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Like to Draw? You Can Utilize Some Great Free Software!


Posted on: August 8th, 2011

I’m no artist and my drawing skills never advanced from kindergarten style stick-figures. However, with the use of computers I had been able to produce some nice graphics. This and some other websites prove this. I’ve been using a couple, free software that I like a lot and they are actually capable of producing the same results as the expensive paid ones.

First, I’d like to clarify two concepts here which are necessary to understand the rest of this article.

The Two Types of Images

There are two basic types of graphics: Pixel and Vector. I’m going to explain what these are and what the differences are.

Pixel: A pixel is a dot of a screen or picture. Computer screens are (at this point) display things by way of tiny dots that can change color and brightness. If you take a good, strong magnifying glass to your computer screen you’ll see what I’m talking about.
A pixel based graphics is such that is based on a finite number of pixels (dots) to make up an image. For example: you take a picture with your digital camera. The resulting image will be made up of millions of tiny dots. In case of a 10 megapixel camera you will have a matrix of dots 3648 pixels wide and 2736 pixels tall. That gives a very high detail on each picture.

Images with a high number of pixels look very nice. However, if you start zooming in then you will start to see the quality of the picture going down. Here’s an example of a picture of a flower. I magnified one section by 4x and then 4x again. You see that it gets ‘pixelated’ as you zoom in more and more.

Now, let’s take a look at the other kind of images:

Vector: A vector has a nice, complicated mathematical definition, but I want to spare you from that. Here the vectors refer to lines, whether straight or curved. You can build up any image from lines and filled-in areas defined by lines. So instead of specifying the color and brightness of every single dot, the image is built-up by drawing the lines and filling up the spaces enclosed by lines.

Let me show you a simple example from the most common use of vector graphics: fonts. The characters of most fonts are made up of lines and filled up areas. Here’s a letter “y”. The first image shows it normally. On the second one I marked the end of lines with red dots so that you can see that the whole shape is nothing more than a space enclosed by a bunch of lines and filled in with black. On the third image I zoomed in to the ‘fork’ of the Y to show that with vector graphics the quality of the image does not go down when you zoom in, or magnify it.

Besides keeping the quality vector based graphics has some other, pretty neat advantages:

Re-using shapes: When you create a shape, or a complete image, you can very easily take it and use it as part of another image. For example you can take an image of the globe and make it part of your own design. There are very large libraries of vector images that you can use. You can many times put things together from parts. You can also modify other people’s design.
Let me give you an example: our wizard logo is in a vector format. The business just turned 6 a week ago and I wanted to create an image where the wizard is holding a birthday cake. Well, it was not too hard, because I just took the logo, took out the computer, found a cake design, a candle design and put it all together. Here’s the result:

(because some browsers do not support vector images yet, all examples of vector images are pixel based representations of the original vector images).

If I had used a pixel based image I would have had a hard time because I’d have had to cut out all the shapes manually from the images in order to put the parts together, and the edges would still have looked a bit funny. With vector graphics each component has it’s own unique shape and is not just a square as with pixel images. This advantage gets apparent very quickly once you work with both kind of images.

Now, that this is cleared up let me show you my toolbox:

Pixel Graphics Software

Photofiltre: This is a very lightweight but well equipped software that you can use to edit pixel based images. If I need to make just some small adjustments I always use this because it’s quick. You can download it from: http://majorgeeks.com/PhotoFiltre_d4587.html

GIMP: This is a full featured image editing software for pixel based images. It knows pretty much everything that Adobe Photoshop but it’s completely free. You can manipulate images in almost any way you want. Also there are tons of tutorials and demonstrations are available (just do a search on Youtube) for it. It takes some time to learn but once you got it you can do pretty much everything, you can correct images, combine them, etc.

You can download GIMP from: http://www.filehippo.com/download_the_gimp/ (make sure not to click on the advertisement but the Download Latest Version button only!)

Vector Graphics

InkScape: This is my absolute favorite! A very versatile software with a ton of features. It’s still in the early development phase as its version number shows (0.48 currently) but I found it quite usable and reliable.

It can also include pixel images. For example you can make an overlay on top of a picture, like text or a frame or other illustrations.  You can also find plenty of examples and tutorials for this software.

You can download InkScape from: http://www.filehippo.com/download_inkscape/ (make sure not to click on the advertisement but the Download Latest Version button only!)

And if you are looking for freely usable shapes and images go to: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. Go to the search box on the page. Type in “.svg” a space and then the thing that you are looking for. The “.svg” is the designation for the file format most widely used for vector graphics. For example: “.svg birthday cake”

Google Sketchup: If you want to get out of the two dimensional drawings into three dimensional design then this is a great program to use. This software is by far the easiest to use amongst all 3D design software. And it’s also free and has great tutorials.

You can download SketchUp from: http://sketchup.google.com/

Summary

If you are interested in creating images or ‘fixing them up’ then the above software will give you all the tools that you’d need. You will need to learn how to use these software but none of them are very complicated once you got a good grasp on the basic concepts. And best of all, you don’t need to pay a penny to use these software!

Have fun!

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