Tag: graphic design

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’!

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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!

SoftOrbits Photo Stamp Remover 8.1 Review

SoftOrbits Photo Stamp Remover 8.1 Review

As a bit of an amateur photographer, who loves to shoot candid images of people, animals, and landscapes, I find myself having blemishes, tags, or photo-bombed entities that need to be removed. I have used cropping methods, or color alterations, but the results have been less than desired. While I have a B.A. and M.A. degree in Graphic Design, I focused on vector design for print media. As such, my photo manipulation training was something that focused on enhancing the rasterization of my vectors; of which I had already included the elements that I wanted in the final piece. The only tool that we were briefly exposed to was the “clone stamp” tool. My usage of that tool always seemed to create very discernible patterns that are easily seen and was very detracting. I always felt that my work would never get passed this issue, and wondered if a solution was out there to better address this issue.

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Fast forward to today, going from my college days, and arriving in 2016. This year, I had the fortune to discover SoftOrbits. This excellent company specializes in graphic design software that is nicely laid out to expedite your workflow and make doing complex tasks intuitive. One tool that they produce is Photo Stamp Remover, and it addresses this issue, perfectly. The interface presents you with a window that has the standard toolbar along the top, and a drag-in-drop/file browser button to select your image to clean-up/edit.

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Once you pick your image, you are presented with a toolbox that has various selection tools that allow you choose various parts of your image(s) for removal. You can pick a marker tool (narrow, rectangular objects), deselector tool (to remove a selection), rectangular selector (rectangles), free-form selector (you can draw any selection shape), color selection (choose by color), and the standby, clone stamper. Each has their merits and usage, and are determined by what you are trying to remove from your pictures.

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The sample image that I removed objects from comes from an old travel photo that I took in 2008. As you can see, the original version has distracting utility poles and a small enclosure along the roadway. In the after image, I have removed the previously mentioned objects, by a combination of all of the above tools. Now the finished product is much easier to focus on the main subject of the homestead in the background, and not be obscured by these lesser elements.

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In my brief experience with this tool, I can now say that this tool is far superior to the old ways that I did this, even with the inclusion of a “clone stamper” tool that I ended up using to do some final clean-up of the image. I can image that you, my loyal readers may think this tool is too niche for the general public usage. The truth is far from this reality, as you, will need this capability. Photo_Stamp_Sample01You can remove people from your images that you may no longer want in the images (ex-spouses/partners, deceased parties, strangers, and children; to protect minor’s identities), objects (business names, street addresses, props, etc.), and miscellaneous objects (time stamps, scratches, blemishes, etc.). The cherry on top is that you can do this without advanced graphic design training or skills.

 

 

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You may be asking how much does this streamlined removal tool program may cost. The answer is $49.99 USD, which is very reasonable for any professional graphic design program. Many such programs run into the multiple hundreds for a single program, and into the thousands for a design suite.  Speaking of which, quite a few of their programs (including this one) can be had in a Design Studio Suite for $99.99 USD (Home) and $278.99 (Business), No matter what route you take to acquire this software, it is well worth your money and time invested in using this program. If you are still unsure if this software is for you, check out the demo version, and see for yourself. I know that you will like this program, and find it very valuable, along with all of their other programs on offer. If you think of needing valued-added graphic design software, keep SoftOrbits in your mind.

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IcoFX Software Review

Coming from a background of IT, technology, and software installations as a Tier-II support, coupled with a background in graphic design, I have some familiarity with design software. Being tasked with setting up and configuring customer’s software, and laying out the desktop(s) with the icons that will be most used was a part of my day. Many times, I wanted to give my customers icons that were distinct and unique from the default ones. Up until recent times, I just tried to clumsily try to use Microsoft Paint or PAINT.net to make a .BMP into an .ICO file, with meddling results. Many times it would not have the correct transparency or background, the size would be off, and the aspect ratio would be skewed. Such poor results made me mothball this practice, and just use default the icons for software. I have good news for you, folks, those days are behind us, with the advent of IcoFX from IcoFX Software. This fine software allows you to create your custom icon(s) from an image, from image objects, make icon libraries, change an application’s icon, extract icons from files, and much more.

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I know that having to make any art project from scratch is trying and daunting (not unlike trying to stare at a blank page to write article for a blog), so believe me when I say that having a tool-set that allows you to construct your icons from pre-made art assets is a great aid. As their stellar online tutorials show you, you can take circles, squares, gradients, and other shapes and layer them into a new, cohesive whole. This fine software has numerous built-in assets, (and more for purchase from their great partners) so the process is painless, intuitive, and excellent workflow. This program shares many tool-kits, seen in GIMP, Inkscape, and even in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, so using it in conjunction with these software titles is a no-brainer; not to mention that this program is an excellent pipeline for starting or finishing the process. You choose a basic shape, shadow, color fill, and so forth, and before you know it, you have an icon. Trust me, once you try it, you will be making icons all the time.

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If you want to just make an icon from scratch, the process is straightforward and concise. Just set your icon size and background parameters, and then just draw your icon. If you have an image already drawn, just bring that into IcoFX, and use the Create from Windows/Macintosh Icon from Image, and set the size and compression settings, dependent on the O/S restrictions and color palette limitations. If the image has areas or things you want to add or exclude from any icon that you want to make, you can mask or select that information, and presto, professional icon. Any skill with art programs, you will wonder why it has taken so long to get such a quality icon production model software, until now.

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Once you have made several icons, before long you will have a group that you might want to place them in an icon group. Just use the Icon Resource Editor, add each icon, and name them, to what want, and save them in a combined file, that is easy to distribute and share online. I know that I have seen numerous icon libraries on stock image websites, which people can use for their projects. Being able to do this, easily, is an excellent way to archive your art projects, in a concise manner. When I have modified or created icon sets for computer themes, I have always wanted a way to make an icon set for the theme file; now this dream has become a reality.

 

 

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As alluded to earlier in this article, people have asked me to create a catchy icon for a program that they use regularly. With IcoFX, you can modify a program’s application (.exe) file or Dynamic Link Library (.dll) or shortcut to extract/modify within the Resource Editor. In the dialogue box, choose the file, and then you are presented with a browse window to choose a new logo for the program. This is as simple as it sounds, but be careful. As stated in their tutorial, changing an application file, directly, should be left to software-trained professionals or those with experience with the O/S environment, lest you cause non-operational bugs or glitches. These can have nasty side effects, and lead to stability errors. This should be stressed to a higher priority, if you try this with built-in applications or programs. However, doing this to a shortcut is much less dangerous, and an excellent training module to practice with, to get familiar with this process.

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One, last feature I want to highlight is the ability to create a custom icon that will show in a browser window or tab, that reflects your website’s identity. This file type is known as a favicon, and can be created in the same fashion as any other icons in the software. As outlined in the tutorial, you will need to set specified icon sizes and parameters, as well as some skill in laying out code or web pages in the header, so one can embed the icon, so it shows up, when someone visits the site. I do not do any coding in web languages, personally, but in talking to others, who do code, making a nice, clean image/icon is the hard part, and this software will ensure you get professional results.

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You may wonder what a professional icon creation suite will cost you. In terms of graphic design creation programs, the costs are very reasonable. A single-user license will cost you $29.99 USD. This tier of license will allow you to create, edit, and import/export icons. If you want these features, plus the ability to create icon toolbar strips, batch processing, mobile icon creation, and the ability to use your icons in a commercial/corporate setting, you will need to go up to the Business License, which runs $49.99 USD. Well worth the cost, and as someone who is using this version, it is the way to go. If you have multiple workstations, at one location or multiple work sites, they have license tiers to cover these needs, too. Considering that programs, such as Corel CorelDRAW, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and many others require a large, upfront license cost or subscription, IcoFX is a phenomenal value to behold. I know that if you need quality icon work done, you will be hard pressed to find a better, robust software on the market, today. Nevertheless, do not take my word for it, try it out today, and I know you will agree with me. Until next time, adios amigos!