To me, one of the best things to come out of Hewlett-Packard and Apple's alliance to sell HP-branded iPods is the iPod tattoo. Because Hewlett-Packard makes some of its money selling printers, ink, and custom paper, it seemed a no-brainer for the company to develop a specialized paper that lets you wrap a printout around your iPod--the HP Printable Tattoo.

I loved the idea when I first heard it: a cheap and easy way to give my iPod a touch of personalization, so I kept my eye out for an opportunity to buy the paper. I found mine at the Santa Clara, California, Fry's, where a ten-pack of sheets cost me $15.

Now came the fun of creating a graphic and printing it. Printing these things is more fraught with peril than you might think--the problem is getting the size of the graphic right and getting your software to print the graphic at the top of the page. There are easy ways to get it done, however.

Inside the pack of ten tattoos is a practice sheet that you can photocopy and use to help line everything up. Frankly, it's fairly close to useless, unless you want to waste a lot of ink and paper. Fortunately you can get a PDF version that is much more helpful. Visit http://ztxmgmwspro08-f.cce.hp.com/activitycenter/us/en/music/tattoo.jsp and click on the link to the Tattoo Gallery. Here you will find a good number of decent designs for a tattoo, as well as a link over on the right titled "Get a printing practice sheet." Clicking on this will get you a PDF called diecut_sheet.pdf, which is a two-page PDF of both sides of the practice sheet included in your tattoo pack. I immediately renamed it tattoo_practice.pdf.

TIP: If you don't have Adobe Photoshop and want to change the PDF into something you can use in another graphics package, Preview will open the PDF and allow you to save a page as a JPEG. Just select File -> Export.

Now fire up Adobe Photoshop and open tattoo_practice.pdf. Because the file is a PDF, Photoshop will ask you to select a page; you want the first. You then will be asked how you want the image rendered--the process of creating a bitmap from your PDF. I usually double the number of pixels, to 144 per inch. When it opens you will notice two things. One, we have a perfect guide for creating our image, and two, the guide is see-through-- the PS checkerboard background is visible through it.

TIP: If you use 144 pixels per inch, you get a document that is 1,224 pixels wide by 792 high. The area of the actual tattoo, then, is 580 pixels high by 770 from side to side, including the wraparounds. The actual front fascia is 330 to 360 pixels wide, depending on where you measure it.

At this point I go to the Layer menu and create a new fill layer in a solid white. Cmd-] sends this to the back; Cmd-+ zooms the screen in, and I have an onscreen image that matches the practice sheet in the packet.

Now, to Create the Image

I often create a new window for this, so press Cmd-N for a new window. I vary the size of the window I create according to the images I will be working with. I figure that eventually I want to paste an image that is about 600 by 800 pixels, to allow for bleed and a little wiggle room. If I am working with large, high-resolution images, I might create a window two or four times that size. This is so that any jaggies I might create by rotating, stretching, or otherwise manipulating my images will shrink out when I resize the image just prior to pasting it into my template.

I've found that collages seem to work well. Two methods I've found yield good results. One was to have a white background with oval images "healed" at the edges to blur them in a little. The other was to create a light wood-grain background and then create a pile of "photos" with the old white borders. I create the photo look by first resizing the images canvas 20 pixels wider and higher with a white fill, and then 2 pixels higher and wider with a black fill.

Figure 1. The finished image as it looks in Photoshop. Notice that I have inverted the guide layer to make it easier to see against a dark image.

Now hide the guide layer and flatten the layers. Save the image as a PDF, and we are ready to print it.

Printing the image in exactly the right part of the page can be fraught with peril. The main source of problems is that almost all software wants to center the image vertically on an A4 or letter page, regardless of any efforts to persuade it otherwise. Fortunately all our problems disappear if we have a PDF file and one piece of free software, Adobe Reader. If you don't have it, go to http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html; Adobe will be more than happy to give you the program.

Open your PDF in Adobe Reader, change the Page Setup to Letter, and then select File Menu -> Print. That opens up the dialog shown in Figure 2. Make sure you have selected a Page Scaling of None and that Auto-Rotate and Center is not checked. You can then check out the print settings to get a good, high-quality output (I set the paper type to Photo Inkjet Paper, turn off high speed, and set the dots per inch to 720) and then click on the Print button.


Figure 2. The Print dialog in Adobe Reader 6.

One final word. The Printable Tattoo paper has a cutout to let the click wheel show through. On my fourth-generation iPod I can peel the circle off the backing and place it back into the cutout, and the wheel still works perfectly. Since I go to all this trouble to create a tattoo, I don't see any reason to waste space on a gray wheel.