Books Graphics Photoshop Reviews Workflow

Review: Gimp 2.8 for Photographers

GIMP WITH PICTUREWith Adobe’s Photoshop moving to the cloud and a subscription basis, there has been a strong movement of hobbysists and amateur photographers to seek an alternative image editing software that is less expensive and unthethered.

I have been teaching workshops on Image Editing for the past thirteen years and in the past few months the inquiries and requests that I teach a workshop with alternative image editing software have increased. I had absolutely no skills in any image editing software other than Photoshop and so I began to look into other ways to edit images to see what was available.

Right on time for my needs Rocky Nook sent me a review copy of Klaus Goelker’s new book Gimp 2.8 for Photographers: Image Editing with Open Source Software, and I immediately opened the back of the book and removed the DVD that is attached there and loaded Gimp 2.8 onto my computer.

Since Gimp 2.8 is an open source software, it is designed to run versions on Mac, Windows, and Linux. Though the screen shots of the application may look slightly different on each platform the essential elements and tools remain in the same menu places in each version.

The DVD explains how to install the application, and in addition to the application itself, the DVD contains a PDF version of the book. I immediately downloaded a copy of the PDF to my Dropbox account and then retrieved the PDF on my iPad mini so that I could read the book where ever I was and that it would lie flat (as an iPad is wont to do) and would not entail fighting the tendency of book pages to flip themselves out of position.

It took a while for the PDF to upload to Dropbox, and an a slightly less equal time for it to be retrieved by my iPad.  Transferring the PDF to a reader as my iPad mini gave me choices of iBooks, Notability, GoodReader, NoteTaker HD, Skitch, FileApp, and FileApp Pro, Bluefire Reader and Kindle as these were all reader applications I had loaded on my iPad mini. I chose IBooks for no other reason than it was the first of my options. I downloaded it first to my iPad mini but found the diagrams a bit small for my old eyes so I dug out my older iPad 2 and downloaded it again, and again opened it in iBooks. My old eyes appreciated this larger display of the screen shots that are used continuously throughout the book.    

As an aside here, I think that including a PDF version of the book along with the printed copy is a fantastic benefit. One of the things that I have always hated when I am trying to follow a step-by-step procedure in a printed book is the usual need to put weights on opposite sides of the book to hold the pages down to keep the book open while I work on the computer. The ability to use an iPad or similar reader to lie nicely flat beside my computer while I am working is of great value to me.  This keeps me from having to break the spine of the book so badly in order to lie flat that the pages start to break away from the binding. Damaging the book seems like a real waste when it is printed on acid free paper and of really excellent printing quality. OK, that’s my $.02 on that subject. On to Klaus Goelker’s excellent instruction book itself.

He begins his instruction with an introduction to the GIMP program itself and a general look at the arrangement of the windows and menus encountered in beginning to work with the program. This is followed with a discussion on printing and the drivers necessary for GIMP to work with various makes of printers.

Scanning and image calculation for scanning follows, along with the usual problems encountered in scanning. This includes moire effect and unsquare scanning that requires rotation to solve the unsquare image. This is done in a step by step manner that the newcomer to GIMP should practice. Moving on,  the author picks up correction in levels and color and exposure. (I should mention here that all the images that the author uses as examples are available on the DVD that accompanies the book and it is suggested that the student new to GIMP download the images and follow the step by step procedures as Klaus Goelker demonstrates them.)

Curves and the placement of control points (as well as how to remove them) are next demonstrated. Hue and saturation adjustments are next. Then there’s an overview of the functions from the Colors Menu. Saving an image for the Internet is next.

As demonstrations contine, Touchup work is the next topic. This includes Color Casts, then we move on to removing spots, dust, and scratches. Cloning  for retouching and rebuilding damaged images is shown. 

(While not all key commands are the same between the Mac and the PC and while it seems that most of these commands are demonstrated in the Windows versions, translating each to the Mac is relatively easy with a little experimentation –using only a single button mouse on the Mac is the culprit.)

Healing, filters, sharpening, noise reduction, Gaussian blur, Non Linear, Edge Enhancement, Simulating Film Grain, are all demonstrated in step by step procedures which use the sample images provided on the DVD which accompanies the book.

Part 3 of the volume introduces us to Masks and Layers and the corresponding painting, filling, and color tools. Selections and edit menus give us means of modifying our selections. Red eye removal is demonstrated along with suggestions as to how to avoid it in the first place. The seemingly magic abilities of layers and how they work is explored. Correcting over and under-exposed images can be corrected in layers. Using Perspective Correction shows how to eliminate out of parallel appearing lines in images taken at less than optimum camera angles.  Removing Lens Distortion, Making Perspective Corrections, and Reducing Vingetting are next.

Freshening a Dull Sky gives us another eleven pages of step by step procedures, and this is followed by adding a sun and sunlight modifications. Now the author introduces the procedures of adding text to an image; this includes creating three-dimensional text and drop shadows. Creating Vignettes and picture frames are next, followed by Lighting Effects and Shadow Layers.

Next in the step by step procedures is Extracting Image Objects with Select and Masking Tools. Using the Paths Tool to create Vector Forms and Selections is followed by the use of Filters for Light Effects.

Paths and Text are demonstrated, aligning images with the alignment tool, and the Cage Transform Tool are defined and demonstrated step by step. Cross-Fading with Masks and Selections are followed by ways to modify the canvas size.  This is well explained in nine pages of diagrams and screen shots.

One of the more interesting tools is the Foreground Select Tool and it is thoroughly explained over another seven pages. Then another six pages cover how to do the same masking technique with brushes. It’s complex, but the illustrations are more than adequate to grasp the technique. My only complaint up to this point is to wish that the author had at times used an annotation program to draw a square or circle around a particular menu so it was easier to more quickly follow just where an item was located.

HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging is defined. HDR imaging is beyond the standard download of GIMP until a number of add-ons on plug ins are added, but the author tells you where to go on the Internet to find the appropriate PC and Mac software to add HDR techniques.

Layer Masks are introduced with five pages of step by step instructions, and will work slightly differently than what the Photoshop user will expect. However, following the steps that are demonstrated will siffice for the novice user of GIMP.

Section 4 of the book concerns Working With Black and White and Color Images and is broken down into a number of exercises. It begins with Converting Color Images Partly or Entirely Into Grayscale Images. Using the Channel Mixer begins the discussion of converting color images to black and white, and using the GEGL techniques are briefly discussed. But GEGL techniques are an as yet incomplete part of GIMP 2.8 and leave much yet to another discussion when completed. Threshold, Desaturation, and simulated Infrared techniques are discussed and shown as exercises. The tricky techniques of using the Threshold function to separate hair from a background is demonstrated. It’s followed by the method of using Channels to extract an object from the background, and that section was followed by methods of Coloring Grayscale Images. That took another fourteen pages so you can see that it covered a number of techniques.

Section 5, looks at working with Other File Formats. Raw, Gimp and UFRaw (a user installed addition to the basic GIMP 2.8.0 but not the 2.8.2 version, but UFRaw can be operated as a stand-alone program), and RawTherapee take twenty five pages of discussion and explanation.

Finally, the use of PDF Formatting to Share Print Layouts begins to end the book. How to use GIMP to produce PDFs and a discussion of the available free alternative PDF Creation and Viewing Software. Open Office, Libre Office, and the PDF Import Plug-in for Open Office are introduced. NitroPDFReader includes PDF editing tools—available in both PC and Mac versions. Exporting and reading Photoshop’s PSD files with GIMP are not 100% compatible as so functions of PSD files fail to make the translation. A chart shows which functions are compatible.

An Appendix gives a couple of “Easter Eggs”—almost hidden gems of wisdom and a THANK YOU to the translator (Mr. Jeremy Cloot) who took the original text and translated it into English, and who did a very good job of it in my opinion.

It’s taken me 1,600 words or so to cover this review, as well as a solid week of following the exercises on my computer. I’ve taken the time because I honestly wanted to learn GIMP as an alternative Graphic Editing Program. A week is not enough time to become totally proficient with GIMP, but it is enough time to decide that Klaus Goelker’s book is an excellent one. It will most certainly be read again as I try to become competent with GIMP, and I can recommend it whole-heartedly to the beginning photographer or graphic designer who cannot enter into the long term contract with Adobe in the company’s new approach to renting their software as opposed to selling it. I wanted to itemize the contents of Mr. Goelker’s book so the reader can have a full idea of what the book covers. It’s 400 pages (in paperback) of thorough instruction, with a DVD of GIMP and a number of Plug-Ins or add-ons, as well as practice images. It’s a good buy!

GIMP 2.8 for Photographers: Image Editing with Open Source Software by Klaus Goelker, Rocky Nook Press, ISBN 978-1-937538-26-2, US$ 39.95, CAN$ 41.95 and $24.65 from Amazon. Amazon can also deliver a Kindle version alone for $16.95 and if you have good eyes and a larger screen iPad or Kindle device that $16.95 is a real deal; it might even convince you to buy the full sized book version just for the ease of reference usage.

Graphics Software Workflow

QuickFix: Why does Pages creates HUGE files?

In an effort to accomodate clients who wish to continue editing content, I sometimes export files out of Pages to .doc for their use. And sometimes, the exported file is so huge its unworkable.

After dealing with this issue a few times, I have come to the conclusion that drag/dropped jpg images in MSWord get somehow corrupted in the conversion to iWork Pages which tries to fix the issue by creating a .pdf out of the image. 

It seems to occur regardless what combination of versions of MSWord and Pages. Why none of the powers-taht-be thought to fix this, I couldn’t say…

When the file is the exported back to MSWord, it inflates to some unimaginably big and unworkable file with thousands of pages and huge images that never load.


Don’t have one. Not an easy one anyway. In the latest incident, I used FileJuicer from EchoOne to extract all the images, which I then batch converted to .jpgs

And then?

 I  replaced each image in my Pages file in the most mundane painful manner:

1.) Choose the image

2.) Insert > Choose


This seems to work pretty well but its time consuming and totally sucks.


Graphics Photoshop Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Pixelmator 1.6

About a year and a half ago (January 7, 2009 to be exact) I wrote a review of Pixelmator as a potential light-weight image-editing software. At that time I found it a very useful and inexpensive image-editing software that was well worth its $59.00 cost. (Download from

A new version of Pixelmator (1.6) is available as a free upgrade to current Pixelmator owners, but a word of caution goes along with it. Pixelmator has been rewritten for Snow Leopard 10.6 and the new version will not run on 10.5 Leopard. Much of its underpinnings have been rewritten for 64 bit support and tuned to take advantage of the multi-core CPUs that Mac has been utilizing for some time.

The results are increases in speed, with Pixelmator claiming starting up twice as fast as previously, and opening images two times faster than Adobe’sPhotoshop©. It’s new painting engine claims to run four times faster than the previous version, and claims that filters are applied faster than those in Photoshop©.

Commerce Digital Lifestyles Graphics Profiles

A Story About iPhone Game Development

Developing for the iPhone is a bit of a shift for me; in more ways than one.  I spent ten years climbing the career ladder towards bigger projects, bigger budget titles, bigger studios, etc.  But when I found myself taking leave of the million dollar projects and high profile studios and joining up with a little 3 man startup iPhone app company, I had no idea the very next rungs on the ladder would be some of the most challenging and rewarding of my career.

 Now just before I had gone to id Software in Dallas, in the week I had free after leaving Midway Studios Austin, I had agreed to help my friend Jeremy Howa do a little iPhone game for his pre-startup company.  I believe they were working at the boss’s upstairs pool table at the time I pitched in and helped them out by doing the artwork.  I also named the game, “TriniTower;” which was to become somewhat of a recurring task.

TriniTower was a three-tower solitaire game, light in artwork, but the artwork needed to be high quality, or so I thought.  I did a few mockups, and had Jeremy come over to the house and review them, and we had game design talks as we changed artwork and scope on the fly.  At the time, Jeremy and I were technically the only ones on the team, as John and Brian Howard, the ones funding the project, were busy at another software design establishment.  This was my first taste at iPhone development, and I was pretty lost.

Luckily, Jeremy had picked up a fresh new Mac Mini for development, and begun the painful process of converting his programming skills over to the Mac platform.  I still developed artwork on a PC.  The art doesn’t care where it’s made, but we had to assemble it on the Mac.

After a whirlwind week of design, art production, execution, programming and testing, we had what was a playable game, and were progressing pretty fast, when the time came for Katie and me to move to the Dallas area so I could start work at id.  Jeremy and I continued work on TriniTower over high-speed Internet connection, IM, email and Skype.  We would use these remote connection methods to hold meetings over the Internet.  Often times we would discuss a change over Skype, I would edit the artwork, email it over to Jeremy, and he would recompile the game on his end, and hold up the iPhone to the webcam and show me how it looked, animated, etc.  Rinse and repeat till we were done, and that’s how our first iPhone game was done: partly in person, partly over webcam chat, email and Instant Message.

I had definitely never developed like this before, but it wasn’t bad.  Our next foray into the iPhone field was a reskin of John and Brian’s first iPhone app “PocketDyno:” an accelerometer based portable dyno app for testing your car’s speed.  This time, the project was done completely over instant message chat, Skype webcam and email.  I never even saw in person the project working until well after we were done with the complete artwork overhaul.

Three or four months before the first round of layoffs at Midway Austin, Jeremy was carpooling to work in the “grandma car.”   This was the affectionate name of the Chrysler Jeremy picked me up in every other workday.  During the ride, we’d talk about the ArduiNIX project we were toying with, along with a stack of half- baked game ideas.  One such game idea that so persistently occupying the conversations I finally dubbed “Dungeon Defense.”

DD was an absolutely elegant concept.  The tower defense genre was at its height of popularity at the time, as was World of Warcraft®.  Jeremy and I had talked about a fantasy style game that would generate random dungeons, and be kind of like a Diablo clone for the iPhone, but for the iPhone, the game concept had to be scoped way down. There was no way we could have pulled off the amount of content required to do that kind of game justice.  It was at that point we came up with the idea of flipping the concept of a “dungeon crawler” game upside down by framing the player as the dungeon. Instead of the player venturing forth and fighting monsters for loot and exploring dungeons, in DD you WERE the dungeon, defending your loot and treasure from invading heroes who want to defeat you..  This idea became more attractive as we realized we could scope it down justifiably, and introduce elements of the tower defense genre as well, by creating a game that everyone can relate to in its setting, but a new twist on how you play it.  It was truly novel, and doable on the iPhone platform. When Jeremy told me one day they were doing DD, I had a moment of sadness that I wasn’t there to contribute.

By this time, I was growing very weary of the daily 2 hour commute to id, and with a few other compelling reasons to head back to Austin, I had begun talking to Jeremy about if they needed an artist for the freshly minted InMotion Software studio.  My friend Marshall Womack had been filling the artist duties for some time, but was about to head over to Twisted Pixel to work on Splosion Man for XBOX.  A quick phone call to John Howard one evening after work, and it was set.  After 7 months at one of the best and most respected game companies in history, I would turn in my two weeks notice at id, and Katie and I would move back to Austin.

I came on board with InMotion halfway through DD Development.  It was odd being in a studio full of MacBooks, Mac Minis, etc.  InMotion had definitely grown since the boss’s pool table.  Everyone was going through the same pains of adapting to Mac except for me, who was still cranking out artwork on the PC.

After Dungeon Defense had mild initial success, we made two more add on campaigns, when sales of DD began to slip, and as a team we decided to take a breather before moving on to the next tower defense style game.  The short “two-week” project Jeremy suggested in a moment of brilliance was a dig dug/motherlode style game where you dig up treasure, sell it for upgrades, and return to the deep to hunt for more treasure.

I took this opportunity to put on my naming hat again and I called it “I Dig It.”  The name was at first scowled at; and other names suggested, but I stuck to my guns.  I Dig It was not only WHAT you did in the game, but also a subtle forced declaration of how you felt about it.  A positive review spun right into the very name of the game.  How could it go wrong?  You couldn’t say the name of the game without also telling people you liked it at the same time.  It even had the letter “I” in it, which had already become so cliché in the iTunes store that anytime we saw a new app like iLawnmower, we cringed.  But I Dig It?  That wasn’t bad. 


The two-week project began with only Jeremy and me working on the tech and concept.  I started feeding Jeremy artwork, and he plugged it in very quickly.  By the end of two weeks we had the tech demo working, but no real game. As we realized this might be a larger project, Brian finalized work on the Dungeon Defense updates and switched over to I Dig It. Now I like having artistic control on a project, but I had never been the ONLY artist on a team that had actually done anything this big with so few people.  At that time, the InMotion team consisted of Jeremy and Brian, the programmers; me the artist; and Johnny “Cash” Howard, who was the funding behind this endeavor.  The problem with a game team that is structured that way was that we would take the entire team down for design discussions.  We had no full time game designer on staff, so it took all of us at once to hammer out the mechanics of the gameplay.  About three quarters of the way through I Dig It Development, we got the bright idea to hire a designer.  We put out a call to Chris “Cookie” Graham as he was parting company with FizzFactor downtown.  Cookie had worked with Jeremy and I at Midway, and we knew he could handle the job.  As Cookie came on board, we saw instant productivity benefits, as the programmers could focus on the tech, and Cookie delivered on the fun.

When we wrapped up I Dig It, and released it, we realized a few things about Apple, iPhone development, and marketing an indie game.  With Jeremy and I used to being at gigantic game studios that have people on staff to take care of marketing and promotion, we had never sat down and thought about how to promote our iPhone games.  When we released TriniTower, we just kind of patted it on the back and tossed it to the wind, hoping someone would see it, like it, and buy it.  With Dungeon Defense, and a great deal more time and money invested, we had a bit of a different expectation on the return on investment of development.  However, we still had no real knowledge of how to promote our game, since other people had always been tasked to do that before.  A break came when a Google search turned up an iPhone game review site called Touch Arcade that had a forum member post a positive review of Dungeon Defense almost the day it came out.  This led us to start working the forums, watering the grassroots marketing effort that we were beginning to recognize and cultivate.  Had we known about Touch Arcade and similar sites when we released TriniTower, or hyped Dungeon Defense pre release on such sites, we would have stood a greater chance at success.

Now when the light at the end of the tunnel started to break its twinkly self through the darkness of project development, we realized we had to learn our marketing lessons and learn them fast.  We had a great deal more money and time invested in I Dig It than we had planned for, and we actually were hoping to turn a profit at this iPhone game biz.

So we set out to light a fire under every media contact, every forum, and every possible method of getting the word out that we had a good game, and it was for sale. We wrapped up the game in its current state, and sent it off to Apple.  Then the waiting began.  At this point in the process, you’re pretty much completely at Apple’s whim.  They approve the application, or don’t.  They promote the application, or don’t.  With thousands of apps hitting the store every week, if you don’t catch the attention of someone at Apple, you get buried.  And that’s right where we were.

Sales were not dismal, but they were not reflective of the quality we thought we had invested in this game.  We began entertaining the idea of becoming a non-game studio, app a day, lower production value apps or games.  We were considering just trying to “make it up in volume” when we started getting good word from people on the forums.  What really started turning us around was word from one post that said our game was being passed around the Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference like the “swine flu.” A day later, we got an email from Apple.  To paraphrase, it amounted to “Dear InMotion, we love your app.  We would like the artwork and materials needed in order to do a possible feature on you in the iTunes store.”

I cranked out the artwork and sent it to them, only to hear nothing.

It was like we were beating our fist against the monolith that was Apple, and they were not shedding any love for our “out of nowhere” studio.  Meanwhile lesser quality titles from studios that have more intimate connections with apple got featured left and right.  We went back to Dungeon Defense, what we thought was our tried and true Intellectual Property, and began cranking on a new map expansion in an attempt to boost sales of that title.

Then Touch Arcade did a front-page feature and review on their site praising I Dig It.  At this point, we dropped the price to $0.99 in an attempt to get I Dig It into the top 100 games, which was our goal. It got there, and kept going.  As soon as it started catching the attention of iPhone gamers, we got word from friends abroad that it was climbing the charts at a blistering pace in Canada, Japan, Russia and other countries.  However, in the US we were nowhere.  Apple wouldn’t feature us like they said they would, and we were beginning to hound our one contact at Apple to find out why.  Finally, the price drop to $0.99, coupled with a hailstorm of forum posts, podcast reviews, and other efforts began to push I Dig It up the US Charts.  Slowly at first, but then every day it was up a notch.  Then up several places in the list, then finally after what seemed like months, we broke the top 100 paid games, then top 100 paid Apps, then we really started shooting up the lists.  By the time Apple finally decided to do a feature on I Dig It, we were the #9 top paid app in the country.  We sat around the studio watching in disbelief the Thursday I Dig It hit the #1 Top paid app in the world, displacing the Moron Test.  It stayed at that level for about 6 days, and we started rolling the updates to keep it as fresh as possible and delay the slow retreat down the charts.

This experience has been truly unique in my career.  While working on big budget titles I never saw the kind of success I have seen with this little independent title.  I have never had such daunting tasks, or so much fun and satisfaction.  I have never had to strain my talents to the breaking point so much, yet have never been rewarded for doing so to this extent.  We’re working on the sequel to I Dig It now, and hopefully we have learned enough to repeat our success.  Dealing with this side of Apple takes some getting used to. We have to learn how to work the system, but it’s a load of fun getting there.  You might say I dig it.  And yes, I still make art on a PC.

Featured Graphics Illustrator Software Tutorials

Illustrator CS4: Gradient Reflection & Glossy Surface

Making transparent gradients in Illustrator have become much easier with the new Gradient Annotator, a new tool in Adobe’s Illustrator CS4. It is now possible to define the opacity if individual color stops in a gradient, revealing underlying objects and colors, and creating multiple layered compositions. The process of creating these gradients have become exact- set the gradient angle, position and dimensions while previewing the effect directly on your artboard. Here, David Turton has created a tutorial taking advantage of these new features. – The Editor

Step 1. Using the circle shape tool from the tool bar make a circle holding the “shift” key which will help constrain proportions.

Step 2. Using the gradient tool and the default gradient blend drag from the center and get close to the edge, but don’t go past it, that is very important in this process.

Step 3. With the circle shape still selected use the gradient tool and just touch the area that you want the highlight to pinch toward. You can aim it in any direction you want but for this project you will need it to aim at the top. Once you get this correct you can remove the stroke from the shape if yours has one.

Step 4. With the shape selected go ahead and drag whatever two colors you want to use, one at a time, and replace the black and white colors already in place. We will be adding a third color to the gradient shortly.

Step 5. You can make nearly any shape you want but the more simple you keep it the cleaner the glossy look will appear. Try to keep the shape you make with the pen tool move away from the center like the shape above shows. Keep your color choice in the same color family and a bit darker, but not much darker than your darkest color in your shape for this exercise. Unless you’re very aware of color harmonies, just stick to this for now.

Step 6. Using the shape tool make an oval and place it near the top of the circle shape and color it white. This is where we will get into gradient transparency blends available in CS4 that does not require transparency masking.  Make sure your shape is centered with the background circle for this.

Step 7. Apply a gradient to the new oval shape and make both colors white. Using other colors, such as black, will have some odd coloring effects when blending to a Zero (0) opacity over another color. So for the highlight just keep it white. Go ahead and set one of the white swatches to an opacity of 0. As you can see in the screenshot provided for this I’ve circled the important areas. Be sure to have the blend direct face downward.

Step 8. At this stage you will need to add a third color to help with the reflection. You can also do this at Step 4 but you can choose for yourself. Using the Direct selection tool move the darker color over to the left a bit and add a lighter swatch of your choice by dragging a swatch color from the swatch palette and dropping it on the gradient bar. At this point you can experiment a bit with color if you choose. Just keep in mind that your reflection shape on the lower part of the ball will need to blend into what ever color you choose.

Step 9. I’ve adjusted my main gradient a bit so the lighter reflection would be closer to the edge of the ball. Also, I’ve applied my gradient to the reflective shape on the ball to achieve a better and cleaner color transition. This helps convey more depth. At this stage you can add an oval shape behind your shape and set up for the shadow. This will help with the appearance of 3D.  Try to make the center of the shadow touch the bottom circle. By lowering it you can also give the appearance that it’s floating.

Step 10. In CS4 there is a new tool for gradient call Gradient Annotator which will pop up when you use the gradient tool. If it doesn’t show up when using look for it under View> Show Gradient Annotator. The handle on this tool will function a few of ways. As you can see in the screenshot the anchor area on the right, also showing my direction of the gradient, will expand the gradient proportionally either in or out. The anchor on top will compress the gradient downward to for an oval gradient. Using this tool and saving it to a legacy file can sometimes have some unwanted effects such as stepped shape gradients or rasterizing. If you choose to save it down it’s best to close the file then reopen it and check on any visual or structural changes. Be sure to check the file in “outline” mode which can be found under the view menu.

Step 11. In this step you can see the finished result of the use of the Gradient Annotator.

Step 12. Adding the details. You can see that I’ve added two minor light reflections at the top and I’m in the process of making the finger holes. Using the Shape tool make a two circles, one offset a bit from the other. The angle will be your choice depending on where you want the holes to be placed.

Step 13. Using the Pathfinder palette. By selecting both circles and clicking on the “divide” button in the Pathfinder palette I was able to cut and remove the unnecessary part of the finger hole.

Step 14. After copying and pasting two more finger holes, I used the same gradient that is in the ball and converted in to a linear gradient then applied it to the shapes. Select the three holes and get ready to tweak the perspective using the Free Transform tool.

Step 15. Finished piece. After playing with the Free Transform tool a bit you should be able to get the correct angle you need to finish this piece out nicely. Keep in mind that this is a simple shape to do this with so I hope to add a few more complex versions of this example soon.

For more information about these new features, visit Adobe’s Illustrator page for an introductory video.

Graphics Panels & Gutters & Zip Ribbons Sequential Art

Making a Comic in Comic Life Magiq

Comic Life Magiq is an unusual product in plasq’s software line, as it’s not meant to be a replacement for Comic Life Deluxe. As an avid fan of the latter, I wanted to see if Magiq addressed some of my wishlist in templating and layout for my web comic. For folks not familiar with Comic Life Deluxe by plasq, not to worry. There will be some comparisons with Deluxe throughout the article, but the article is designed to get you going from the ground up. There is an assumption that you already have some content available.  Make sure that before you start it is formatted and ready for print, web, or other.  The good news for those in the "iApps" demographic is that this product has some templates created for your snapshots and keepsake type items so you can play with your photos and create dynamic photo and scrapbook albums. These templates already have what you need in terms of a layout, fonts, and captions. All of these can be further customized.

Let’s briefly look at the GUI. The first thing I recognized as an Apple ProApps user was the "I am a serious program" gray background, which sets the tone for Magiq’s introduction. It could possibly be intimidating to those familiar with Deluxe. But once you get passed that who-rearranged-my-furniture feeling, the GUI does make sense. The top has a navigation strip for browsing pages and some general options.

The toolbar on the left contains most of your custom options for each item selected within Magiq. It also has a wonderful feature in the enigmatic button named "Focus." When something is selected within Magiq, you hit the Focus button and it will lock down everything in your document except that isolated item. From there you can safely modify it without interfering with other parts of the comic. This is a great boon for content creators who have many objects and items. In order to get back to the whole document, simply click the button. The "Front" button duplicated the "Arrange" menu item in Deluxe (an identical feature of the same name in Adobe apps.)  This allows an object to be pushed forwards and backwards in order to have the right overlapping desired.

The bottom toolbar has word balloons, captions, FX lettering, and templates. It is set as a default to "ALL" which I like to keep on. However if you don’t have as much screen real estate, you can select individual views by clicking on the icons representing the different components.

The toolbars to the right contain your templates and panel layouts, the browser, and thumbnails of the selected content of your browser.

In the middle is your workspace. Like Deluxe, most everything in Maqiq is drag and drop. Here I already selected my template, and dragged a layout over from Panel Layouts.


One important word about the browser:

It will not automatically refresh. Which means any new content added will not show up.  This can be easily remedied by clicking this icon located in the upper right corner.

Let’s make a comic!

When you open Magiq, pick a blank layout to start with.

After it loads up and you see the GUI, go to Comic Life Magiq>Preferences. I set my "New comics filter images" to 300 dpi.  I want to make sure when I do my export that the image will be of good quality. Going from 300 to 72 dpi should be a lot cleaner than going 72 to an even lossier 72 dpi.  Also from Preferences, you can turn off sounds should you not find them amusing. Also, you can customize the library browsing, and units of measurement.

Next, go to File>Page Layout. From here you can select from a plethora of media sizes which have been expanded greatly from Deluxe. The Tao of I.T. Al is a custom layout of 600×600. I created this setting by setting the size I wanted and then applied it. To make it a template, simply go to File>Save As Template.  It will then show up at startup with your other templates.

When done, go to "Panel Layouts" in the right toobar and select a layout. Start dragging images from the browser, also on the right. If your folder is not showing up, you can drag it into the browser. And good news for those who like organization…it remembers this folder whenever you relaunch the program. As you drag your layouts and pictures, don’t worry If it is not exactly right. We can further modify it.  Notice when you click once on image, you see panel editing handles.  Clicking twice creates the image handles. In either case, you get this outline with tools:

The top purple arrows allow you to rotate. The bottom green arrows move the selection. The green handles around the image resize it. 

What is most interesting is the bottom orange tool, which calls up this popup toolbar:

This toolbar allows you to edit the paths on your objects, much like a vector graphic program (like Illustrator) would.

  • The first icon is the Shape chooser, which brings up a popup menu where you can turn your object into a variety of polygons.
  • The second is the selection tool, which is pretty much like every selection arrow tool known to man.
  • The third icon is the line bending tool, which allows you to grab a point and turn it into a convex or concave curve.
  • The fourth is the Line/corner smoothing tool which smooths out paths by straightening lines and rounding corners.
  • The fifth and six icons are the Add Point and Remove Point tools respectively. The last two are the Add Part and Remove Part Tool, which will come in handy later when we get to word balloons.

When you select your image, you’ll notice this icon to the upper right of your selection: 


When clicked, this will open up a graphics palette that will allow you to manipulate your images.

The Graphics Palette contains the following choices:

  1. Colors contains various color correction and manipution tools, as well as inversion and cropping.
  2. Cut-Out contains tools for cutting out parts of the image, chroma keying, appyling shapes, and masking options.
  3. Warp adds distortion effects similiar to photoshop and liquifying tools.
  4. Skin (pictured above) is interesting as it allows you to paint some textures into a graphic. Here I took some "flames" and applied them to the background to make it look like the building caught on fire. Filter is the familiar photo filter options. Paint allows you to paint several types of brushes directly on top of your image. "Reset Layer" will reset the image back to its former status. When you are finished, click done and it will return the edited graphic back into the normal Magiq GUI.
  5. Filter, although it sounds photoshop-esque is in fact various blur tools.
  6. Paint contains paint tools, including a 3d tube brush, which allows you to draw on top of your image. Right here is where you want to paint a mustache on your cousin.

Once the images are fully tweaked, it’s time to add some dialogue and captions. Simply choose the balloon or caption desired and drag it onto the canvas.

The default font is Lint McCree Intl bb 12.0. To select a different font, simply go to the left toolbar and select the "T" icon. There is an expanded list of fonts provided by Magiq, but you can also access your System fonts by selected that option at the bottom. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a way to reset the default font. My workaround is to copy and paste balloons already have the desired font settings.

To those familiar with Deluxe, the feature of adding a connecting balloon appears missing. However, it’s been put into the popup toolbar accessed by the orange icon.

To add, simply hit the green "plus" symbol and an additional connected balloon will appear. This can be moved into a different position with a simple click and drag. To remove the additional balloon, select it and then hit the red "minus" symbol.

To make extra tails, do the same thing by clicking on the Add Part tool. To remove, click on the Remove Part and then the tail.

Note here that you can edit the balloon paths much like any other object in Magiq.

When you are done, go to File>Export. You will see a plethora of tabbed options with various configurations. You can send it to Email and Flickr (which has options for permissions on viewership.) HTML creates a webpage with thumbnails of your comic whichcan be used "as is" or be taken into your favorite HTML editor and be further manipulated. Image gives you the options to export as JPEG, GIF, PNG, or TIFF. You can also export it to iPhoto, iWeb, or as a PDF.

Congratulations. You have a comic!

If I had one gripe, it is that Magiq does present a problem to Deluxe users as you cannot open a Deluxe document within Magiq. If you have a large backlog of Deluxe documents, this creates a problem should you need to re-open Deluxe in order to back up and edit your comics to another medium.  For now you need both programs if you plan to migrate.

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The Pixelmator Challenge: Dr. Roach

While teaching a recent Photoshop workshop, a local Community College recruited me to conduct a sort of ‘finishing up’ workshop for students at the end of their second year of Photoshop classes in a strictly Macintosh lab. I was charged with showing them that while they had two semesters of Photoshop behind them, that there were a lot of subtle things yet to be done and which hadn’t been covered in their coursework.

Sure enough, at the end of the session a question arose, just as I had expected “What do we do when we no longer have access to school machines and software?” A good question. Even though Adobe’s Academic Pricing Policy deeply discounts Photoshop for students, in these economic times, even that price is beyond the means of many students.

Usually when asked about an alternative to Photoshop I recommend Photoshop Elements from Adobe, but our webmaster suggested that I also look at Pixelmator ( which is an image editor with a similar look to Photoshop and is touted as “… image editing for the rest of us” and at $59.00 US it just might be. It runs on Macintosh OS X 10.5.5 and later. So I downloaded a copy and tried it out.

Pixelmator weighs in at a 121.2 MB in size download (56.6 MB compressed) for the basic application and an excellent 81 page manual can be downloaded separately at the website.

Pixelmator reminds me of what I remember Photoshop 3 (or perhaps 4) was like (I’ll have to depend upon memory here as I no longer have copies of the older versions of Photoshop before the CS versions, and I no longer have a computer that would run them even if I did) but, in their day they were the state of the art, and with it I did some fabulous work. Pixelmator can do equally as well and is a bargain at the price.

Visually, it resembles Photoshop though it is slightly limited in tools and abilities. The learning curve is minimal. Any student who has had an introduction to Photoshop should have no trouble picking up the operation of Pixelmator.

For the student on a limited budget but who does own a Mac computer, I now have an additional suggestion for a Photoshop substitute. It isn’t Photoshop but it will do a good basic editing job and is neither as daunting nor as expensive as Adobe’s flagship product.

If you are a Mac user on a tight budget, Pixelmator is definitely worthy of consideration.

Read Alicia Vogel’s review of Pixelmator here.

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The Pixelmator Challenge: Alicia Vogel

I really love Pixelmator as a painting program.  It has Photoshop-like brushes and a Painter feel.  I popped a sketch I had started in Painter in and was able to fully block it out and have a decent detail pass in a matter of hours.  For me, its simplicity is a big plus. With Photoshop and Painter,  I get dazzled by all the options and end up forever tweaking all the tools. 

In the future I’m going to do all my pre-painting in Pixelmator and then tweak either in Photoshop or Painter.  I’ll see how December’s Al works with it.

It does lack the gazillion brushes that either program has, so I did have to rehash some old tricks back when Photoshop was 3.0.  But it’s just plain fun to work in.

I would say this piece took me around five hours, and it’s more than decent groundwork. I did a similiar type piece using a combination of Painter and Photoshop, and it took twice as long.  The traits that Pixelmator has in common with Photoshop and Painter combined with it’s simplicity makes it a joy to use and keeps me concentrated on the actual painting instead of being all fidgety with the brushes and options.  I also realized yesterday as I was putting some refining moves on it that the final results look like my non-digital acrylic paintings.

On the negative side, I really missed my palette knife tool.  And I couldn’t find a use for Pixelmator’s "starry" brush.

Graphics Reviews Software Workflow

Review: Jumsoft Templates and Clipart for iWorks Pages

I recently added iWorks Pages to my arsenal of design tools. I would like to suggest some add-ons that I recently included in my collection…

These babies are available a the Jumsoft Online Store. Jumsoft’s packages range in price from $29 (for individual templates) to $ 59 (for The Template Pro Pack). At these prices, they easily add value to your IWork collection of templates and clipart. I have to say my favorite of the three is the very random yet whimsical collection of images in clipart 2.0  

I mean I have never had a need for an image of a beaker but by golly I plan to find one! Cool stuff.

Both template collections also offer a unique style of pieces ranging from complete brochures to one page invoices.  Definitely inspires me to “spruce up” my billing process… A few samples from these collections are shown below…

Installation is easy, Simply open Pages Templates 2.0 folder and double-click on any template. Pages will automatically open the template. Or you can install templates so that they appear in Pages Templates menu. To install Pages Templates 2.0 copy   "Jumsoft templates" folder to Home>Library>Application Support>iWork>Pages>Templates folder.

So all that to say, even though I will always be partial to Adobe and a bit of a software snob, it’s okay to branch out every now and then. You never know, it might just be a fun answer to a not so exciting project dilemma.

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iWork! I swear!

Okay, so I am a bit of a software snob. I can’t help it.  I come from the “right before computers were cool” generation.  My first experience with a computer was looking up the Dewey Decimal system on the library computer in High School.  Then after flirting with a few PCs in the public lab while writing a few last minute papers for English Lit I moved on to my first Mac in the art lab.  After that, there was only one true love in my life.  The Apple!

With that came the software.  I skipped Office and Works and started typing my papers in Freehand.  I mean why not? It was cool, and I could, right? Honestly after being introduced to Adobe and Macromedia, there was no other! I became quite arrogant as people asked me over the years if I built my sites in Front Page or Publisher.  What an insult.  I have always been a pretty humble gal.  At least I think so–except when it comes to my job and what it takes to do it.  I think the greatest insult I have ever received was a friend who nonchalantly said “Hey one day when you aren’t busy can you sit down and show me how you do your job?  I am thinking about doing it on the side to make some extra money.”  Invisible flames came out of my ears! How dare they just assume they can learn what I do in a 30 min sit down?  Huh! Anyway, that was a very long way of saying I take what I do and the education I have gained very seriously not to mention the tools I use to do it.  So therefore – I am a snob.  

Up until recently there where only 2 major food groups in my mind;  Adobe and Macromedia. Now those have even become one. I have used (only when necessary) Word from time to time – mostly because clients send data to me in Word or Excel.  THEN I made a beautiful discovery.  First of all let me state that had it not been an Apple product and had the free trial not come on my new iMac, I would still be a “one software” kind of girl.  But you know how it is when you get a new computer. The first 48 hours is spent playing with all the new bells and whistles and even when you must work, you are taking the “scenic route” as you maneuver through your daily routine.  

During this most recent time of discovery I found iWORK.  I know it has been out for two generations, but like I said I have always ignored all things Non-Adobe.   So I opened it up not really expecting much and have to admit the further I browsed though the templates of Pages the more impressed I was by the minute.  My brain was on overload trying to think of projects I could use these for. They were fantastic.  Not only the clean layouts of the templates, but the artwork used was very appealing to me.

 I got my first real taste of Pages a few weeks later. I had a long-time customer come to me with the desire to pull their monthly newsletter from their printer’s in-house designer and have me “spruce it up”.  Now I have to admit that newsletters normally are not my thing.  They can be limiting and most always full of too much copy–not enough pages, and there are usually color restrictions. They can be pretty cheesy.  But I would do anything for this customer and I saw it as the perfect opportunity to utilize the templates Pages had to offer. I very quickly PDF’ed a few of my favorite templates, sent them to the client to get her thoughts and BAM.  I hung the moon! How easy was that. It was so easy that I almost felt guilty for charging money for the work.  The client was pleased and I put together concepts in less than 10 minutes! Later that afternoon they chose a template, and after collecting data the newsletter was built and sent to the printer within days.  With my schedule being as packed with work as it has been for the last year, this was such a HUGE blessing.  

The tools in Pages are so ridiculously user friendly that anyone could pick it up and build their own collateral themselves. This is actually software, which I am not insulted to say I could teach someone in an afternoon. So I lovingly welcomed iWORK into my exclusive group of design tools.  It was well worth its reasonable price and that just considering Pages.  I’m still hoping for that day when I have the extra time to explore Numbers and Keynote.  I feel like I will be equally impressed. 




Visit for to take advantage of the 30 day trial for iWork 08


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Review: Jumsoft Keynote FX Series (pt2)

iWorks Keynote by Apple is an excellent presentation application program for backgrounds and templates for text and images. The finished product (movies, reports, etc.) can be exported into QuickTime, PowerPoint, PDF, Images, Flash, HTML and iPod versions. Apple ships Keynote with thirty-six standard themes, providing the end user with a strong foundation and giving you plenty room to expand your library.

Jumsoft is just one of a number of companies that supply add-ons to use in Keynote. We recently reviewed Keynote Themes 7, Keynote Photos 2, and Keynote Stills 3.

Due to the nature of the Keynote FX series, we have created FLV video presentations to review these products. But first, an introduction to these products:

Keynote Themes FX 3.0

Keynote Themes FX 3.0 consists of seven new and visually innovative themes: These themes provide a delicately animated background style and plenty of slide layout options. These small background actions will liven up your presentations without distracting your audience from your main point.

Keynote Themes FX

Even if you already use Keynote Themes FX you will discover that your presentation will come alive with a new verve and sparkle when you apply the new visuals that are available in the ten new backgrounds in BackgroundFX 2.0. These backgrounds can be used in conjunction with any of your themes as they do not come with basic slide layouts.

ObjectFX 3.0

If you are unfamiliar with photo objects, they are images of objects with a transparent background.  they are a very effective way to “isolate” a visual to support your presentation or bullet point. Jumsoft ‘s ObjectFX 3.0 are 70 detailed 3D images  that are easily pasted into presentation pages. Optimized for 1024 x 768 frames these cleanly cut objects  suit a number of ideas and concepts.  Keynote Objects is only $39 and the upgrade from Keynote Objects 2.0 costs just $19.

Keynote Animations 5

Finally, for my own usage, the last of the Jumsoft packages that I find powerful is the Keynote Animations 5 package.  Priced slightly higher ($45) than the other add-ons, these animations allow the addition of eye-catching movement to an otherwise “pedestrian” static frame. There are 180 animated images that can be used to attract attention or produce emphasis in your presentation.  These images can be cut and pasted, resized and looped in Keynote’s QuickTime option.

Keynote Quartet FX bundles together  the latest versions of Keynote themes FX, Keynote Animation, Keynote Objects FX and Keynote Backgrounds FX at a discounted price of $99 (or as an upgrade from Keynote Quartet ’06 for $45). That’s great buy.

If you are an Apple iWorks Keynote user, check out Jumsoft’s offerings at to invigorate your next lecture, sales meeting or presentation.

Madbadcat’s Note: The road from Keynote to QT to FLV to WordPress is a long and winding one. I decided that the most important thing was to focus on the animations- not the transitions, or interactivity- so each slide holds for 5 seconds then moves on. There are many reasons for this. Mostly its because I don’t think Keynote was ever meant to “publish to the web”. It might be an option they should consider for a future version.

Keynote Background FX 2.0 (11.5mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Objects FX 2.0 (3mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Themes FX 3.0 (10.4mb streaming; no sound)


Keynote Animation FX 5.0 (8.2mb streaming; no sound)


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Highlights of’s Comic Con 2008 Gallery

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