Tools of the Trade

Anyone who spends any amount of time using a computer for practically any task has a fairly wide choice of software he can use to accomplish his tasks. Over the 12+ years that I have been doing graphic design and web design, I too have used a variety of programs, but now have developed what I might call my "toolbox"...those programs I find myself using over and over again. I would like to share with you the tools I use most often.

Graphic Design

Irfanview is a powerful image viewer PLUS. The code is compact and optimized for speed. It will display nearly any image format that you can think of, and a number of formats you may never have heard of. You can batch process images, create slideshows and thumbnails, convert an image to another format, easily make color corrections and apply a limited number of built-in effects. All these features plus more in a program that is under 500K! I use Irfanview as my default image viewer, and set the file associations so that if I need a certain format to open in its native program, it will do so. Did I mention that Irfanview also "views" sounds, MP3s, movies and your fonts? And did I mention that Irfanview is FREE (for non-commercial use)?

As I mention on our "Welcome" page, I have a rather long history with Jasc Software/(now)Corel's Paint Shop Pro. Paint Shop Pro is a very feature-rich image editing program which recently has also become well endowed with editing features specifically for images produced with digital cameras. Although I most often use Photoshop for my image work these days, there are a number of tasks that I find I can do better or more easily in Paint Shop Pro. One of my favorite features in Paint Shop Pro is multiple image printing. One can print sheets of images in standard (template) layouts, or create a layout of his own.

When I first found the need a number of years ago for an illustration (vector) program, I already had a license for Corel Draw. However, I quickly found that I absolutely HATED working in it, so I went "shopping" for a different program. I eventually settled upon Adobe Illustrator. After becoming proficient in its use, I also purchased Adobe Photoshop since I could export from Illustrator into Photoshop. Although the learning curve for both programs is much higher than that of Paint Shop Pro, I found that once I had gained proficiency through every-day use, I began to prefer the Adobe products.

Right here, however, I would like to say that at this point, although I prefer to have all three of these products, I could probably "live without" one or the other of the raster programs (PSP or Photoshop), though I would keep Illustrator as my vector program of choice.

Because I write a lot about software and need many screen shots, another program that I find myself using often is Techsmith's SnagIt Screen Capture. Simply put, it makes my job easier. Techsmith's customer support is EXCELLENT! SnagIt - the award-winning screen capture software - allows you to copy and share any image, text or video on your PC. Get images - including an entire Web page, menus, DirectX sources, DOS screens and digital camera images. Get text - save as editable text. Get video - save as AVI for easy sharing. Immediately send your captures to the printer, e-mail, IM, Clipboard, programs, or save as one of 23 file formats. Use the Editor's extensive array of features to modify and enhance your images, or use the Studio to mark up images with arrows, callouts and text boxes. The Catalog Browser is perfect for organizing your files, including for converting in batches. Included in SnagIt are add-ins for all the programs in the Microsoft Office suite, a Firefox extension is available for download from Easily increase your productivity while quickly creating professional presentations, flawless documentation, advanced training and more. SnagIt's user-friendly interface makes it easy for beginners to use, while still providing maximum flexibility for screen-capture experts. Seven million users agree - SnagIt is the perfect companion for all your PC applications. The winner of PC Magazine Editors' Choice award for screen capture in 2003 and 2004.

If you would like to find out more about SnagIt and have the opportunity to purchase it for yourself, please follow this link: Try SnagIt 7.2.2.


Web Design

After taking a class on using Macromedia's Dreamweaver, I now use it exclusively (OK, sometimes I still go "hardcore" and write html in Notepad!) for creating and maintaining web sites. I also use the other products in the suite: Fireworks, Freehand and Flash. I created the graphic interface for this site using Fireworks, the slideshows using Flash, and the html using Dreamweaver. The power of all of these applications is amazing, as is Macromedia's customer support!

Whether you are new to using CSS for page layout and styling page elements or you are an "old hand", I believe you will find that Western Civilization's StyleMaster 4 will become an indispensable tool. I've had the pleasure over the past several months to be a beta tester for this software. With StyleMaster 4, you get the best of both worlds: a design view and a code view with the ability to edit in both. There are plenty of wizards and standards-based templates to work with, as well as a function which allows you to know instantly if the CSS rules you're writing are supported in all browsers.

Another Western Civilization product that is quite handy for designing absolutely positioned layouts is Layout Master. However, with the advent of StyleMaster 4 they've now delegated LayoutMaster to freeware status and will no longer provide technical support, but are providing it as freeware from this link. (Scroll to bottom of page.)

A new tool in my toolbox falls into that gray area between graphic design and web design. SlideShowPro is a dynamic, customizable (component) photo gallery for Flash MX 2004. (It is what I used to create the photo galleries for this site.) SSP contains support for Flickr and RSS feeds, and streaming narration or MP3s. Priced at just $20, it is a worthwhile investment.

I've listed other tools as external links in the sidebars of some of my other web pages. We all work with our own "style; therefore, it is likely some readers will disagree with my choices. Some readers may have never tried them. Most of the tools I've listed have limited trial versions available. Download them, use them, and find out if they fit your work flow.