Desktop Calendar using Variables

I would venture to say that most people customize their desktops with personal images to change from the default operating system selection. Adding some functionality to that image on the desktop by means of a calendar can make it more useful and in fact force you to refresh the image a least on a monthly basis. This a two part post. In part one we will use Photoshops Variables feature to create the calendars and in part two we will use Lightroom 3 to place those calendars as watermarks.

First we need to create the calendar itself.┬áIf you don’t want to design one of your own you can download this PSD file to work with.

In this example I have set the number of weeks to six instead of four. This is because the first days of the month are not going to fall on a Monday and the last days are not necessarily going to fall on a Sunday. Also its often useful to see the trailing and preceding days of the months either side of the current month.

Since the data will change on a monthly basis you could choose to create a new calendar each month or you could use Photoshops Variables to automatically change the data.

Defining the Variables

As I said, you could type the days in each month manually but I set myself a challenge to learn a little bit about the Variables function inside Photoshop. Basically what this allows you to do is define which areas or what information in your file will change. In this case the variable data will be the name of the months and the numbers of the days in relation to the day they fall upon. Each of the numbers are on separate layers and have been grouped into weeks. This makes it easier to identify and select them when we define them as a variable.

To define the variables go to the Image Menu and select Variables > Define. From the Layer drop down list select each layer in turn and check the box for Text Replacement. In the box, enter the name of the column where the data is.

In our example I have created columns that relate to the number of the week and the day. IE. w1su = week one Sunday.

Do this for each of the variables you have in the file. In this case, Monday through Friday for six weeks and of course the name of the month itself. This is the most tedious and least creative part of this assignment.

Specify a Data Set

Once the variables are defined then we can go about creating a data set. The data set is simply the values that we will swap out on the master file. The tricky thing about the set is the way in which it is written. In this example a plain text file will work but try creating an excel spreadsheet too. My data was created in Apple’s Numbers program and saved as a .csv file. It is the .csv file that will be targeted in Photoshop. Since the dates for each month are a known value, this data can be produced ahead of time for the entire year. You can download the 2011 data here

Here you can see how the data looks as plain text. The first line is the column headers separated by commas. On the following lines is the data separated by commas with a return at the end of each line.

When you have created the Data Set, return to Photoshop and import it. Image > Variables > Data Sets… Use the Import button to select your file and keep both “Use First Column For Data Set Names” and “Replace Existing Data Sets” checked.

Turning on the Preview will show you if you are going to get the desired results. If so, select OK.
Note that your file will return to its previous state. Don’t worry this is normal. What you have done is specified to Photoshop which layers are Variable and where the data is going to come from. Save your file, you’ve done a lot of work.

Using the data Sets

To create a new file using the data select File > Export > Data Sets as Files…. Select a location to save to All Data Sets or choose a specific data set.

You will have the option to export all data sets, resulting in 12 files – one for each month, or selecting a single set for a specific month. The file(s) will be a PSD file which is great because now we can refine certain things about our file. For instance the preceding and trailing dates could be a different color or simply faded in opacity. Open the file for the month you want to work with and make your changes. In the examples at the top of the post I have simply changed the color of the preceding and trailing dates. I will also hide the background to leave me with a transparent background.

Create the Watermark Image

To use in the next step of this project select File > Save for Web and Devices… If you chose to make your calendar transparent in any way then you’ll want to choose PNG-24 as your file format.

Part one is done. Now let’s use that PNG file in Lightroom.

NOTE: Once you have defined the variables you can modify the design or layout of the master file. Just be sure not to rename any of the layers or move them from one group to another. If you want all your numbers to appear as a row along the bottom of your screen, go ahead, move them.

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