The HOW'D THEY DO THAT ZONE
FAQ (or at least the beginnings of one-really, I am hoping to add more info)
Skill level: Very Varying

WHAT ARE THE BASIC TERMS YOU'LL BE USING HERE?
Well, I'll probably be talking about bitmap editors, which are also known as paint programs. These are the programs that allow you to "paint" pictures, alter photographs, and generally go to town with computer graphics. The other thing I'll refer to is a graphics tablet, which is a flat tablet kind of like a clipboard which has a drawing area and a stylus or "pen." You can draw with the stylus on the drawing area and it will translate the lines into the computer. It gives you much more control and flexibility than trying to draw with a mouse, and feels similar to a pen on paper. They come in a variety of size from 4"x6" to 12"x12". For most people, the smaller sizes are quite adequate.

WHAT KIND OF EQUIPMENT AND PROGRAMS DO YOU USE TO CREATE YOUR WORK
I'm currently running a PII 266 with 64 megs of ram, a 19 inch monitor, and a Wacom graphics tablet. I use several of different programs for the work on the site because they do things somewhat differently; Corel Draw/PhotoPaint 8.0, Adobe Photoshop 5.5, Bryce 3, Front Page (our new html program), and First Page (text style html editor--it's freeware and the url is available on the links page)

UMMM, DO YOU THINK WE'RE MADE OF MONEY, OR SOMETHING?
Nope, I own all that stuff because I do this for a living and even I had to buy carefully and wisely to keep from bankrupting myself. However, there are some excellent ways of cutting costs and still getting all or most of the same level of functionality. You can download shareware versions of programs like Jasc's Paintshop Pro from ZDNet http://www.zdnet.com/swlib/index.html , Corel has Corel Draw Select, which is really just an older version of the program, for a little over $100 http://www.corel.com/ , plus I've picked up slightly older versions of programs and seen graphics tablets at very good prices on Ebay http://www.ebay.com/ . If you're a university student, Corel and Adobe also have programs offering cheaper educational prices (though they usually come without books, but these programs all have excellent online help files). You may be able to buy in your bookstore or you may have to mail order, but there are some excellent deals. 

SO, IF I HAVE A REALLY LIMITED BUDGET, WHAT WOULD YOU RECOMMEND I GET FIRST?
Well, you need some kind of bitmap editor, but it doesn't need to be terribly complex when you're first learning. If all you want is to cut and paste and do some basic editing, and webgraphics, that will do it. If you're an artist and truly want to paint, you should probably see if you can find some kind of tablet. It doesn't have to be large, but because it has a stylus that acts more like a pen or pencil and is more controllable, you'll have better luck.

SO NOW I'VE GOT THE PROGRAM. WHICH FILTER DOES IT ALL FOR YOU?
<BWAAAAHAAAHAAAHAAAAAAAHAAAA> Oh, I'm sorry, did you say something? Seriously, no. Just for the record, I've yet to find a filter that will do anything but make things muddier. However, do play with them. Have some fun and experiment. That's half the game.

OKAY, SO I FOUND OUT I'M ACTUALLY GOING TO HAVE TO GET MY HANDS DIRTY AND I HAVEN'T RUN AWAY. BUT NOW, WHEN I GO TO SAVE A FILE, IT GIVES ME A WHOLE BUNCH OF OPTIONS. WHICH ONE SHOULD I CHOOSE?
Welcome to the wonderful world of file formats. Different formats do different things well, so choose the apropos one for what you're doing. To post things to the web, I recommend jpegs, because they allow for full 24 bit colors, which means you have literally millions of options. They are compressed, and you can control the compression. More compression equals a smaller file, but also lowers the quality, so you have to balance. The other popular file format online are gifs. They limit you to 256 colors, so larger pictures can start looking odd and have a lot of color shift due to the way gifs try to approximate larger color palates. On the other hand, gifs do have two large advantages, they can be animated and they can have transparent areas, neither of which jpegs can do. Hence, they're great for doing buttons and bullets and such. For web graphics, stay away from tifs, since they're primarily used by professionals in the print medium. When you're working on pieces, if you're compositing (using images from different sources), you may also want to use the native file format of the program you're working in (PSD for photoshop and CPT for Corel Photopaint). The reason is that those file formats allow you to save pictures with separate, editable layers. That way you can keep working on layers until you're happy with them (gif and jpeg will both "flatten" the image). The downside to these formats is that they take up a lot of space, but if you have the space, they can make editing easier until you're ready to export them into jpeg format.

OKAY, SO WHAT NOW?
Play with this stuff until I find time to write more. Seriously, my biggest advice is to have fun with it. If you aren't enjoying yourself, why do it? In the meantime, if you have specific questions, send 'em on in and I'll try and find time to mouth off some more.

 


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