Fa La La Photo Gifts: Change photos from plain to pizzazz with overlays in Adobe Photoshop

The forecast might call for sunny skies but make no doubt that the holiday season will be upon us soon. Take a look back at one of this year's top features from A&E magazine...

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The forecast might call for sunny skies and temperatures in the 80’s or 90’s where you are but make no doubt that the Christmas holiday season will be upon us quicker than Santa and his reindeer delivering goodies around the world. Here are some ideas to keep you calm, cool, and ready for those holiday sublimation sales by using graphic holiday-themed overlays with your customer’s photos. 


You may be asking, “Just what is an overlay?” It’s a modern word for clipart or graphic files that can be laid over or on top of another design, photo, or product to create a final piece. These versatile files can easily be added to the family photo your customer dropped off who requested a desire to make the photo into a custom gift on a photo panel but doesn’t want just the photo – she wants it to be in the spirit of the holiday season. Do you have anything to make it more festive looking? Why yes, you certainly do have something to fit her needs. This is where the theme overall can help you work some gift magic.

Note: Don’t forget to also use these for holiday promotions, showing the designs off in social media and paper flyers/invitations to a private shopper or open house event.

I’ve downloaded files from CreativeMarket, Squijoo, and Unisub.com (the graphic library under the Support section) to show you a few different ways you can easily add some pizazz to photographs in Photoshop. These sites are typically pay-as-you-go per item instead of loading credits in. File prices range from $7 to $70 depending on what you download. Squijoo is a membership site; at the time of this research, the cost was $10 per month. 

Review the commercial license agreement for each item and/or site as information can change. In some of the licenses’ information, you will need to read the details for commercial use – one project might be listed to use the download commercially but it’s 10 designs in the download (one project per separate design) and up to 500 produced copies. 

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When in Photoshop, always keep the artwork on its own layer, separate from the background image or main photo. This allows you to adjust the scale of the overlay item, and change the angle, color, or opacity in addition to using a Layer effect such as Multiply from the Layer Effects palette options. When adjusting the opacity, don’t forget to experiment with adjusting the fill or the opacity on the layer within the Layer’s window, depending on your final visual goal. Under the Layers Effects, you can also add a little stroke to your text or a slight drop shadow to pop the text off the page.

If you want to pull in some color from the graphic accent, use the Eye Dropper tool to add in colors from the overlay to your project for a completed cohesive color scheme. In the image example of the little girl holding the guitar, I tried some colors from the different overlays I added but ended up choosing white for the text color. This design would look great on a tile keepsake box or ornament as a gift item. The family photo put into a snowy ornament could be a great 16-by-20-inch ChromaLuxe MDF or metal print that is used as home décor during the holiday season. 

Overlays can range from accent elements to word arrangements with a seasonal saying, a border design of snowflakes (as seen on the little girls in cream-colored sweaters) to a bokeh light effect that can lightly cover an entire image.

Help your customer choose the overlay artwork based upon the image negative space, color, and look. Experimenting with the placement of the artwork with the image is the best way to figure out just the right place and size. Print off a color example or, better yet, sublimate an example on white so they can see the sublimated colors. Remember, what comes from your sublimation system will look different than your monitor or a color print-off.

To further guide your customer, pick the top 10 to 12 holiday gift products to showcase the available designs, products, and your sublimation personalization business. By doing this, you give customers easy ideas for holiday gifts, and they know they can come to you in the future for painless gift-giving.

Products to consider: 

  1. Personalized tile boxes
  2. ChromaLuxe photo panels with kickstands
  3. Serving trays
  4. Puzzles
  5. Coasters
  6. Picture frames
  7. Ornaments
  8. Magnets
  9. Interior wall décor/Signs of Life
  10. Slate photo stands

Don’t forget this is also a time of “two for you and one for me” shopping when customers purchase holiday gifts as well as something for themselves as a festive gift or holiday décor. Don’t be afraid to have outdoor signage/garden stakes on display with text calling out for Santa (Santa Stop Here), or a cuff bracelet or bezel charm necklace as something they can also pick up. By planning ahead on products, designs/artwork overlays, and promotions, you can be a leader that’s ready for the holiday rush. May your holidays be busy with sublimation sales!

Jennifer Foy

Jennifer Foy


Jennifer Foy has over 20 years of experience using Adobe software and working in the advertising, marketing, and design fields. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Visual Communications from the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, and a Master of Arts in Advertising from Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York. Her years of teaching experience include numerous software and design classes for colleges in Atlanta, Georgia, and Louisville, Kentucky. Jennifer is currently working as the Creative Director at Universal Woods with the Unisub and ChromaLuxe brands. Jennifer can be reached by email at [email protected]

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