Stuff and processes I use for doing the stuff I do

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life57 Comments

From time to time I field emails asking all sorts of good questions. Questions like:

What’s your computer set up? What kind of printer do you use? What kind of photo paper do you use? What kind of scanner do you have? What software do you use? Where do you get your stuff printed? What is your favorite cardstock?

Do you have a blog post about this stuff?

Well I do now!

Here are a some answers to common questions I get, and then some. Hopefully, if you’ve ever had a particular question, you can find the answers in this post.

What’s your computer set up?


I currently use a 27-inch iMac. I upgraded in August, leaving the Mac Pro tower system behind. I ordered a pretty hopped up machine. For you tech geeks, it’s got 32 GB of RAM, a 3.4 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7 processor, a 3 TB Fusion Drive and nice graphics card to go with it. It’s surprisingly fast and I have been really happy with it thus far. I have it connected to a 3TB Airport Time Capsule, as well as to an old 17-inch Apple Cinema Display. I am a two-monitor girl. I like to keep my palettes for all of my programs on the second montior whenever possible. Another bonus of a two-monitor system? If I take an online class, I can watch on one screen and do the class work on the other. I use a wireless mouse and a wired keyboard. (Apple’s wireless keyboard doesn’t not have the numeric pad and I don’t trust the fancy pants third party add-ons. The fact that I don’t trust third party add-ons is a sure sign that I’m getting old! That, and using the phrase ‘fancy pants.’) 

WHY APPLE?: It’s what I started with in 1988. I have always felt you get what you pay for. Of course today, it’s all about seamless integration and Apple products do this so well. That, and the business of design has always been heavily Mac-based, ergo, a career spent working with their products.


What kind of printer do you use?

In the fall of 2016, I purchased an Epson SureColor p400 to replace my old, large format printer (see below).  I don’t love it as much as my old printer. I feel it tends to print color photos darker and I have to play with my settings to get the results I used to get on my old printer. Put it this way: I’m still in the getting to know you phase. My old printer was this one:

Screen Shot 2013-11-24 at 5.08.10 PM

Hello HP Photosmart 8750. It was a large-format ink jet printer and it was sent to me when I worked for Simple Scrapbooks magazine. Those were the days when editors got stuff for free JUST BECAUSE! Sigh. I miss those days. I think you can find these models still, but they are pricey!

Note: I always choose the best photo quality settings—both for printing on photo paper and cardstock. 


I also use an Epson PictureMate Charm photo printer. I really love the quality of this little guy and I use it ALL the time. It prints both borderless and bordered 6 x 4 photos. The borders print perfectly, which is important to my anal retentive eye. I’m currently using the matte photo paper and again, really love the quality.


What kind of photo paper do you use?


I have been using Ilford Galerie Smooth Pearl paper for the past six or seven years*. They recently started selling a newer version, called Prestige which I’m now using. I’m not sure if there is a difference, but what I do know is that I love this paper. It is a lustre-coated (slightly matte) photo paper and it’s designed to work with inks from all lines of printers (Canon, Epson and HP). Yes, the printer companies all want you to work with their own papers, but I have not seen any quality degradation in the years that I’ve been using this paper. Your images are protected from light fading when they’re in your albums. Beyond that, I use this for framed photos in my house that have been on the wall for years with zero issue.

If my photos don’t last hundreds of years, that’s okay. Neither will I.

*as of 2015, they have discontinued production of this paper. I don’t know what I will be using once my stash runs out.


What kind of scanner do you use?

I have a Canoscan 4400F. I did zero research on scanners. My old UMAX scanner died a number of years ago and I simply Googled “cheap scanner” to find a new one. I don’t do a ton of scanning but this scanner does what it needs to do when the need arises.

I have a great tip for scans, regardless of your scanner make and model: always scan at a higher resolution than you intend to print. This will allow both better image detail and the ability to enlarge your image and maintain its integrity. I scan my images using VueScan, mostly because I can never get Photoshop to work with my scanner. I scan nearly every image at 600 DPI. Then I size it down to 300 in Photoshop.

In Photoshop Elements, you go to Image > Resize > Image Size and uncheck the Resample Image box. Then, change the resolution from 600 to 300 and you will see the size of the image increase. This is the best way to scan and enlarge any image. The larger you want it in the end, the higher the resolution scan should be at the start.

If you don’t intend to enlarge, still scan at a higher resolution (and change to 300). Why? Better detail overall.




What is your camera set up?


I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II. My lenses are as follows:

Canon L-Series 24-70, 2.8

Canon 50 mm, 1.8

Canon 50 mm Macro

Canon 75–300 EF USM Zoom

I went with Canon several years ago because my friends were getting better color than I was getting with my Nikon. Times have changed, however, and it seems like both Nikon and Canon and other companies are getting it all very right. My only real requirment was to have full frame digital. I have been really happy with this bad boy. It was expensive and worth it.

That said, lately I seem to take more shots with my iPhone and most of the time, those images make me just as happy.


What software programs do you use?


I use Photoshop CC for nearly all of my digital scrapbooking work and for all of my product design work. I upgraded to the Creative Cloud in August. The nice part about the Cloud is that I get the most current versions of all the programs I need for my work. I use InDesign for print and production work; Illustrator for product design and other projects.

That said, I teach all my classes using Photoshop Elements.

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.01.30 AM

I currently have version 13 installed on my computer.Here’s my take on full Photoshop versus Elements. If I didn’t do the work I do, I would have no need for full Photoshop. Yes, there are some really amazing things about Photoshop CC, namely the refined typographic controls that you just don’t get in Elements. But overall, most of what a digital scrapbooker will want to do they can do in Elements for a fraction of the cost. It’s a tremendous bang for the buck.

WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU HAVE? I truly believe that PSE is an awesome program that can handle much of the scrapbooker/crafter digital needs.


Do you do any special post-processing to your photos?

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 2.10.49 PM

Yes! I use RadLab on pretty much every photo that I use for any of my scrapbooking and memory projects. In fact, wild horses couldn’t stop me from using RadLab. (I don’t think I’m using that phrase right…) In any event, I love using Rad Lab to enhance my photos. You can do a little. You can do a lot. You can settle somewhere in the middle. It is seriously a rad plug in (zero pun intended) and it works with Photoshop Elements. Learn more about Rad Lab here.

Note: I shoot in high JPEG settings, never RAW. Why? I don’t know. RAW files are so big and honestly, I’m not that picky.



Where do you get your digital pages printed?

I have printed digital Project Life pages at Adorama Pix. I find their quality and service to be stellar. I have no plans to try anyone new at this time. I always order their Premium Matte paper and opt for the Regular versus the Faster upload option. I also order my year-long printed books from them, as well.

Otherwise, if I’m doing a hybrid or traditional layout, I print all of my photos at home. This lets me print exactly the sizes that I want, which I set up and print multiple photos on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of photo paper.


What’s that cardstock you seem to print EVERYTHING on and why does it always look so good?


I use Bazzill Basics Orange Peel (OP) Texture in white. This slightly textured paper is just awesome. It’s a very subtle texture and it takes ink really well. I always print using photo quality settings to ensure rich color. While every printer is different, usually you have the choice to print at the best possible quality. Always choose the best when printing to cardstock and you get better results. This is one of the only cardstocks I buy these days. I order about 100 sheets at a time and burn through it like crazy. This paper? Yes, I would marry it.

Note: I recently tried out Bazill’s Coconut Swirl cardstock, which is part of their Smoothies line. It’s super thick and smooth and also takes ink like butter.


How do you organize your digital photos?

I use iPhoto to import and organize my images. I keep it very simple. I create Smart Folders for each month and then compile those into Year folders. That’s it. I do not tag my photos.

My one regret with this approach? Not tagging my photos. I hope to start doing this in 2014 with more regularity, or rather with ANY regularity.


How do you organize your digital scrapbooking supplies?


Oh man, you had to go there? I don’t have a great system right now, truth be told. This is exactly how I have my files set up, but this doesn’t include my own products. My own line is broken up like this:

• album templates

• page templates

• journaling cards/printable cards

• brushes and stamps

• digital paper


How do you handle all the shots you take with your iPhone?

Every day I plug my phone into my computer, open Photos and import any photos taken that day. Then I delete the images from my phone. I don’t need to use my phone to keep or store photos. I can always access the most recent 1,000 images in my photo stream if I need to, but I bring every photo I take into Photos and there it resides.

Note: I do not use Photo Stream on my computer, however. It bugged me that the photos were automatically added to my Photos library. I like to pick and choose what comes off of my phone and into my library.


Speaking of your phone, what are your favorite photography apps?

Photo copy

I have pared down the photography apps in recent months to be just the apps I actually use. In order of use, they are:

Instagram (for photo sharing)

PicTapGo (for photo editing)

KeyCam (for self timed shots)

Diptic (for creating multi-image collages)

Big Lens (for creating depth of field effects)

Facebook Camera (For posting to Facebook only)

Finger Focus  (for creating depth of field effects)

AU Mobile (for making photo books)


How do you back up your digital photos?

Yes! My favorite subject. Okay, it’s not really my favorite, but I will tell you this: if my house burns to the ground, my photos are safe and here’s why:

I use two back up systems: one on-site, and one—and this is key—off-site. First, my on-site solution, the Apple Airport Time Capsule.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.25.16 PM

This baby kills two birds with one stone. It serves as my wi-fi delivery system as well as my hourly back up of my content. I chose a 3TB model because I’ve got a lot files to back up. I back up everything to this. All of my photos, music and day-to-day work content. It has replaced my former system of two external hard drives. So far, it has been a seamless product.

Next up, my off-site system, CrashPlan.

Screen Shot 2013-11-25 at 2.24.21 PM

CrashPlan backs up only my user information on my Mac (my settings, my email, my photos and my music). I like to think of this as my Photo Insurance Plan. If all Hell were to break loose, I would still have my photos. Honestly, that’s the only thing that really matters to me in terms of my digital life. I pay roughly $60 annually for this service.

If my system ever crashes and truly burns, I’ll let you know how glad I was that I chose an off-site back up.

Note: I had to use their Seed Drive service for my initial back up. If you have a lot of files, it can be exruciatingly slow (as in months) to get a full back up over the internets. Because I had over 40,000 photos, I paid extra to have a hard drive delivered to my doorstep, I loaded all my content onto that drive, then shipped it back to CrashPlan. It has been running smoothly ever since.


What about your pre-digital photos? How do you store and display those?


All my pre-digital photos are in photo albums up through 2003. I recently did a post about my photo album goals that you can read here. I keep the negatives (remember those?) in boxes in my closet. I use one type of album, the Kolo Hudson. I buy a few every so often to keep on hand so that when I finally get around to printing more photos, I have a place to put them. My blog post covers this in detail, but my goal is to print about 100 (okay, maybe 150) photos for each year, starting in 2004, to put into albums. That might seem like I’m going to miss a whole lot of photos, but honestly, I don’t think every photo needs a home in an album. It’s all about culling and summarizing.


How do you store files related to individual page layouts?

Since I started scrabooking back in 2001, I’ve included some form or another of a digital process. Usually, it was the base of a page—titles, journal blocks—and then the photos that went along with it. For the first handful of years, I simply scanned every finished layout, regardless of the amount of digital or hybrid process that went into it, and saved the scans by year.

Then starting in 2007, I created a folder for each layout I did during the year, complete with all pertinent files. I have done this for every layout since then, whether it’s hybrid or digital.

I include the final scan of the page (if it’s hybrid) in the folder, as well. I think of each layout as a job. Graphic designers archive their jobs with all the content in one folder. This is the approach I take with my scrapbook layouts. Do I need to keep all of the working parts of any given layout project? Probably not, but I do it anyway.



How do you organize your day/time/work?

This question was posted on my Facebook page. Monday through Friday I drive one or both kids to school every morning. (They start at different times.) Ideally, I’ll exercise first thing. Ideally being the operative word. Right now, it’s been walking on the treadmill with the tiniest amounts of running mixed in. If I exercise first, I usually sit down ready to work at 9:30. I use iCal to keep on track with what needs to happen each day. I generally work until Noon or 1, then take a lunch break. Then it’s back up to the office.

During this time, I mix in laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping and meal prep, granted not every day. I try to take one morning a week to just clean the house to free up time on the weekend.

I usually stop working around 4 p.m. most days, to get dinner ready, or ferry kids to and from wherever it is they need to be.

Which leads me to weekends. I do work nearly every weekend, usually in the mornings. Now before you think, “Dude, bummer!” it really is part of the self-employed process. Sometimes I do my best work on the weekends, especially doing product design. Working on the weekend will also free up other chunks of time during the regular work week. It’s always a give and take that I’m grateful to have.


Are there any areas I coulda should woulda covered? If so, leave a comment and I’ll try to add it to this post to make it as comprehensive as possible.






Cathy ZielskeStuff and processes I use for doing the stuff I do

57 Comments on “Stuff and processes I use for doing the stuff I do”

  1. #1

    Thanks LOADS for this post, especially the info on handling photos and backup! I’m adding this post to the top of my references… This is a gem, as are you and all the help and inspiration you so graciously give.
    Cheers and happy Thanksgiving.

  2. #2

    Waouh…thanks for all these informations ! I found them very clear and…helpful !Have a nice thansgiving. Hello from France 🙂

  3. #4
    mary e.

    awesome post. have been trying for over a year to get my digital photo workflow established. This was REALLY helpful.

    I’d only add one other question: How did / do you work your non-digital photos into a ‘seamless’ system? I have a couple of BIG boxes of non-digital photos that I want to include in a system. I am embarking on a very minimal, clean-lined approach, and don’t want multiple different kinds of album spines, etc. Would you just cull like a madman, and then create a few ‘pre-digi’ books, or would you scan the oldies but goodies, and make a digital book?

    Always interested in your perspective, Cathy, as I share your love of simple expression.

  4. #5

    Hi Cathy! Thanks for the great post…really comprehensive, and of course laced with your fabulous personality!

    I have one question. Give me something physical to organize and I am a junior master, but I struggle with digital organization (emails, photos, documents and bookmarks). I bookmark every great idea (bad habit). Do you bookmark stuff you find online? If so, how do you organize stuff like bookmarks, documents and emails?

    Thanks again for the great post!

  5. #6

    Great question Mary e! I pulled out all of my non-digital photos yesterday and was surprised at the volume. I have managed to scan all the heritage photos, but what to do with the rest…? I can’t wait to see Cathy’s reply.

  6. #8

    All my predigital stuff is also filed into boxes in my closet. Much of it, of course, resides in photo albums and that is where they will stay, in photo albums.

    I use one kind of album, Kolo, and Im working through 2003 presently but got hung up and stopped in early September. I need to add that info! Thanks!

  7. #9

    Excellent post Cathy. I too am an Apple convert after years in a pc. The intergration of all my devices along with my dh’s is well worth it. I don’t think we could survive without our various synched iCals.

    btw, loved the commercial for Diptic. 🙂

  8. #13

    Oooh. Thats a good question. Now I have a Mac, so I do use Mac Mail features to organize my email that I need to keep (again, I create folders with Rules so certain emails go to certain places). And bookmarks… i recently reorganized mine when I got my new computer. Let me figure out how to add this to either this post, or another.

  9. #15

    whoa.. this helps cathy, thank you, One more question computer related kinda..I love your glasses and was wondering what type of lenses you wear when working on the computer? I recently got progressive lenses and am having a terrible time. Since you’re at the computer alot I was wondering what has worked for you?

  10. #16


    Once again, you have nailed it! Thanks for sharing your insight and process. Always great when you share your ideas with us.

  11. #17

    Thanks for sharing. It is true about how slow off-site backup will be if you have lots of files. I am using Carbonite and started in June and it is just now only at 77% Crazy. Happy Thanksgiving!

  12. #19

    Well funny you should ask. My new glasses (I got them last spring) are HORRIBLE for the computer. I have to tilt my head back to see… so, last week I went to Costco and ordered what they call Office Glasses. I asked them, Hey, can i just have my reading prescription (the bottom part) in the whole lens? They said, Oh no… we dont do that! We do an office glass, which should help! So I am waiting for them to come in and test them out. Because this is SO not working for my ergonomics.
    Stay tuned!

  13. #20

    Hello! This is a great post; thank you Cathy. I am wondering…I know it is archaic, and maybe you’ve already covered this in an old post, but what is your camera set up? DSLR type, your go to lenses, do you downsize the craziness at all when you upload it to your computer, etc.? Also, do you use RAW or .jpg format?

    Have a great Thanksgiving. We are across the pond in Norway for another year and then back to Seattle for good (one could only hope). Tusen takk! (thanks a lot in Norwegian)

  14. #21

    Thank you for this post! I am about to update my aging macbook to a new macbook pro and have been wondering about the Time Capsule and off site vs the two hard drives I currently use. Do you find any slow down in your internet when the time capsule is running?

    You also have me thinking of going back to iPhoto for organization. I upload and do all my editing in Lightroom, it makes it tough to find original photos if I need too.

    Thanks for the inspiration Cathy!

  15. #22

    Thanks for sharing. I was wondering how you organize/store your layouts. I’m assuming you mix up your traditional, hybrid and digital layouts. From what I’ve gathered, you have separate PL albums, but do you store your other layouts chronologically or more by subject (like Stacy Jillian’s Library of Memories).

  16. #28

    Wow what a great post – already sent my husband the section on CrashPlan he’s been researching offsite storage especially for our very large collection of pics. Curious…. are you still in love with RadLab – because I see it will be on sale this week?!?!

    Have a wonderful, happy Thanksgiving!!!!

  17. #32

    Still more questions, you may have gotten more than you bargained for with this post… How do you organize your paper within that folder?

  18. #33

    Cathy, Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post. Your personal info is so helpful, no need to reinvent the wheel. Now to study all the tips. Thanks again. Vicki

  19. #34
    Katie B

    Thank you Cathy for laying all this out for us. So awesome & helpful. My question is about using iPhoto with PS/PSE–if I open a photo from iPhoto then edit in PSE, I feel like I never know what is going to be saved back to the iPhoto library–the original or the edited version. I finally gave up on this a couple of years ago and just use Adobe Bridge, but I would love to go back to iPhoto if I knew a clear workflow that would keep both my edited photos and the originals, and would keep them together.

  20. #36

    Katie, my understanding is that if you set PSE to be the editor, your shots open in PSE, and when you save, it saves it back into iPhoto. I think…

  21. #37
    Pilbara Pink

    Thank you so much for this. Last week I bought the 27″ Mac after declaring I would never again have a desktop computer as we have ipads and iphones and I thought a laptop was just fine. However, when mine died following a couple of close together power cuts (still `debating, the damage with the utility company!)I opted for the big boy. I realised I only used the computer for photos and scrapbooking so the massive screen after upgrading from an 11″ Macbook it is a bit overwhelming) is perfect as I can so easily see what I am working on. Appreciate your comments on backup and tagging files and photos – next year all photos get tagged, not sure I have it in me to do that retrospectively! Happy Thanksgiving from Western Australia

  22. #39
    Shelby cariker

    Thanks for the post. Loved the part about only printing 150 pics per year for photo albums. For some reason I got behind on ordering pics in February and now it would cost a small fortune to get them all printed, not to mention how many photo albums it would take! I am doing project life, and do shutterfly books on special things like the boy’s sports, so maybe there is no point. Also, one question…why do you prefer time capsule to external hard drive? I use a Mac book pro and back up to hard drive. Thanks again!

  23. #41
    Pilbara Pink

    Hey Cathy, I am about to purchase PSE but it just occured to me do I have to buy a Mac specific version or is does it run across both Windows and Mac? I guess question in itself demonstrates my complete lack of knowledge of how this works! However, mastering PSE and my Silhouette are next year’s challenges 🙂

  24. #42

    Shelby, its just one less thing. Its my wifi and my back up together, and it seems to be working really well! Plus, my hard drives seem to die annually. I think I should plug in one more just to be safe. Actually, I have one of my old ones still plugged in, but it just sits there with old, old data on it. : )

  25. #44
    Abby P.

    Great post – so informative. Re your 8750 printer – I have one too. 6×4 printing always resulted in photos “falling off” an edge, and I could never get YOUR 8.5×11 template to print full-page. Don’t know why your’s were the only ones effected (affected??)? TIP: make sure you have it on a sturdy non-moving surface. Mine wasn’t and after years of wiggling a tad while printing, the usb port got jacked-up. Awesome printer; can’t use it till the port is fixed, if it CAN be fixed. Boo-hoo. Have an awesome Thanksgiving!

  26. #45

    Just start tagging going forward with your pics and don’t come up with so many categories to make it difficult. I tag with everyone’s names and have 4-5 other categories that I know I might want later (holiday, food, etc.). I tag all new pictures that come in and go back and tag old ones when I feel like it.

  27. #47
    Veronica Zwiers

    I have a new mac fresh out of the box…. thank you so much for a chance at knowing how I could possibly organize stuff on this powerful machine. GOODBYE PC!!! The only frustrating thing is re-purchasing all the programs.

  28. #48


    How do you easily move your photos from iPhoto to Photoshop for editing with RadLab and then back? I find the organization in iPhoto to be great but the exporting to Photoshop and back again for backup and organization too many steps. I’m wondering if there is a simpler way than I’m doing.


  29. #49

    Well thats a good question. I SHOULD just have my photos open from iPhoto into PS for editing. Then, when you save, it saves it right into iPhoto.

    Did you know you could set iPhoto to open your shots right in your preferred editor (PS) and that when you save, it saves it in iPhoto? Granted, it saves your changes so that original photo is now edited. : )

  30. #50
    Jenny B.

    I’m wondering… Does the Airport Time Capsule work like an external hard drive that you can access via wi-fi? I’m thinking about getting a Mac Book Pro. I won’t have enough memory on the laptop for all my photos and digital scrap supplies, so I’m wondering if I could store them all in the Time Capsule and access them when I need them? Do you know if that would work? I’m trying to read lots of stuff online, and I consider myself fairly tech-savvy, but most of what I’m reading is like a foreign language to me. So, I thought I would ask you. 🙂

  31. #51


    I like the new site, but for me, the links show up as this really light aqua color which is hard to read against the white. Just wanted you to know.

    1. #51.1
      Cathy Zielske

      Hey Abbey, I’m looking into changing that! I’m waiting for some instructions from the developer so I don’t mess up something I’m not supposed to. 🙂

  32. #52

    Hi Cathy,

    I often find myself searching for this post. I have since bookmarked it, but was wondering if you could add it under your categories at the top right of your webpage?


  33. #53

    While looking for the very best possible online resource concerning Video gaming
    notebook computer I’ve discovered your internet
    site as well as found it insightful and also actually fascinating.

    I’ve learned a whole lot by just reviewing few of your articles as well as individuals conversations
    as well as I wish you could continue composing even more
    regarding this topic in the future for the benefit of other people.

    I hope you can showcase the current laptop computer computers produced gaming on your next upgrade.

  34. #54

    It’s been a while since I have actually located a blog site deserving to be called an expert blog
    site. I am truly amazed on your style of composing and
    every words that you have composed are really understandable and really insightful.
    I hope you would certainly continue discussing your understanding and also suggestions to make sure that visitors
    like us will certainly discover more regarding this topic.
    Again I will certainly see your blog a lot
    more commonly and ideally you can additionally check my blog site
    and let me understand exactly what more could I do to boost it.

  35. #55

    It’s been a while considering that I have actually found a blog site worthwhile to be called
    an expert blog site. Again I will certainly visit your blog more frequently
    as well as hopefully you can also examine my blog as well as let me understand what a lot more can I do to enhance it.

  36. #56

    It’s been a while since I have actually discovered a blog site worthy to be called a professional blog.

    Once more I will visit your blog a lot more frequently
    and hopefully you could additionally examine my blog
    and also allow me understand exactly what much more could I do to boost it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *