How To Guide For Clustering Elements

NeeNee is a guest member of our team here at THE DAILY DIGI. You have probably noticed her mad clustering skills in her layouts that have been featured here. She just opened Studio NeeNee at Scrapbookgraphics last week, where she sells templates similar to her scrapping style! I asked her to share some tips with all of us on creating great clusters and she was sweet enough to agree!


Clustering is often considered a four letter word to many digital scrapbook artists. Although the cluster style is coveted by many in the community, it is understandable that there is a bit of apprehension to try it or even know where to begin. After all, finding just the right quantity, size and color of elements to fit in a small space and yet, make sure it does not appear as a jumbled mess can be overwhelming.
It is interesting to look back over my year and a half of digital scrapping and see how this clustering style I now have has evolved. In hopes that I can help you build some confidence to tackle the clustering style, I have set up a basic tutorial which will guide you through the process I use to create my layouts.
Before we begin, I want to share with you a short list of elements that I love to use in order to create those perfect clusters.
1. Ribbon – I love swirly ones that are at least half of the page or more in length.
2. String – again, give me some swirl and length. You can always erase the end to make it shorter.
3. Bows – any size will do. They are fun to place so they peek out from behind elements or go right on top of a cluster.
4. Scatter – I can not get enough of these. If a kit has it, you bet I am going to use it. It seems to add that perfect finish to my cluster.
5. Variety in the elements (size, color, texture, shape) – buttons, flair, flowers, stars, leaves, swirls, word art strips, date tags and stitching, just to name a few.

For my layout, I am using “You’re My Cup of Tea” kit by Sir Scrapalot Designs which is part of The Digi Files #12 this month. As soon as I looked at the kit preview I knew it had many great elements to make one awesome clustered layout!

When I begin a layout, I open up the lightest colored, un-patterned paper found in the kit (you can change this later but I like to focus more on the elements at this point rather than the paper), followed by every element. I then drag each element onto my paper so that each element is a layer in this file. As you can see, it looks like quite a jumbled mess right now.


I like to add shadows to my elements before I begin positioning any of them. This is a visual preference for me to allow me to see depth in my layers and gives more of a realistic look at what my finished product will be. For my initial shadowing, I like to use K Studio’s Shadows Perfected,which are available in a CU and PU version.
As I add a shadow to each element layer, I turn off the visibility of the layer. You do this by clicking the “eye” to the left of the layer image preview.


This is when I would bring my photo(s) into a layer(s) on my layout. Even though I do not begin using my photos until after I have a few basic elements in place, I like to bring them in at this point so I am visually thinking about them and what frame(s) I may want to use with them, if any. For this layout, I chose photos of my daughter and I.

Now I am ready to start on the composition of my layout. I begin by finding the element that is going to set the length of my layout’s focus or the stage for it. Remember how I told you that I love to have lengthy ribbons? This is where that type of element would come into play. So, what if you don’t have a ribbon? Most times, this is where I would use ric rac or even a skinny paper crop.

With my foundation in place, I then set my photo(s).


I like to begin the cluster by adding a few larger “key” elements at varied points on my foundation area. By adding in a fun, swirly string and 2 flowers at opposing ends of my largest picture, you can see how the layout is already starting to evolve.


When clustering, the most important things are making sure that you use a variety of sizes and shapes when selecting elements as well as their position in the layer of the cluster. You want to place elements so that they are behind or “peeking” out from behind other elements and not always just adding them to the top.

With that in mind, now I will go in and add a few more elements to start making some cluster areas out of the base points.

Notice in this screen shot below, that I added the small yellow button on the left which is slightly behind the flower. Over on the right, I added a heart behind the blue flower and even a yellow flower which is peeking from behind the heart. Then there is the little bow tied button on top of the heart, almost like it is holding it to the string. At this point I also decided to put the string behind my smaller photo, as it just was not visually appealing to me anymore being in front. I also felt that little photo needed something to hold it in place, which is why I added the covered button or flair piece.


Now, I want to go in and add just a few more elements to this foundation. This cluster is really starting to come together but, it is not yet complete. When I am creating a layout, I do a lot of moving around and usually find the position of my elements by trial and error. I move an element to a spot and do not like it so, I try it in another spot. Do not be afraid to resize it and make it smaller, flip it horizontally or vertically or even duplicate elements that you love. This is why we love digital scrapping, because there are no mistakes! If you do not like something, you try something different. Nothing has to be permanent.

On the next shot, you can see I added several more things. This kit happened to have a date tag already attached to a ribbon, which I added to the right of my main picture, underneath all the other cluster elements. I liked the look of this addition as it was but, had I not liked the ribbon, I could have just erased it and used just the tag or vise versa. I also added a pink flower peeking out from behind the blue flower as I visually just felt it was lacking in that space. Over on the left cluster, I felt that I needed to bring in some blue to help balance the color, so I duplicated the large blue flower and resized it smaller and tucked it behind the pink flower. I also added a ribbon with the word “love” spelled in bead letters as a layer behind both flowers. The last change I made was to add the pink puffed heart as a layer on top of all of the elements.


At this point, I am feeling as though my layout is reaching completion. Therefore, I do a quick scan through of the “invisible” elements that are left in my layers palette to see if there are any I feel should be added to my creation.
I made quite a few changes her to finalize my clustering. There were some adorable little tea cups that I felt just HAD to be added in and those were placed on the left cluster just under the blue flower and on the right side of the layout just under the heart covered button. This kit also had some fabulous word art as well as a scalloped border that were perfect additions. I added both of these to the layout at the back of the foundation right next to the background paper. Lastly, I changed my frame color on the large photo as I just felt there was too much pink and my daughter is not so girly.


Now for some finishing touches. I need to try out some other background options so that I can find the best back drop for my clustered masterpiece.

You will notice that I decided to break up the background using the scallop as a separation point and used 2 contrasting papers. This almost splits my cluster in half. I added my title, the date and moved the entire cluster area closer to the bottom of the page. The only thing I will add now is a bit of journaling and my clustered layout, will be complete!


Now you should have some basic information that will help you create a nice element cluster. You can always start small and work your way into some more advanced elaborate clusters. Just remember, Variety in shape, size and position of the layer are the key to creating a great clustered layout.

Now, get scrappin’!