Category: graphic design

Showcase: Squirrels AirParrot 2

Showcase: Squirrels AirParrot 2

While multi-monitor PC setups are much more common place today, than ten to fifteen years ago, there are still occasions where you need to mirror your desktop/apps/presentations to other screens. Many times these situations also involve technology layouts, which do not have additional screens attached to the host machine or are at various resolutions that do not show the content in the proper aspect ratios between displays. This also functions as a cost-savings solution, if additional display hardware is out of the question, in both price and space consideration.

In my time as a computer Tier-II field technician, I have been in situations, where I needed to have my screen be transmitted to a second computer for diagnostic purposes and/or teaching my fellow tech trainees. If I had become aware that a budget-minded program existed, and it had companion reception programs that worked seamlessly with minimal fuss; I would have sought it out, and obtained it. What would me search have turned up? The answer is the excellent screen transmitting program from Squirrels, called AirParrot 2.airparrot-2-grey-g2-side-2

In my disabled state, as a hobbyist blogger/advocate for my community, my potential usages for this program has changed from my technician days, it still serves a vital purpose for me, and my blog, and even my family. You may ask, what sort of real-world application I could offer you to highlight this new usage of this program to make it worth the price of the program.  My answer is my ability to screen share streaming video services between my wife and myself, so we can watch programs together, even if we are not sitting next to each other.

My wife and I enjoy watching shows, such as Fargo on Hulu, and many times I am on my desktop, and she is working on her laptop. In these situations, we want to connect over a mutually-loved program and bond, yet we have to keep to using headphones (we can be night owls, so we do not want to disturb our neighbors), and in our room/work area we do not have space to work side-by-side. Having AirParrot 2 (the transmitting program that I have installed on my machine) and the companion receiver program, Reflector 2, that takes the source signal and displays this on the second machine/screen (fear not, I will review this program separately, and highlight some of its unique features then).

airparrot_2_popup_menuIn the aforementioned scenario, I can tweak the settings to make sure that the streamed video signal, over WI-FI runs smoothly and clearly Since my wife’s laptop is not nearly as powerful as my desktop tower, so I tend to set the video to run at 720p, with medium to lower quality to make it smooth and run full screen on the destination machine. This is very effective for video streaming, via the web interface, rather than the dedicated applet in Windows.

Besides this usage, you can just stream audio feeds, if you need to only share what is being heard from a video/app or a dedicated audio feed. You can also just share a specified app/program, rather than the entire desktop, if you choose to do so. Bottom line, this program is very versatile and easy to use program, and works well by itself or with its companion apps and programs.

You may ask what does this program cost, and the answer is a very, nice $12.99 USD, and that is for a single-license on either Mac or Windows. If you need more than one device/computer, they have the 5-Pack, which works on both PC and Mac, and costs $60.00 USD. In my opinion this is the best value, as this allows you use the license(s) back and forth on various platforms, and save 8% over the single-user license cost/unit. If you might need to use this program in a commercial environment or educational setting, they offer pricing quotes, especially if you will need twenty or more licenses for these purposes. No matter which level you pick, you can rest assured that you will be satisfied and very happy with your purchases. If you stop by and check them out, tell them I sent you, and that you are interested in snagging this program. As always, until next time, keep on techin’. . .airparrot-2-grey-g2-side

Incomedia WebSite X5 Evolution 13 Review

Incomedia WebSite X5 Evolution 13 Review

A few months back, I brought to your attention the nice, development-ready platform, Incomedia WebSite X5 Evolution 12, and with the programs stable of site design tools, layouts, and templates. Fast forward to this month (October 2016), and you have the updated release of this fine suite, entitled WebSite X5 Evolution 13. Included with this update, is a bevy of new templates, stock images, graphic libraries, eCommerce site tools, social media buttons/applets, and so much more. You may wonder do these new features warrant the upgrade price. Let’s go through the process, and see what is on offer, and what is best for each type of user.websitex5_800px

If you are someone, like myself, and have your own blog site, having the new tools, such as a large stock royalty-free image library (now numbering at 700,000 images), is a blessing, as I can use the images to augment my posts, with demonstration images, along with the licensed images of the products that I review. I do not have a budget to purchase images/logos/design vector images, as a hobbyist blogger, but now I can choose from the built-in libraries to find what I need for future posts.

pro_en_xlAnother element of this update is enhanced eCommerce tools, with strong-level integration with payment processing gateways that work with your online storefront, which allows you to take a nice range of credit cards that you can accept. I do not have a need of this type of site tools, but my wife does run an online store, where she sells her artwork and hopefully, someday her books and instructional materials. I plan to introduce these, new financial purchasing tools to her, so she can incorporate this into her payment structure, to help cut out the “middleman” and reduce her cost overhead in processing fees.

incomedia-website-x5-product-specificationsMy blog audience and exposure is intrinsically tied to my social media profile. I have been able to contact numerous companies, their representatives, and vested individuals, who want to support my cause of raising awareness for the disabled and technology. One day that I do that, on a day-to-day basis is my contacting companies, through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other media outlets. On top of that, I enter numerous contests with many groups, and disseminate those promotional activities, through these social channels, so you, my readers can take advantage of these along with me.

If, and when I can move to a dedicate domain site, I hope to add these built-in plugins and social buttons from Incomedia’s WebSite X5 13. I want to do this to streamline this process, and make it possible for you interface directly with me, on my site, auto re-post my content to multiple social media channels, and maybe have future giveaways with these features, down the line. Having an integrated social media system will make my portfolio of content much more cohesive entity, and centralized that is currently capable.

incomedia_website_x5_logo_redI could go on and on, in hashing out the new features, but the best service that I can do for you is to tell you the three tiers that this software come in, and their price points. The starting tier is WebSite X5 Start 13, which includes 25 pages to make/manage, 50 templates, and the ability to make sites for desktop computers. This only cost $19.99 USD; nice budget-conscious price point that allows you to utilize this software much more than what a trial can offer you. The next tier is WebSite X5 Evolution 13, which is what I need for my projects/sites, and the one I recommend for the majority of people, who need web page design software. The cost of this is $79.00 USD, and has many, many more features, templates, pages to manage, and the ability to offer online storefronts. The top-tier of this product family is WebSite X5 13 Professional that has all of the aforementioned features, options, and a full-featured eCommerce suite that supports storefronts, payment systems, registration of users, and an inventory system, second to none. These wide –ranging feature set comes at a higher price than the other tiers, but considering what you get for the price (being able to use a license on up to two machines) the cost of $199.00 USD is a great buy!

logo_800px-blackIf you have ever had the pleasure to interact with Incomedia, whether as a customer, a potential customer, or someone who has some questions to make a decision or solve an issue, you know they stand behind what they publish/sell. This should give you peace of mind, in deciding to either upgrade to the new version/tier or become a new customer for the first time. Whatever you choose, I can tell you that you will never be disappointed that you considered Incomedia, and their products. As always keep on techin’. . .

Ashampoo Office Catalog Extension 1.0 Review

Ashampoo Office Catalog Extension 1.0 Review

As I wrote to you last week, Ashampoo has created a family of CAD programs, which allow you design a wide range of structures that you might have a vested interest in your life. In my various articles, I went over the benefits of having these tools at the disposal of select groups (and tailored to the final application and potential profession of the user). In addition, to the main software programs that I referenced in my prior articles, Ashampoo has added a new plug program to the line-up, called Ashampoo Office Catalog Extension 1.0.

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While the office furnishings and design elements present in the main programs are quite nice and offer some versatility and variety, the additional items contained in this add-on are well worth the asking price.

As a disabled individual, I have a high priority in having my electronic equipment in close proximity, and in top-tier working order. In my current residence, I do not have a dedicated office space for myself and my wife, and it impacts our productivity quite a bit. I have lived in quite a few places, but I have been the happiest in my working/hobby life in places where I have had a dedicated space for those tasks. I have not been able to design an ideal office space, up until this point, but I am hopeful that will change in the future. When the opportunity presents itself, I plan on having the necessary ports (HDMI, Display Port, SPDIF, USB, etc.) built into the walls, cabinets, and furnishings to minimize tangling and cable management. Not having to worry about cables being tripped over with my wheelchair or cane, nor the hassle of having to constantly move mine or my wife’s computer equipment to accommodate one another’s projects.scr_ashampoo_office_extension_ml_sideboard

Having a well designed office space can dramatically affect the how quickly and proficiently that you can complete tasks. As a disabled individual, I have specialized seating (wheelchair-accessible), and have the need for wireless keyboard and mouse, that can be placed either in my lap or on a movable/portable table. scr_ashampoo_office_extension_ml_tablesWith this design plug-in, I can have access to a larger pool of design office elements that will allow me to add ergonomic furnishings from the prominent design house, Vital-Office GmbH.

Having these expert design powerhouse included inside of this plug-in, means that if their product line meets or exceeds your design needs, you can layout the items that you need, and transition to ordering them for delivery and placement on the job site/office project. I can say, in watching several home improvement shows, how important it is to not only have a fine design plan, but a nice work-flow and follow-through to make the dream a reality. Having a floor plan and “ideal” elements in your design is fine and good, but when you go to execute the plan if the items you need/want are not available, you have to settle for less than want you have planned. Since Ashampoo has gone to the trouble of arranging the license to use the elements from this esteemed firm, the value proposition for this plug-in only grows.

scr_ashampoo_office_extension_ml_tables2Knowing how much this can expand your capability for design above the base programs, it is well worth the asking price of $14.99 USD. As always, they stand behind the products that they sell. If you, my readers, have any experience with their products, you will not hesitate to purchase this product, and have no regrets. Also keep in mind, this catalog extension does work with the other extension (Kitchen) to expand and round out your options, for design elements, as well as potentially work with future extensions, as they are developed. Bottom line, if you need office ergonomic design elements and have an inclination to create your office with CAD, you need this software. Trust me; you will not regret having this in your toolbox. As always, until next time, keep on techin’ . . .

 

P.S. If you are interested, Ashampoo has given away their Home Designer 3 for free this week. All you have to do is apply for a license, via e-mail, after you download and install the program. This is a nice way to try out their CAD programs in greater detail, than just a demo version. The program, along with some details can be found at the following link: https://www.ashampoo.com/en/usd/lpa/download-0367 I hope you check this out, and enjoy this great program for yourself.

Ashampoo 3D CAD Architecture 6.60 In-Depth Review

Ashampoo 3D CAD Architecture 6.60 In-Depth Review

I did an article a short while back, that highlighted the benefits of basic home design software for residential and/or kitchen layouts. Now those fine folks at Ashampoo have released a more full-featured design family. These newer, two levels of software comprise the various applications and approaches, from more advanced home and landscape projects to commercial buildings and solar panel photo-voltaic arrays. Both of these programs can create mutually-accessible files and materials, which can work inter-operator-ability between the programs, and their associated plugins. This works well, in conjunction with the needs of specialized office spaces, kitchens, and universally-accessible structures, which these programs provide for the novice and professional alike.

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The middle-tier, focused program that is inclusive of every major instance of residential and light commercial application, and designed with this in mind is Ashampoo’s 3D CAD Architecture 6. This is an excellent stepping stone from just changing one or two rooms, into a full-fledged home remodel and landscape/hardscape overhaul. If you have ever wondered what would be involved, in terms of material, labor, energy usage,   and general construction planning, this tool has you covered.

Not unlike their Home Designer 3 program, this software allows you to not only layout designs in 2D and 3D formats (blueprints/plans, renderings, accessories), but it has the capability to specify electric grid components/circuitry, and see the utilization in potential action. These calculations can even help you determine the effectiveness of how the solar exposure will impact your energy generation and the offset of the home’s usage, with a photo-voltaic system. This is a very important feature that is only gaining steam, as various municipalities are requiring further self-sustaining “green” energy plans for new and/or remodel construction, requiring clean energy generation and reduced power usage. In addition, implementation of these systems can also qualify the property owner for subsidies and rebates to offset the cost, installation, and operation of “green” energy systems.

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As someone, who lives in a very hot climate in Northern California, USA, I wish I had a home/residence that had such a system in place, along with a geothermal system that would function as an alternate HVAC system. It is my dream someday to live in such a structure. This would augment the added energy usage that I require for my durable medical equipment, and allow me to have extra cooling that might lessen my systems, too.

The feature set of this program does support designs that would fall into the category of light commercial. A good example is my wife’s home-based business. She is a professional illustrator (10 years+), and is in the process of branching out into becoming an author of children’s books. She has used spare bedrooms or dining room tables for her work. However, I could use this program to create her a dedicated art studio, which would incorporate a static place for her to set up to paint (easel, palettes, brushes, paper/canvas, etc.), as well as having dedicated built-ins for reference books, maquettes/models, and her computer equipment. One could make sure that electrical outlets, cable connections (HDMI, TOSLINK/Optical, USB, Display Port, etc.) are at the proper heights and in the correct number. Also natural and artificial light must be incorporated and managed to great effect. This is just one application of this program’s power; there are many others.

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While my disability and my limited mobility affect my ability to do outside work, I would love to have a nice, custom landscape, that would be very wheelchair accessible and friendly access to an outdoor grill and cooking work area. Ashampoo comes to the rescue in this regard, as well, as it allows you to have great flexibility in laying out your landscape plan. You can pick out your materials, colors, plant varieties, and appliances that you want included, and have the program walk you through the steps needed, until you have the patio you have always dreamed of your whole life.

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These are but a few examples, as the limits of what you can do for your home and light commercial projects with Ashampoo 3D CAD Architecture. Such capability in a compact program, it must come with a steep price right? The answer is a nice no. You can have this power at your fingertips for $99.99 USD. If you need more added templates and features, you can add on the Kitchen and Office Catalog Extensions for $14.99 USD, apiece. Basically, for less than $150.00 USD you can have an extension CAD program that will design any home, home office, simple storefront or garden structure that you might need.

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To top it all off, Ashampoo has great customer support, with prompt service, and fast, courteous replies and solutions to all of your needs and questions. While I have never had the need (nor suspect that I will or you will, for that matter), you can always ask for a refund if you are not satisfied; they stand behind what they sell. After all, I know that once you try out this fine program (one of many, many programs they make), you will find that it not only meets your needs, but exceeds them quite nicely. If you think you might need even more designing muscles, and then tune in next time, as I will share with you their top-of-the-line CAD program for all manner of construction/design projects, Ashampoo 3D CAD Professional 6. Until next time, keep on techin’. . .

Ashampoo Home Designer Pro 3.30 In-Depth Review

Ashampoo Home Designer Pro 3.30 In-Depth Review

Many people were not very aware of housing and building constraints that affect the disabled, or the modifications they need to be independent, until war, and its effects were put on the world stage, in the early 2000’s. This is getting more exposure, due to many returning home veterans from these recent wars/conflicts, and the help they get from various charitable and government entities. While a tragic by-product of combat, our connected world now has seen that those who have injuries (which modify how they can interact with cabinets, doors, hallways, bathrooms, etc.) need specialized housing, equipment, and accessibility devices. These brave men and women deserve our consideration and help in either obtaining or modifying their homes, so they can remain independent and further support and care for their families, within their homes. They embody how those with disabilities reflect the respect that they disabled deserved, and need to be accommodating to those, who are not as able-bodied as themselves.

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It is a dream of many people to own their own home, especially if they could design it, to their specifications. This is very near and dear to the hearts of the disabled, as well. While many people dream of palatial estates, with numerous stories, diverse rooms, and sprawling grounds; the disabled many times just want rooms that allow them get into them without getting stuck on thresholds, wide enough for their wheelchairs to pass through, cabinets that can be reached from a low position, tubs/showers that do not have to stepped into over lips, etc. These desires are not just for plush comfort, but rather to allow those who are disabled, to be independent and not have to depend on others to fetch their food, bathe them, nor take them room to room. Many times, people do not have someone to be their caregiver, around the clock, so blueprints and architectural drawings that are used for buildings should keep this in mind.

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Having these improvements and design plans should be required, so residences and commercial buildings could be used interchangeably, without costly renovations. Sadly, building codes and typical floor-plans are not made, with these considerations, except in the case of government buildings and commercial structures. Even so, many times, I can tell you, firsthand, the door clearances, thresholds, and traffic flow is not up to the task for easy access, for those in manual wheelchairs.

 

The fine folks at Ashampoo have created a suite of CAD software programs that get thus done, the primary program is called Ashampoo Home Designer 3 Pro. In starting this project, I can tell you that I was overwhelmed and felt ill qualified to design a residence (even with my design background), but the wizard and furnishings that the program provides more than makes up for this apprehensions. Most importantly, these tools can help you brainstorm ideas that you want to incorporate into your dream home, and need for your specific needs. Using the systematic wizard will allow you to set some key parameters, such as your number of floors, basic materials used, and giving your project a rough outline for it to take shape; naming your dream structure will help you make a reality of your goals and dreams tangible.

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If you are need of ideas or basic structures, the program ships with numerous structure and fixture samples. This virtual portfolio will give you a strong sense of going into an architectural firm or design center, and just window shopping or going for your initial consultation; laying the groundwork for how your home can look. I would advise you to choose several different “modal” homes, and use the mouse/keyboard controls to walk through them to better know what actual space you need, and what amenities that you need to properly accommodate your needs, both now and as you and your love ones age. Of note to consider in conjunction with this is to see how your choices in materials, location, and size will be affected by natural light/heat, so you can get an accurate estimate of how much energy consumption the structure might need. This could very well change, as more specialized adaptive devices (rechargeable scooters, lift chairs, stairway lifts, respiration devices/C-PAP machines, etc.) might require additional power and redundant systems to be put in place, and brought online.

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This software is very scalable, with an emphasis on interior designers and architects, but it does offer ideas for the laymen and the intermediate DIY’s alike. Ashampoo believes in this fact so much, they recently had a giveaway version for Home Designer 2.0, to give people a taste of what this program can offer you. If you missed this opportunity, you can still try out their excellent demo version of this program. The retail price for this program is $49.99 USD, and is an excellent value for the money. ashampoo_company_logo01If you need additional options and added fixtures, they have a companion program, called Ashampoo Kitchen Catalog Extension that plugs into this program. I know that once you try this program, and dream about having a universal access home, you will pick up Ashampoo Home Designer 3 without hesitation. As always tell them I sent you, and keep on techin’!

Day-of-Release: Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 4.0

Day-of-Release: Ashampoo Slideshow Studio HD 4.0

Two generations ago, family and friends might gather around a projector screen, with a slide projector with a slide rotary caddy. They would take these opportunities to recap trips they went on, things they saw, and people they experienced the events with. As been the subject of numerous parodies and skits, people have been subjected to seeing the same scene, over and over again, with off-handed quotes. You typically hear such things as “Here is Gene, on the right!” Now he is on the left!” “You remember the heat that day, Gene?” What do you think, Barbra?” The purpose of these gatherings was to track and chart the milestones of people’s life.

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Today, the technology is different, but the purpose has carried on into day, with computers, mobile device cameras, optical media (DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K-UHD) and streaming video being the media that these memories are recorded onto for preservation. The scope has been expanded to now encompass the avenues of commerce, education, entertainment, and journalism, in addition to the personal recordings of yesteryear. The learning curve of these software programs has varied over the years, coupled with the available feature sets that they each offer. If you get an easy-to-use program, the features might be limited. If you choose a more full-featured program, you tend to find yourself facing a less-friendly GUI/UX that is much less intuitive and systematic.

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I am glad to report to you, today, that a new, more powerful, and full-featured program has debuted today, from those fine folks at Ashampoo, entitled Slideshow Studio HD 4.0. This great program fully carries forward the fine, long-standing tradition that Ashampoo has come to represent; demonstrated by the craftsmanship you find in this and all of their programs. Not only does have the standard functions you would expect from a slideshow program, but the forward-looking embrace 4K Ultra-High-Definition video standard that is bursting on the scene.scr_ashampoo_slideshowstudio_hd4_simplemode_adapt_to_music

This promises of up to 8x the resolution of 1080P video, with support for High-Dynamic Range (HDR) for extreme life-like imagery and natural shadows, mid-range tones, and highlights. As Hollywood has begun taking this file format as the go-to choice for how they capture our blockbusters, and present them to us for home theater consumption, not many home enthusiasts programs offer this functionality, but Slideshow Studio HD 4.0 comes through for you, in this regard.

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Not only does this software program that has these feature-set, included, but it also introduces the addition of 17 new transition effects, not available in prior versions. If the included transitions and effects that come bundled with the program do not meet all of your needs, post-launch, additional templates will be made available, free of charge from their website. I can attest that having an online depository for specialized templates has been a lifesaver, on several occasions, with other software; I am very looking forward to have this resource for this program available to me and to you, my faithful readers.

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As a faithful user of iOS devices for seven years or so, I need tools and software that allows me to enjoy my media and share it with those in my circle, on these devices. While I have yet to make a mobile-enabled slideshow, with Slideshow Studio HD 4.0, has specialized output settings for these devices, so you have full confidence that your final project will work on these devices, with minimal hassle and problems. For those of you that use Android or other operating systems on your mobile devices, they have output device profiles for those pieces of equipment.

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As you may recall my wife has a home-based art business, and she has branched into tutorials and training videos, in addition to her artwork for sale. She has done videos on Periscope, and uploaded some basic time-elapsed videos of her paintings, but having this tool in her arsenal will allow her to create more polished and professional videos in this vein. I can see that she might very well start laying a narration track over her work, and better explain her creative process to help budding artist reach their potential. I can see that the software’s support of this feature will help her obtain her goal for this purpose.

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Right now, if you purchase this program on the launch day or soon after (which is today, July, 11, 2016), you can have this program for 50% off its regular price of $39.99 USD for a Single-User License. This is a nice savings, and will allow you to become a paying customer for Ashampoo’s products, and might entitle you to future upgrades and discounts on this program, as well as the other members of their product family line. In my opinion, this is well worth the money for such a powerful and versatile program that can be used for personal and professional projects, alike. If you need this program for multi-user environments or for business purposes, you can contact them for a price quote, directly. If you still are not convinced that this is for you, you can use their trial version, and test it out for yourself. As always, keep on techin’!

SoftOrbits Photo Background Remover In-Depth Review

SoftOrbits Photo Background Remover In-Depth Review

I cannot tell you how many times I have had the need to extract an image or element from a composition. I used the selection tool and the magic wand in various graphic design software programs, for this task. The process is time-consuming, and requires finesse and training to do this effectively. This can be compounded and multiply many fold, when you have to do this multiple times, across several images for a project. I have seen many programs that have come down the pipeline and promised an automation process, that streamlines the time needed, requires less technical know-how; yet allow some oversight and nuanced changes. Suffice to say, those that have come before have sorely disappointed and under-performed in their delivery and results.

Flash forward to today, and an up-and-coming design software company has risen to the occasion. I am speaking of SoftOrbits, and you have seen in my reviews of their products (hopefully you have tried their products, by now), you know the can deliver. In fact, a maxim of business is to under promise, and over deliver; SoftOrbits has taken this to heart, and done that with excellence, in their products, customer service, and how they develop and create future features/programs.

In tackling this challenge head on, they have developed a program that solves this problem, entitled Photo Background Remover. This fine product combines several well-sought features that have been desired, (many that I have alluded to earlier in this review) plus one or two that might not jump to mind immediately. Such additions will seem like a natural fit, and you will wonder that why you did not think of them, yourself. Once I go into these features, individually, you will see what I mean, all the more.

 

As I stated before (in my halcyon days of being a graphic design student), many of the assignments that we were giving required us to take stock images and composite them into collages and projects, with image extraction. On top of Molière patterns and digital noise in the images from scanning them into the computer, we had a difficult learning curve in how best to crop and cutout images, and has them look good and clean. Many of my efforts looked crudely cut out and misshapen and starkly out of place in the composition. Granted in time, and with the passing of years in school, I got better, but it get it just right, required extra effort to get it to an exacting place, even as I was graduating.

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While my life went in a different direction, after my art school years, I always appreciated that I knew how to do this task; ever hopeful that computers and technology would advance to better streamline this process. Thankfully, the abilities of SoftOrbits Photo Background Remover makes this task so much simpler than I thought would be possible, until I tried this software, for myself. I was so impressed that whatever I threw at the program, it would just cut it out, without issue and so cleanly. It looked like it was just an image that was made without a background and created in isolation, rather than being taken as a portion from something else.

While I have my, own experiences in the technical arts, my wife has been a professional artist, illustrator, and graphic designer with eleven years’ experience. I have spoken with her on the benefits and potential of this software for her purposes. She said that it might be useful for her creation of stencils and maybe other applications. One, specific example that we thought might work well would be used for “tubing” applications and projects.

You may ask what that might be. The answer was unfamiliar to me, until my wife informed me that many people use avatars of their favorite artist’s work and pop culture references; the source of these avatars and “digital stickers” are processed artwork, run through programs, such as PaintShop Pro. Their backgrounds and non-needed elements are removed, and stripped out of the images, so they can be overlaid over message boards, websites, online profiles, etc.6147989

The finished images are called tubes, and are in demand with a nice sector of the graphic art market. Sadly, if artist/company-endorsed versions of these artworks are not available, people tend to create “unauthorized” versions that lack the polish and professional quality that is needed, much less lost revenue to the creators that make the images, in the first place.

My wife creates these from her artwork, and it is always time-consuming process. Having this software to not only do this semi-automated background removals, but being able to take advantage of batch processing and watermarking of a collection of images; makes it all the more beneficial and impressive tool that she can utilize to a great end. Since she shares her work on social media for her portfolio promotion, being able make sure that her work gets a proper attribution and legal protection is a vital step in her business workflow. In others words, this is a tool that she has needed for years, and now thanks to SoftOrbits, she has one, finally!

This is a specialized example with very specific and specialized applications. However, this program will serve you well, with the fact that it feathers the selection for your cutouts. While “tubes” need this to look polished, just taking anything out of your images and having it appear natural is invaluable. If you want to fantasize of putting you and your family in Hawaii, but only can afford to go to the lake, the compositing will look flawless. When people see your images, they will ask if you got a tan, not why the picture looks off. This is just one, fun example, and your imagination can run wild

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If you have concerns that you might lack the skills to do this effectively, put those to rest. If you have a strong sense of what you want to take from an image, and what is the background you want to leave behind, it is just a matter of clicking on each element, and choosing whether to keep or clear it. It is just as simple as that. No muss, no fuss, and easy as cutting a picture up with a pair of scissors, without the rough edges.

As I have stated in this article, going through this process manually requires a fair it of time for each edit or mask task. This is multiplied numerous times, if you have a large batch of images to work through. A saving grace of Photo Background Remover is that you can do this, with an automated system that does a bulk edit of one or two steps. It simply chooses the main element of the image, selects it, and either clears the background or fills it with a solid color. This is a great way to get a bunch of your images prepped for making tags, badges, or I.D. photos.

As always, SoftOrbits suite of programs has several tiers of their programs for various applications. Photo Background Remover follows this model, and comes in three versions. The first version is the Personal Edition ($49.99 USD), which is the full version and allows unlimited usage for non-commercial, non-business locations on one computer. The Home Edition ($74.99 USD), is the same as the Personal Edition, except it comes with a license for usage on two computers. The last tier of the software, is entitled Business Edition ($99.99 USD), which has allowed usage in commercial and business environments. Each of these versions includes free updates for minor versions, and unlimited e-mail support.  In summation, this program will change the way that your photos can be used. Just try the trial, and I know that you will be hooked. Tell them I sent you, and keep on techin’!

Gamani GIF Movie Gear 4.3 In-Depth Review:

Gamani GIF Movie Gear 4.3 In-Depth Review:

Social media has grown in importance and significance as the years have gone by, with memes being used to share popular culture and trending topics. Gone are the days of 8-bit (256 colors) simple graphics of the early 1990’s, replaced with 24-bit/32-bit true color images that show HD movies and TV clips of today. Such changes have required file formats to evolve, and animated icons and images are no different. As PNG image formats have supplanted GIF for web images, so too APNG format has began to replace animated GIF’s. Trying to find a qualified program that accomplishes this that is easy to understand, use, and is reasonable priced, is a fairly narrow field. The cream of the crop can be found in Gamani Productions GIF Movie Gear, which supports both the legacy GIF format and the aforementioned APNG formats.

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This program has a very familiar interface that anyone who has familiarity with standard Win32-Bit/Win64-Bit applications can attest. Inset inside of the main window, you can see a sub frame, which allows you to open a file, add frames, or start the tutorial. As you can see, the main window has a toolbar, with File, Edit, Frame, Animation, View, and Help, common to an art program. The thrust of this program is to take a series of still images that you have already created/imported, and turn them into an animation, cursor, or icon. You can also break down an existing animation, and turn it back into individual still images. This program also allows you to blend/merge multiple animations into a single animation that is a hybrid of the originals. Above these options, you can make edits and palate changes to your animations.

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Breaking down individual elements of this program will allow you to better comprehend and understand how these files are created, and the nuances that go into producing professional-grade final images and animations. The tutorial will take you through some sample images, animations, and modifications. I have followed these steps that the program’s author outlines, and as someone who has minimal experience with making animations, I had very little trouble following the instructions. Anyone has any image manipulation experience, can do this with ease. I like how you can take a portion of an image that does not really change between frames and streamline the final animation, by just using the parts that do change. Bottom line, this program has an easy-to-follow, systematic approach that anyone can use.

You may be asking what does a program such as this might cost. The answer may surprise you, as it is only cost $29.95 USD. Many graphic design programs cost well above this price point, and cannot easily do these tasks, with the same ease. This price is for a single-computer license, and entitles you to tech support and extended customer service. If you need this program for corporate environments or multi-computer setups, you can request a price quote for bulk orders. I definitely believe this program is well worth the cost, and I can see putting this in to practice with both creating memes fir social media and potential animations on my blog website.  If you still are uncertain, you can try the program risk-free for 30 days, in a trial/demo version of the program. Check out this program and company and I know that you will agree that Gamani Productions and GIF Movie Gear are well worth your business. Buy this great program, and tell them I sent you. Until next time, keep on animating!

Ashampoo Snap 9 In-Depth Review:

Ashampoo Snap 9 In-Depth Review:

My regular readers will know that I use screen captures, frequently, in my review and product highlights. I have reviewed programs from this software category before, but I wanted to revisit this area, due to some people needing to not only capture static images, but videos/clips. While so far I have not done video tutorials or instructional feeds, the potentiality of being able to do so may spark some creativity in my mind for future applications. Most capture programs that can do static captures or even use the alt-print-screen keyboard shortcuts, if you do not have capture software installed. However, Ashampoo and its software cadre of programs come to the rescue! The great program that takes the lead is Ashampoo Snap 9 and it is loaded with features for all capture duties.

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Screen resolutions are growing all of the time, with a new benchmark being 4K (2160P: 4,096px x 2,160px), becoming the top-tier for consumer and web media production. Most programs top out at 1080P, but not so with Snap 9. This great program can allow to you make screen captures and snaps of your desktop, browser, windows selection, and so forth. This is especially nice, if you are fortunate to have an ultra hi-resolution monitor/TV to work on and create clips. Even if you have a screen size and resolution that you are using, which does not match or too large for your final application usage, you can take this program and size it down for distribution; vital for streaming and downloading on non high-speed connections.

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Resolution aside, a standout of this program is the ability to use OCR text processing with your captures. No matter what languages that you might use in your projects, Snap 9 has support for seven languages (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish, Turkish, and Russian). Being able to take your captures that contain text and either convert them to usable design elements or isolate them as editable and type-able font excerpts that you can reuse. I have had middling results with OCR before, but I am sure that you will find that Ashampoo’s results with Snap 9 to be great!

 

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For my readers, who might be growing in their skills with more advanced video-making tools, I am happy to report that this fine program has built-in support for major graphic design software suites and social media distribution. If you happen to use video editing software that is compatible with Adobe Photoshop and its file formats, Snap 9 has supports for all layers and objects. You can export to WBEP format and auto-sizing of the content for whatever destination platform or device you are optimizing for.

 

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Social media support allows you to share your captures on Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive, and Twitter. If you have an Ashampoo Web account, you can upload them to the service, and share links to your videos with unique links. If social network platforms are not your speed, Snap 9 can aid you in sending your e-mail, via a dedicated client or through a web-based email service. No matter what way you want to share with people, your clips and captures are going to be up to the task.

 

What does such a full-featured program such as this cost you? The short answer is $49.99 USD, for non-members of Ashampoo products. If you have purchased other products from them, you can pick this up for $24.99 USD, as a reward for customer loyalty. If you are a registered owner of a prior version, you can upgrade for $19.99 USD, also for previous purchases. Unsure if this program is for you, you can try the demo version out first.

logo_w10_comp_blueI know that once you try this, you will buy this without reservation. Ashampoo’s products are time-tested, blogger-approved programs are great, and they have stellar support to backup any issues that may arise. They get my unabashed endorsement, and your usage of them will only grow and grow. If you think of great Windows programs, think Ashampoo!

SoftOrbits Sketch Drawer 4.0 Review

SoftOrbits Sketch Drawer 4.0 Review

Many times we have wanted to take an image/photo that we have created or taken, and wondered what that would look it, if it was a drawing or painting. Professional graphic toolsets have this capability, with varying results and price points. However, they lack a very intuitive interface, nor a nice preview window, to show you what you might expect in your choices. I know, as someone, who has graphic design training and experience, this area of image manipulation has always underwhelmed me, and I have never liked using this in my projects. In being exposed to and very impressed by SoftOrbits and their product line, I was happy to find that they had a niche program to accomplish this with minimal fuss or complications. This excellent program is known as either Sketch Drawer or “Photo-to-Sketch Converter.

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In a unified program layout, that very closely resembles their, other programs, Sketch Drawer allows you to add your images into the main window, and then choose from the various artistic filters/finishes. You might want to make your photos look like pen and ink drawings; you can do that with this program. You want to convert a photo to an artistic rendering, reminiscent of an architectural drawing, this has you covered. Markers, plastic, sepia tone, numerous filters are available to pick from, that are customizable with several sliders.

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In my samples that you can see here, I took another of my photos that I took on my rail trip, the Roseville Train Station, and made it into a drawing.

Rosewood_station_sm_AfterI love how this captured the fine details and gave a look of a scene from back in the heyday, more than a contemporary photo. My second example is where I converted my lovely wife’s portrait from a snapshot into a stylized toner/plastic processed image.Carmen_Outside_Before

It picks up the nuanced color splotches and grain of the simulated paper to create a unique representation of her beautiful face. This is just a very small sampling of what I could have chosen.Carmen_Outside_After

You may ask, what could a piece of software like this mean to the average user? The answer is quite a lot. The industry of home-made art projects and crafts are on a booming trajectory, with social sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat on the rise. People tweet, chat, post, and generally share images, that have filters to increase interest in the subject. Using this program, you can download your images from your phone, tablet, or digital camera, make artistic edits, and then share your creation with the world. On top of this application, you can take your family photos or images and use this great tool to make custom filtered elements for cards, posters, and other printable projects to express any message or greeting you can imagine. The possibilities are endless; just use your imagination.

No matter what features that options a program has, cost is a paramount concern. Fortunately, SoftOrbits has several levels and prices to meet your needs. They have four tiers: beginners/hobbyists, intermediate/customizers, and professionals/artists, and finally businesses. Each tier has various options, and plugins, for these groups. The Lite level ($29.99 USD) gives you the pre-formatted presets, which are good for people just looking to take their pictures and make standard drawings. The Standard level ($49.99 USD) is for individuals that are looking for presets that can be altered or changed from the originals. This tier is the most popular, and the one I recommend for almost all users. It allows you to create nuanced variants of your images, and gives you everything you need, sans the specialized watermark tools for copyright protection that the professional graphic designers will need. If you need these tools, the Professional level ($79.99) includes these tools. The Business level ($99.99 USD) is for multi-user commercial or government entities that need these tools on an enterprise level. No matter which level you think you might need, they have a demo to try out, and see for yourself.

I know that if you try this out for yourself, you will become hooked and want this in your digital life. Being disabled and take my photos and create fine drawings is a nice way for me to continue my artwork production. You have disabilities yourself or have difficulty copying photos into drawings; this is going to save your bacon. Check it out, and I know you will buy this, hands down. Until next time . . . adios!