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Article graphics insight

By Chris Williams. Published: 18th Aug 2004, 03:06:51 | Permalink | Printable

Easy when you know how

Motif of Drobe logo on a drawing boardMini-Howto As a number of readers have shown an interest in how the graphics and motifs in articles are created, I do believe now is a good time to briefly list the RISC OS software that's used to produce them. If you have any favourite graphics software that you use regularly for web work, or any hints'n'tips, feel free to leave a comment at the end of the article.

Screen shots
Normally, screen shots are captured using RISC OS Paint or Glimpse (mainly for snapping off-desktop software) and scaled down using ChangeFSI. Due to the various techniques games programmers use to get their graphics drawn to the screen at the fastest possible speed, I've found that you need to take several screenshots with Glimpse until you capture the perfect grab - this is especially true for Berty's software.

CFSI is great for performing quick overall processing, such as smoothing to remove jagged edges or sharpening to highlight detail in an image. You can also tell it to scale images to a specific size, which is handy. The problem with CFSI is that it single tasks while processing, which prevents other desktop applications from working in the meantime, which is annoying at times. Select Paint also allows you to export images as JPEGs and PNGs, which is useful when preparing images for publishing on the web.

Many images in articles are either screenshots or logos from the article subjects, so Paint and ChangeFSI are invariably used to prepare those for publishing. Sometimes though, image conversion and scaling is done on the Drobe web server, via the command line over ssh, using imagemagick, of which a RISC OS port exists from the Unix Porting Project.

Motifs and logos
These images are the little graphic devices sprinkled into articles to make them more interesting and colourful, or to break up long text into more manageable chunks. Examples include the graphic at the top of this article and the one used in the RiscPkg article. We also use similar images in articles with a running theme, such as every Omega related article has the same red button graphic, and soon after the Iyonix launch, every 32bit related article carried the same themed image.

Mostly, the Drobe graphics are drawn exclusively with Artworks and the Crystal plugin, now superseded by Artworks 2. You can use transparencies to blend colours across objects, or to provide simple shadow effects, as used in the Christmas 2002 picture. You can also use transparencies to build up layers in an image, by setting objects to different strengths of transparency and arranging them to give a graphic a sense of depth, as seen in the i18n graphic and, somewhat in the Select 3 motif - rotating a copy of an object by a few degrees and then making it translucent can create a sense of motion. Another example of this is the Wakefield 2004 motif, which combines a show photograph with some typefaces and a map to recreate the busy atmosphere of the Wakefield show.

Being a vector graphics package, Artworks also provides many other tools, including the ever useful Perspective and Fit to Envelope, which were used to produce the Drobe Air spoof, by 'wrapping' the Drobe rocket ship and the RISC OS cog around the curve of the glass and then setting them to 'stainglass' translucency.

And of course, the Drobe rocket logo was drawn in Artworks, long ago by Article7, which makes it easy to manipulate and incorporate into other graphics.

Screenshot of VariationVariation
Variation is one of those programs that makes you wonder how you ever managed to survive without it. Written by Rob 'Composition' Davison the software is normally freely available for all at compo.iconbar.com, except the NoughtPointOne network of sites is currently down. Variations takes an existing image and applies a myriad of user controllable effects and processes to it: from Pointillist effects as seen in the printing motif (the pattern of circles around the cogs) to fades as seen in the A6 graphic to border shapes as seen in the filenames graphic. Variation also provides a range of colour correction facilities, watermarking and also some extra special effects - the 'Painted Outlines' special effect is one I'm personally itching to use at an appropriate point, as (with just the right settings), it thickens and darkens edges to give the impression that the image was hand painted with thick, vivid paints.

With Variation, you can scroll through (for want of a better word) variations of effects, rendering 'live' on the imported picture, and therefore preview changes to an image before they're committed to. This allows you to check how an image will look as you layer up the effects to produce the final graphic. As some of the effects work better on line art, rather than on photographs (and conversely, some other effects work best on photographic images, rather than with originally digitally crafted work), most graphics are drawn in Artworks first and then imported into Variation.

Example mastheadInsignia
Insignia is another handy application that was used to create the breaking news image. This application can generate new images from scratch, or combine existing images with text, as seen in the example image on the right. You can chose from any font installed on your machine and preview the basic layout of the design, before it's rendered into a final bitmap. By setting the width of the graphic and the position of the text, you can create interesting mastheads for websites.

You can also apply textures to lettering and the background, and play around with various special effects including lens flare and rippling. Its drop shadow ability is one of the better shadowing effects seen in RISC OS software, at the moment: a cunning trick is to move the shadow directly behind the text and make it white or an ethereal blue or yellow in colour, which creates an effective glow around your text. Above all with Insignia, the key word is 'moderation': you have to know when you're overloading an image with effects, which I'll mention again a little later.

Other materials
Article graphics often use existing photographs and other images to flesh them out. Google Image Search can be extremely useful provided you're good with choosing precise search terms - however, check that you're not treading on anyone's toes in terms of copyright before you use any material. Alternatively, there's always 'open content' on the web, which includes images that can be freely used, depending on your definition of free. The Creative Commons website has a few links to such copyleft stock images websites, and there's a number of other good sources around on the 'net, such as stock.xchng and Free Media.

Photographs we've taken, or logos and other PR images have been used too: this XScale graphic was originally from a photograph of the inside of an Iyonix, taken during the press embargo before the news of Castle's machine was made public. Incidentally, the image was processed in Photodesk with the airbrush and smear tool to get the faded edges; Photodesk isn't often used for Drobe graphics, although it's useful to have when it can perform specific tasks that other software can't quite achieve.

Essentially, I always try to get the largest possible image in order to get the best detail, the picture can be scaled down later if required.

Putting it all together
Once an image has been composed in Artworks, the graphic is zoomed so that a largest possible screen grab of it can be taken, using Paint - this seems crude, but it's the quickest and simplest way to get a bitmap copy of the vector art. This spritefile is then scaled down to size (normally around 200 pixels wide for articles) using ChangeFSI and saved out to Paint again, to be exported as a PNG or JPEG image file. This is then scp'ed (secure copied) to the Drobe web server, so it can be inlined in articles.

As an example, the RiscPkg graphic started life as a search online for a suitable picture of a box or some other type of packaging. The box was found and then dropped into Artworks. Using the Blend tool, the lines that span out from the top left corner were added, then made transparent, and laid over the box to give some dimension to the image. Then the inside of the box was made darker to give it more depth, and then a copy of Ian Jeffray's 3D cog switcher was dropped into the Artworks document and tilted slightly to give it a falling effect. Then the artwork was grabbed as a spritefile and dropped into Variation, so the star shaped fade could be applied. Finally, the graphic was saved into ChangeFSI, scaled down and exported as a JPEG.

Most images on Drobe follow this process flow: first, find materials to use, then arrange in Artworks, apply any initial effects, then save into Variation and apply after-effects, and finally scaled down and export from ChangeFSI.

The golden rule
Graphics are there to add to an article, rather than be the centre of attention with some textual content hanging around it: so I try to go easy on the effects so as to not overload them with various decorations.

Also, another good approach is to experiment lots and lots. A graphic may take ten to thirty minutes to produce, but plenty of different styles, textures and arrangements could be explored and evaluated in that time before a final image is settled on. I try not to be put off if one combination of settings makes an image look terrible, as with just the right configuration, you can really create a great graphic.


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Nice to see a range of RISC OS graphic software mentioned. Is Cerilica still using a software protection scheme? Regards, Steve

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 18/8/04 9:24AM
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To grab off screen, David Pillings Snapper is very good - it can even grab menus and show or hide the mouse pointer. It grabs the window under the pointer with or without the border, a user-defined area or the full screen - whatever you want. AFAIR it comes with David Pillings Scanning Software (formerly named ImageM...).

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 18/8/04 9:33AM
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I wonder why anyone would bother to take a screenshot of a graphic in ArtWorks - its direct bitmap export facility allows better control and is quicker to use than grabbing something from the screen. Martin

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 18/8/04 11:27AM
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Interesting article - and thanks for the mention. If the iconbar doesn't come back to life soon I'll try and mirror of my site elsewhere (the current patch archive is already at [link] though people need to have v0.30 or later to use it).

PS. I've always called it Variations rather than Variation. Makes more sense I think? :-)


 is a RISC OS Usersoutherner on 18/8/04 11:40AM
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Not everyone has ArtWorks 2 :)

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 18/8/04 11:51AM
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Yeah, good article. It's especially interesting that you hardly use a 'classic' bitmap package at all.

This is also a great advert for RISC OS, I think. It shows that there is a surprising amount of really high quality graphics software out there.


 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 18/8/04 11:54AM
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The fact that you can produce quality graphics with free software of such brilliant quality is a credit to RISC OS.

If you want to add some extra special touches then some of the commercial software can let you go that bit further.

The choice is yours and as usual it is top class whether freeware, shareware or commercial.

Thanks to all the software writers.

 is a RISC OS Userrmac on 18/8/04 4:03PM
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rmac: Unfortunately, making good looking images from scratch (and ease) is not really possible with freeware. You really need something like ArtWorks to get some good vector drawing. However, don't know !Draw - it's very good in itself!

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 18/8/04 4:58PM
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I found Composition to be invaluable when doing graphics for Tek. I also still use Artworks every now and again, and used to use TopModel a lot (wonder what its status is these days). However, I have to admit that there are a lot of PC apps I now use too (which have no equivalents in the Risc OS world).

 is a RISC OS UserMaxP on 18/8/04 6:28PM
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My own 'ScreenGrabber' application works in a similar way to 'Glimpse', except that: 1) It should be faster (it uses SWIs rather than OSCLI). 2) It will always save the whole screen, not just the current graphics window. 3) It is more configurable - for example you can choose whether or not to include a palette with the sprite. 4) It comes with an easy to use desktop front-end. 5) It is compatible with the Iyonix PC.

If anyone is interested, it can be found at [link]

 is a RISC OS Userthesnark on 21/8/04 10:59PM
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