you to create and share calendars between people. If you have and use more than one computer, iCloud allows you to easily keep your documents and System Preferences in sync between those devices. If you use an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch), it allows you to back up those devices in the cloud automatically, including your photos, videos, and other important content. If you use your iOS device to take photos, it allows you to quickly snap that perfect photo, then instantly share it with your friends, family, and colleagues using a shared Photo Stream. To use a metaphor of a brick house, your devices are the bricks, while iCloud is the mortar that holds the house together, keeping your devices in sync.

You can sign up for a free iCloud account from any Apple iOS device running iOS 5 or from a Mac running OS X Lion (10.7.4) or later. A free account will give you 5 GB of storage for your photos, backups, email, etc. Tiered pricing plans are available for more storage.

What is Dropbox?

Unlike iCloud (which offers a wide variety of cloud-based services), Dropbox focuses on one facet… storage. I think it’s safe to assume that we all know what an external hard drive is and how it works (plug it in and use it). Think of Dropbox as an external hard drive that doesn’t sit on your desk but rather lives on the Internet.

Once you have signed up to use Dropbox and installed the free app, a new folder called “Dropbox” will be placed in your Finder or Windows Explorer window. Any content copied to this location will be automatically synced with Dropbox in the cloud. Once it has synced, those files are not only accessible on your computer but on any computer or device that has the free Dropbox app installed or by visiting www.dropbox.com. Changes made to a file stored on Dropbox from another device will automatically be synced back to Dropbox and to the rest of your connected devices.

You can sign up for a free Dropbox account that will give you 2 GB of storage. If you refer your friends, Dropbox will give you a little more storage for free. Paid plans are also available for a small fee (1 TB of storage for $9.99/month). You can sign up at www.dropbox.com. For those looking to use Dropbox to help manage your small business, Dropbox for Business is also a great option to consider with plans starting around $75/month for 5 users. Visit www.dropboxforyourbusiness.com for more information.

What is iCloud Photo Library?

Apple released iCloud Photo Library as part of their Photos app in OS X Yosemite (10.10.3) earlier this year. iCloud Photo Library allows you to make your entire Photos library available on any of your devices (Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, and even from www.icloud.com). You can enable iCloud Photo Library from the OS X Yosemite Photos app by going to Photos > Preferences… and clicking on the “iCloud” tab. On your iOS device, you can access this feature by going to Settings >  iCloud > Photos.

You can enable iCloud Photo Library from any device at any time, but after doing this many times myself, I would recommend enabling this feature in a specific way (to ensure a clean and problem-free process). First, I always recommend making sure we have a good backup of your photos before making a significant change like this. For help doing this, see my backup thoughts below. Next, I would consolidate all of your photos from your various devices to your Mac’s Photos library (your master Photos library), then remove photos from all other devices (remember, all your photos will be accessible from all devices when we’re done). Now it’s time to enable iCloud Photo Library from your master Photos library. This will begin the initial syncing and uploading process which, depending on the size of your library, may take a few hours or a few days. You can check the status by going back to Photos > Preferences…. Once the initial upload has completed, you can now enable iCloud Photos Library on your other devices by navigating to the location listed above. Within a few minutes, you will start to see your Photos library appear and you can begin to browse and use those photos.

Now that iCloud Photo Library is enabled on all your devices, your photos will always be in sync. Any changes you make will be reflected on your other devices. If you delete a photo on your iPhone, for example, it will also be removed everywhere else. Likewise, if you create a new album in Photos on your Mac, that new album will appear on your iPad.

iCloud Photo Library requires OS X Yosemite (10.10.3) and iOS 8.3 (if you plan to use it from an iOS device). The use of iCloud Photo Library is free, but you will want to make sure you have enough iCloud storage to handle the amount of data you want to store this way.

How can I begin a PL page on one device and continue working on it on another device?

This was a fairly common question asked by many who attended the Scrapbook Expo in Schaumburg, IL. While the ability to move projects from one device to another is baked into the app, it may not be as intuitive as you would think. Having said that, it’s a very powerful feature to know about.

In this example, I have started working on a new layout on my iPhone and want to continue working on that same layout on my iPad with more real estate. After I have started the layout on my iPhone, I will go back to the main menu of the Project Life® App. Next, I will tap on the yellow Project Library pie slice (lower left corner) to view my projects. From here, I will see my new layout under the section “In Progress.” Next, tap on the “more options” link to the right side of the category title (“In Progress”) to expand my view of current projects. Once I have found the layout that I want to transfer, I simply tap on that project and we are presented with a few options, one of which is “Export an Editable Backup.” Choosing this option will prepare my new layout in a way that I can now transfer to another device using AirDrop, Dropbox, or other applicable transfer/storage options. If you would prefer to email the project to yourself (or even to someone else to work on), choose the “Mail an Editable Backup” option instead. A new mail message will automatically be generated, ready for you to send your project to yourself or someone else via email.


What is the difference between archive and backup?

First of all, I can’t stress to you enough the importance of backing up your computer and devices. Not a week goes by that I don’t work with someone to try and recover lost data. Sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s not. Our data is important to us, so please back up.

With that in mind, a backup is a second or third (or forth?) copy of your working system. An example of a working system would be your computer, your iPhone, or any device that stores data that you access and use on a frequent basis. Should something happen to that device, a backup can help restore that lost data on another device so it’s not lost.

An archive, on the other hand, is a set of data that is moved from your working system to another location for infrequent use. You still want access to this data from time to time, but it’s not critical that you have access to it right now on all your devices. In terms of photos, I store about 2 years’ worth of photos on my laptop (and in turn on my iPhone and iPad by way of iCloud Photo Library). Photos that are older than 2 years will be moved to an archival location that I can access easily on a less frequent basis.

What is the best approach for backing up?

This is such a great (and common) question! Most people I talk with, unfortunately, don’t have a backup plan in place because they find the notion daunting and complex to even think about. My hope is that I can make it easy enough to understand that you will design your own backup strategy today and implement it as soon as possible. Before I continue, keep in mind that a good backup strategy doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, the more simple it is, the more likely we are to use it. Rule number 1: keep it simple.

For Mac users, there’s a really incredible feature built right into every Mac called “Time Machine.” Time Machine is an automated backup system (app) that helps to keep your system backed up in a simple way. To use Time Machine, simply connect a new external hard drive to your Mac. When this happens, a window will appear asking if you want to designate that drive as a Time Machine backup drive. Choosing yes to this question will format (erase) your external drive in a way that is optimized for Time Machine, and within 2 minutes, your first backup will be initialized. That’s it. That’s all it takes to set up Time Machine. The initial backup will take some time to complete (the duration will depend on your system resources and how much data you have, but generally, it will take from 4 – 8 hours). Once the initial backup is complete, Time Machine will automatically back up changes to your system every hour, as long as your external drive is connected to your Mac.

Time Machine is much more than just a backup app. You can also use it to roll back to an earlier version of a file. Let’s say you create a file at 10:00 AM. Within the hour, that file will be part of your automatic backup. At 3:00 PM, you make some changes to that file. As with before, that new file will be part of your backup within the hour. At 6:00 PM, you realize you removed information from that file that you need. By opening the Time Machine app on your Mac, you will be able to browse through your previously backed up files and restore a previous version of that file.

Having a single backup drive located in the same room as your working system is good but not great. If that room was destroyed by a catastrophe or if something was stolen, there’s a good chance that both your working system and your backup drive will be lost. In effect, you had no real backup at all. To fix this problem, I recommend simply picking up a second external hard drive and using both drives as Time Machine backup drives (the second one can be set up in the same way as the first). At any given time, you will have one drive connected to your working system (actively backing up), while the other is located at a friend’s house or at your workplace. Once a week, simply swap the drives so the one that was off-site is not actively backing up. Should something happen to your computer and the local backup drive, you’re recoverable data is never more than a week old. If a week is too long, consider swapping the drives more frequently.

Windows users, don’t stress with all this Mac talk. There’s a good tool built into Windows 7 and later. You can access this system by going to your Control Panel > System Maintenance > Backup and Restore. While the mechanics vary between Mac and Windows, the concept is very similar.

Another thing to keep in mind… if you are using cloud-based services (such as Dropbox for files and iCloud for photos), that will act as yet another form of backup for your data. That’s another reason to strongly consider using these services.

How can I archive my photos from iPhoto or Photos but still have easy access to them?

With the number of photos that we take, it’s a good idea to archive them once in a while. I used to archive my photos to DVD for many years until I lost a couple of the DVDs. Ouch! I certainly learned lessons from that experience. Another downside to archiving to DVD is that physical media goes bad over time (even DVDs). The average shelf life for a DVD is about 7 years. DVDs that are older than that run the risk of going bad. Even external hard drives fail periodically, so relying on a single drive as our archive strategy may not be the best idea.

For the last 4 years or so, I have relied heavily on Dropbox — not just for document storage and access but for photo archiving. As I mentioned earlier, I have about 2 years’ worth of photos in my active Photos library. Photos that are older than that are pulled out of Photos and placed into a series of folders on my Dropbox account. I have a main folder called “Archived Photos.” Within that folder, I have a series of folders called “2010,” “2011,” “2012,” etc. You get the idea. At the beginning of each year, I simply find all photos and videos from 3 years prior and move them into a new folder created for that year. Once the photos are moved to this new location (and I have verified that they have successfully synced to Dropbox), I will then remove them from my active Photos library. Don’t worry, they are still easily accessible from my laptop, iPhone, iPad, the web, etc. They just aren’t taking up valuable space in my Photos library. I determined 2 years’ worth of photos in my library because I rarely access photos older than that for day-to-day projects. It may be longer or shorter for you.

Archiving my photos in this way not only helps to keep my library smaller, but it’s also much more manageable and helps Photos to run faster (larger libraries run slower).

One thing to note about the way Dropbox works… when you create a new folder on Dropbox via Finder or Windows Explorer, that folder and its contents are still taking up space on your computer’s hard drive (even after the files have synced with Dropbox). To fix this and reclaim that precious space, you can selectively disable that folder from syncing to your computer. Once the files have finished syncing (this can be verified by looking at the Dropbox icon), click on the Dropbox icon then choose “Preferences…” as a sub-menu option under the gear icon. Next, click on the “Account” tab and choose “Change Settings…” next to “Selective Sync.” Now you can browse for your new folder and uncheck the box next to it. This will remove the folder and files within that folder from your computer, but they will still be available from your other devices (via the free Dropbox app) and www.dropbox.com.

How large (file size) are PL pages on my iPhone/iPad?

This is a great question because generally speaking, we have relatively limited storage on iOS devices when compared to traditional computers. My iPhone has 128 GB of storage, but even that sometimes isn’t enough. Every photo we take on our iPhone has a different size. This size depends on ISO settings, the number of colors in the photo, the complexity of the composition, and other factors. Likewise, every Project Life App project will be a different size for similar reasons (the number of elements used, the type of elements, etc.). With that in mind, I think you will find that most Project Life App projects will land somewhere around the 4 – 5 MB range. To put things into perspective, the average photo taken on an iPhone 6 is about 1.5 – 2 MB. To further put things into perspective and if we consider the average project size of 5 MB, it will take us about 200 projects to occupy 1 GB of storage.

In short, don’t be afraid to create and share those amazing memory-keeping projects! If you do find yourself running short on iPhone storage, keep in mind that you can easily export your older Project Life App projects to Dropbox or another cloud-based storage solution using the export feature described in an earlier question.

I am almost out of storage on my iPhone. How do I add more?

Unlike some other devices which allow you to add additional storage by way of microSD cards or something similar, the iPhone has a fixed amount of storage that we can’t change. If I purchase an iPhone with 64 GB storage, I can’t add more storage for additional projects without purchasing a new iPhone with more capacity. Having said that, you can use various cloud-based storage solutions (i.e.: Dropbox, Google Drive, etc.) to add more virtual storage to your device. Moving files from your iPhone to one of these services will free up space on your iPhone while still allowing you to access those files on the same device (as well as other devices).

What if I run out of iCloud storage? What are my options?

As mentioned in an earlier question, a free iCloud account will give you 5 GB of storage to share between email, backups, photos, documents, etc. In some cases, this may be enough, but in most cases (especially for those who want to use most or all of the features that iCloud has to offer), you will use this complimentary storage limit fast. Pricing changes frequently with online services because technology and storage costs go down over time, but as of today, these are the tiered pricing plans for additional iCloud storage:

5 GB: free

50 GB: $0.99/month

500 GB: $2.99/month

1 TB: $9.99/month

If you plan on using iCloud for backups and iCloud Photo Library (which I recommend) for photo syncing, it’s worth considering additional storage. Most people will feel comfortable with the 50 GB plan, but some (like myself) will need to consider upgrading to the 500 GB or even the 1 TB plan. When considering cloud storage options, remember that iCloud is the only cloud-based solution that keeps all your data types in sync between all your Apple devices. In my humble opinion, it’s well worth the investment.


9 Responses

  1. Allie LeBaron says:

    Wow! Great advice!! I have been having issues with converting over to ICloud Photots Library and this totally explains it – and so simply. Thank you!

  2. June says:

    I really like how you have advice for both windows AND mac users. Excellent. Good to keep it to basic choices that work, too. I rely on dropbox for synching teaching stuff between home and school as well as back up for pics.

  3. LM says:

    I always appreciate the reminders to BACK UP. Thanks, Kevin, great article as always.

  4. Katie Jones says:

    Thanks, Kevin, for advising us on how we can prevent Dropbox for taking up hard drive space! I knew it did it, but couldn’t work out how to free the space back again with files I want as effectively backups and don’t access very often at all.
    Brilliant article :)

  5. Chantie says:

    Thank you SO much for this article! I have been struggling with transferring a layout from the app on my phone to the app on my ipad. I now actually get it. Also, thanks to Becky for recommending Dropbox. I have installed it on all my devices as well as my husband’s and daughter’s phones–what a timesaver to have all our photos safe and in one place. You are all amazing!!

  6. Tiffany says:

    If I have exported my PL pages as an editable backup to Dropbox and want to return it to my iPhone to work on in the App, how do you do that? Thank you!

  7. Jill says:

    After exporting the editable backup, how do I import it on my new device? (iPhone to iPad using google drive). I can’t find this information anywhere.


    • Chrissy says:

      Also wondering how you open a project layout exported to Dropbox to open on another device.

  8. Debbie says:

    I understand from your instructions how to move a page in progress to another device, but what about my purchased kits? I purchased most of my kits on my tablet, but can’t access those kits on my phone (all Android).