Hardware and Software 3.7. Graphics and Image Editing

3.7.1. Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop, the graphics editor developed and published by Adobe Systems, is the current market leader for image editing. It comes in two versions: a full version that sells for around $600 and a scaled-back version, Adobe Elements that can be purchased for under $100. It is far and away the industry standard for image editing. The current version is CS3; the CS stands for “Creative Suite” and points to one of the application’s most noteworthy strengths. Adobe produces a suite of products (which expanded in Creative Suite 2 with the addition of Macromedia software, no officially “Adobe” software: Illustrator (vector-based graphics), InDesign (desktop publishing), Acrobat (PDF file manipulation and generation), Premiere Pro (video editing), AfterEffects (video motion graphics and special effects), Soundbooth (sound editing―formerly, Audition), and Encore (DVD menu creation and DVD authoring). The suite also includes the major Macromedia products Dreamweaver (Web site/page creation), Flash (animation), Fireworks (Web graphics), and Contribute (content management system). All these applications are designed to work seamlessly with one another so you can create graphics for the Web with Photoshop, optimize them in Fireworks, and make them into Web pages with Dreamweaver.

Primarily designed to edit print-output images, most people use Photoshop to prepare Web-published images. The full version comes with powerful image optimization features that allow you to achieve the highest possible compression (small file size) while maintaining high quality. These features are bundled in a stand-alone application called ImageReady that used to ship with the full version of Photoshop and is now packaged separately as Adobe Fireworks.

Photoshop also has some vector image editing tools. A vector image is actually a complicated mathematics construct that allows for completely smooth lines when outputted to a printer. The premier vector image editing application is Adobe Illustrator. Vector image creation and editing is an advanced topic―most users never even come close to using vectors and most of the brave who try, give up.

The real distinguishing feature in Photoshop is its use of layers which allows you to composite images, that is, combine two or more images to form a single image. Photoshop allows you to “stack” images one on top of one another in a single image file. This allows you to change one layer without affecting any other layer. It also allows you to mix or combine images between layers through blending. The layer and compositing features will become for you the most powerful features you can use; the Photoshop layer interface is the industry’s leader in terms of features and ease-of-use.

The second most distinguishing feature in the application is the array of filters that come with the program. These are various tools that allow you to change an image in a very select way. For instance, the Blur filter allows you to partially blur the image. The Sharpen filter allows you to sharpen the image. Other filters allow you to turn a photograph into a pencil drawing, a film image, or a stained glass mosaic. Once you’ve discovered filters, be prepared to spend the next couple days playing every which you can with your images!

Photoshop is a large and difficult program to master. It is a veritable mountain range of features, many of which are not understandable without a serious background in imaging or graphic design. Unfortunately, many of the features you do want to use are buried in this mountain range. To use Photoshop, you use tools and features in the menu, in a context menu, in window menus, and at the bottom. So it’s very easy to get lost when all you want to do is resize an image or turn it into black and white.

However, this feature-richness makes Photoshop a highly rewarding program to get to know really well. It can be hard work and require you spend a couple hundred dollars on Photoshop books, but in as little as a month you can be achieving remarkable graphics results.

Photoshop is also a pricey program, clocking in at around $650 for the standard version and $1,000 for the extended version. You can also purchase the program bundled with other software in the various Creative Suite 3 packages, ranging from a standard CS3 (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and Acrobat to the budget-busting, take-all-of-me CS3 Master Collection for $2,500. Adobe really is the gold standard in most of these applications, so you should carefully evaluate what you need and how much time you have to learn these programs before you begin thinking about price. If your needs are commensurate with any of the Creative Suites, price should not be a factor. At the same time, if your needs are modest, the Adobe applications are the equivalent of elephant guns. If you’re just swatting mosquitos, you don’t need an elephant gun.

3.7.1.1. The Photoshop Guru’s Handbook Photoshop Tutorials

http://www.photoshopgurus.com/tutorials/tutorials.html

If you don’t want to spend $50 or more for a Photoshop book, there are plenty of online resources that can help you get started and teach you many Photoshop tricks. The best of the beginner’s tutorials are on the Photoshop Guru’s Handbook Web site. The beginning tutorials orient you to the program, teach you the main tools, introduce you to layers, blending, and channels (three of the most powerful aspects of the application), and walk you through some simple design projects.

3.7.2. GIMP

http://www.gimp.org

The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is a free software image editor originally designed for Linux (it comes standard on most Linux distributions); it was intended as a free software replacement for Photoshop. However, if you’re not a Linux or UNIX user, the most current version can downloaded for use in Linux, Windows, or Macintosh OSX. It has many of the same features as Photoshop, but it’s much less powerful in layers and vector graphics and considerably less capable at handling print graphics. However, GIMP does equal Photoshop in many of its filters.

GIMP can be used to manipulate and resize photographs, create graphics and logos, edit colors, composite images, remove unattractive image features, and save to various formats. GIMP is not a scaled-down Photoshop; it offers advanced image editing, manipulation, and professional graphics creation.

GIMP was the first major free application and is used by many outside the “geek” community. It is not, however, Photoshop. It does not have features vital to preparing images or graphics for print, such as Pantone support (Pantone is a system of mixed inks for exact color printing), CMYK support (CMYK, for Cyan-Magenta-Yellow-Black, are the four colors that printers use to render color), support for high color resolutions (very important in printing), or color matching (an advanced set of calculations that will make the screen version of the image closely match what the printed version should look like). So the application’s usability really is limited to producing images for electronic output, like Web pages or CD-ROMs.

3.7.2.1 Grokking the GIMP

http://gimp-savvy.com/BOOK

GimpSavvy is a set of tutorial and resources for learning and using GIMP. One of its central resources is a Web-based version of the New Riders book, Grokking the GIMP, by Carey Banks. Published under an open publication agreement, Grokking the GIMP is perhaps the fullest and richest introduction to any application available online for free. If you decide to save your money and skip Photoshop for GIMP, Grokking The GIMP should be one of your top bookmarks.

Grokking the GIMP covers GIMP basics and how to use its various tools, including layers, selections, and masks. The book then moves on to discuss basic color and how to perform tasks such as image correction, enhancement, and compositing. The book also includes nine projects that walk you through a set of image editing tasks.

3.7.3. Web-Based Image Editors

None of the Web-based image editors even come close to Photoshop or GIMP. In fact, they don’t even come close to Photoshop Elements. However, they do have the benefit of being free and very easy to use. Except for Image Author and NexImage, many of the online applications do not give you the power to add type to an image, special effects, or create abstract images, like logos. If your image editing needs are very, very modest, you could save yourself a hundred bucks by trying out some of these free image editors.

Image Author

http://www.imageauthor.com

Image Author is a Java application that runs in your browser; to use it, you need to download the Java application first. Because it is a Java application, it will run on any system (Windows, Mac, and Linux) and provides the richest feature set of all online image editors. It comes the closest to being a free version of Photoshop Elements. It also supports type elements and will produce drawing objects, so you can create titles, captions, logos, drawings, and abstract design.

NexImage

http://demo.neximage.com

Neximage offers a pretty full feature set for editing images including layers (it is the only online application that allows for layers and compositing). Besides basic image manipulation, such as resizing, cropping, and color correction, NexImage also gives you type tools, compositing tools, and special filter effects. A free application, it is still in demo release.

VicImager

http://catenarysystems.com/demos/vicimager/vicimager2.aspx

VicImager is a free online photo manipulation application rich in features. Besides basic photo manipulation, the application offers artistic effects and type. It does not support layers or compositing.

NetImager

http://www.usltechnologies.com/netimager

Another Java-based image editor, NetImager is still in demo release as of the publication of this book. Like NexImage, it provides an incredibly rich set of basic image manipulation tools as well as more advanced tools, such as shape creation. Especially noteworthy are its layer and compositing tools, features it shares only with NexImage (another Java-based application). It does not, however, offer text creation or editing features.

Snipshot

http://snipshot.com

Snipshot is one of the most fully featured browser-based image editing applications. It, too, is free and offers simple image editing such as image manipulation, contrast, brightness, color editing, cropping, rotating, and resizing. It will output to GIF, JPG, PNG, PDF, or TIF files and is the only browser-based image editor that can make changes directly to image files you have on your own Web site. It also offers unlimited undo and redo, a feature you will only find otherwise in Photoshop.

Cellsea

http://www.cellsea.com/java-cellsea/media/index.htm

Cellsea performs image editing and manipulation tasks. It is free and offers a rich feature set for manipulating images: crop, resize, color correct (over fifteen color correction tools), artifact removal, filters to turn photos into artwork, blur (four blur effects), distortion, and twisting. It does not offer type support or the creation of abstract objects.

Picnik

http://www.picnik.com

Picnik allows you to do fairly simple image edits including image correction, cropping, rotation, and resizing. It is entirely Flash-based and does not require any kind of installations beyond the Flash 9 Player. You can use a free version or pay a subscription fee for the premium version, which is unreleased at the time of this book’s publication.

Pixer

http://www.pixer.us

A very simple, very basic image editor that allows you to upload an image, edit it, and save it back to your own computer. You can resize, crop, rotate, flip, blur, sharpen, fix colors, or edit the color saturation of your image.

Pixenate

http://pixenate.com

A free image editor with basic image manipulation and an easy-to-use interface.

Picture2Life

http://www.picture2life.com

Picture2Life is a free, very basic image editor that publishes your completed pictures to the Web. Currently in beta release, the application is primarily designed for MySpace and Flickr users.

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