Google Drawings is G Suite for Education app that every educator should know about. It is an easy way to create simple graphics (e.g. venn diagrams, KWL charts, flow charts) and edit images. Since Drawings is a Google App, you have the same ability to share, embed, and download the images in multiple formats, including .jpg, .png and .svg.

This post focuses on editing images using layers and masks.

Here is a simple example that I mocked up in a matter minutes. The image comes courtesy of Pixabay. (Yay, Pixabay!) Here I focused on Spanish vocabulary, but this could as easily be cell structure, anatomy and physiology, art history, geography and more.

Original Image:

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Edited image:

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It is easy to insert shapes, callouts, overlays and backgrounds in Drawings. That is what I have done in the image above. From back to front there is 1) a rectangle shape with a transparent line border and a complementary color fill, 2) the image itself and 3) a number of callout text boxes with the vocab words. This is simple but it makes a statement.

Recently I’ve explored some advanced functions in Google Drawings. The three I’ll outline below work as layer masks and filters. These are functions that you’d typically have to execute in Photoshop, but with some creative licence and next-level understanding of the “Crop,” “Arrange” and “Image options…”, you can achieve the effects easily.


Crop

This is a function that has been hiding in plain sight. Typically, I click on crop and free  crop the image to edit it or shift crop the image to keep the keep the scale the same but resize the image. I have recently discovered the “Mask image” pull-down menu. This enables all the available shapes, arrows, callouts and equations as layer masks. The original image above becomes a more dynamic work.

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Playing with “Image options…” and adding a background layer and a shape with gradient fill gives us a daguerreotype for history projects, biographies, etc. There is no blur effect available yet, but you can hack that by making a copy of the image, tweaking the transparency and skewing it slightly. Shift + arrow keys will let you nudge objects and images until they are just right.

daguerreotype


Arrange

The arrange function allow you to create different layers in a project, as you might in Photoshop. While the blending and linking options among layers are somewhat limited, the arrange function in Google Drawings allow you to “Bring to front,” “Send to back,” “Bring forward” and “Send backward.”

In the image above, there are four layers. From back to front these are the black background, the gradient gray rectangle, the masked image and a copy of the same image. You could feasibly create many more layers, and if you used the “Group” function wisely, these would become too unruly to work with.

Now the fun part. By arranging layers and tweaking their transparency, you can create filters like you would in social media apps. Here is how: 1) Recolor the original image to Light 1. 2) Bump the contrast up a touch. 3) Overlay the filter image (any color or filter you find) and set the transparency to about 50%. 4) Bring the filter lay to the front. Filters can be a gradient as below or any solid color. As long as it’s set as the top layer and as long as the transparency is right, you have yourself a filter. To make things even more fun, you can “Recolor” just about any layer so one will do the job for almost any occasion. It’s just a matter of finding the right image color/contrast levels between layers

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Image options

The “Image options…” allows you to recolor the image with 23 filters in addition to adjust the transparency, brightness and contrast of the image. By applying different image options to layers, you can achieve a number of different effects. These could be licenced for reuse with modification images students find on Pixabay of Google or, better still, they could be original images students create.

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Free. Easy. Integrated with your other apps and ready to use and share in an instant. In some ways this combines the fun of instant photography and social media with the power, performance and professionalism of G Suite. I have seen students respond well to this tool. Students are creative and they live in a world where remixing and sharing images are part of their daily routine. How can we harness this sense students have to create something more meaningful than Snaps? How can we use opportunities like this to help students distinguish between high and low quality images…between images worth of sharing in a school setting and those that are not? How can we as teachers use this tool to take our own understanding of media to task if necessary?

How might you use these advanced functions in Google Drawings? Spruce up slideshows, make infographics, create badges, create icons and graphics for blog posts, create posters and digital signage for classrooms, embed lessons about design and digital citizenship into everything from lab reports to history research papers.

This week, I am going to do a one day project where I will give students a template of a Drawings and ask them to create a playbill for a drama we just finished. I have set up and minimized the layers, filters, and text boxes; they will have to put their personal spin on the Drawings to create their own playbill. If this works according to plan we’ll scale it up after spring break.

Are there downsides? Yes. First, Drawings is currently not available as a mobile app. Second, I find it hard to set the workspace dimensions beyond the defaults. Third, the text and shape selection is somewhat limited compared to Photoshop. Nevertheless, neither any of these specifically nor the sum of these would make me dump Drawings for most projects.

Explore all Google Drawings has to offer. If you outgrow it, or if you want to app-smash your work, try pulling your Drawing into Canva, Adobe Spark or other apps.

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