I’m not a big graphics person, but sometimes I need to do some graphics work.
I don’t do it often enough to justify one of the commercial programs (say Corel Paint Shop Pro, which my wife uses and likes, or Adobe Elements)–and, as I found when I tried to use Paint Shop Pro, if you’re not using them reasonably often, there’s a significant learning curve each time you use them.
I tried The GIMP–I guess it’s now just GIMP–and the learning curve seemed like a cliff in front of me. I gave it up fairly quickly.
Then I tried Paint.NET, and found that I liked it pretty well. I used Paint.NET for a couple of book covers, for example.
More recently, I heard about Pinta–which I mistakenly took to be a fork of Paint.NET. It’s not. It’s another open source software/freeware effort, “inspired by Paint.NET” but–like GIMP and unlike Paint.NET (which is Windows-only)–available for Mac, Windows and Linux. I downloaded it as well, without deleting Paint.NET
Recently, I prepared a report based on Give Us a Dollar… but specific to Oregon and Washington public libraries, as part of a speaking agreement (I’ll be doing two talks and, if people sign up, a preconference during the 2013 joint conference in late April 2013). Initially, I planned to make the report available exclusively as a free 6×9″ PDF. To make an interesting cover page without needing to be an artist, I decided to create two mosaic strips, each 3″ high (900 pixels) and 5″ wide (1500 pixels), consisting of graphic elements taken from Washington and Oregon public library websites and Facebook pages. That didn’t always mean pictures of libraries; some Oregon libraries using Plinkit for their sites use images evocative of where they are.
I used the wonderful Windows Snipping Tool [if you ever need to capture screenshots and you're using Windows, I suggest you find this tool--key "snip" in the Start box--and make a shortcut to it on the desktop or, better yet, the taskbar] to capture images from various libraries. I think I used Paint.NET to normalize image sizes and then to fit the three dozen (or so) images into two mosaic strips. It wasn’t difficult, and I was happy with the results. You can see a smaller version of those results, and the rest of the cover page, in this post (which also discusses the three talks).
A bit more recently, I thought it would be nice to make the Washington/Oregon special report available to others as an example of what I could do for other states or groups of states, either as part of a speaking engagement or as a separate project. The person who I’m working with on the conference and I agreed that the following approach would be reasonable:
- Beginning March 1, 2013 or thereabouts, the PDF–it’s a 73-page 6×9 PDF–will be available as a free download from Lulu. I’ll probably take it down around October 1, 2013. It will be available to anybody, and it’s the best example I have of at least one approach I could take.
- When I do the formal announcement, I’ll also say how people can turn the PDF into a nice little printed book, albeit a book that’s just slightly smaller in each dimension (telling Adobe Reader to print it in booklet form, which puts two 6×9 pages–reduced to 91.7% of original size–on each side of 8.5×11″ paper and prints the pages so that, folded, they’ll be in proper order, then center-stapling the results).
- I’ll offer a slightly expanded version of what I just said for a simple reason: Because 20 of the 73 pages include color graphs, a paperback Lulu edition would be expensive–the whole thing has to be printed in color, at $0.20 a page rather than $0.02 a page. Whereas a color laser printer or inkjet with, say, $0.03/page for black text and $0.15/page for 4% coverage in four colors (a lot more coverage than the color pages–except for the cover page–actually use), using $0.01/sheet paper, can probably print the whole thing for less than $6, maybe considerably less. (Actually, I’d guess around $3: since each “page” is really two pages, figure $0.03×37 plus $0.15×11 plus $0.36.)
- But I’ll also offer a true book for those who might want it–and it will be a book, hardcover and all. It will probably cost around $30-$35, a couple of bucks more than production costs. (It will only be available while the PDF is available–probably March 1, 2013 to October 1, 2013.)
- To do the book right, I needed to strip off the “cover page” and add a true cover–and I liked the idea of a wraparound cover with those mosaic strips wrapping all the way around. That meant having two strips each 900 pixels high by 4,260 pixels wide (front, back, spine and enough extra for the binding bleed). And it meant building a new cover 3,225 pixels high and 4,260 pixels wide.
I captured a whole bunch more images using Snipping Tool and normalized them (not all to the same size, but all to sizes that could plausibly be combined into a mosaic) with Pinta. I found Pinta a little less smooth than I was used to, but…well…OK.
If you’re wondering, which you’re probably not, both the original strips and the new strips are chosen to include a broad cross-section of libraries by LSA in both states; the new strips include roughly one out of three Oregon and one out of two Washington libraries–Washington has fewer libraries.
Then I wanted to paste the old Top strip into a new, much wider, Top2 strip and add more images to fill out the almost-three-times-as-wide strip. And immediately ran into trouble. Pinta would turn the bottom half of that large strip image into garbage. I “fixed” that by opening the strip, resizing the canvas to the new size, and going from there–but I ran into the part-garbage situation in a few other cases, when I was copying-and-pasting larger images. I also found that the copy-and-paste process was slow and difficult, enough so that I wound up with a few places where the pieces aren’t combined as carefully as I’d like. But since this was all just a frill, I accepted the results.
And then, wondering, decided to do the Bottom strip with Paint.NET rather than Pinta. It went much better–no problems with larger images, much smoother operation, some convenient info on the screen that Pinta didn’t offer and that made life easier… Well, it just went better. So much so that the Bottom strip became the Top strip for the new cover, since that’s more prominent. If this was a project where I anticipated lots of sales for the hardcover book (where “lots of” is significantly more than, say, 3 copies), I’d probably redo the other strip from scratch. I didn’t.
As you can probably guess, I used Paint.NET to create the full cover as well. Once I remembered the layer tricks to be able to get the spine text done properly (you have to put that text on a separate layer and rotate that layer–there are other ways, but that’s the most straightforward) and to have guidelines where I wanted them, it was a snap.
Here’s a small version of the cover (you’d never see all of it–the leftmost and rightmost 1/3 inch or so is swallowed up by the binding, as are the top and bottom fraction of an inch). As you can see even at this small size, the bottom strip is, well, a little ragged by comparison to the top.
For me, at least, and with a Windows computer, Paint.NET is the tool of choice. It just seems to be more polished, smoother, more powerful. I wish I’d used it for both strips. (But for various reasons, it would be a LOT more work to go back and redo the bottom one…)
That doesn’t matter if you’re using Linux or Mac OS X: Paint.NET isn’t available.
It might be the other way around for some other uses–there are aspects of Pinta’s UI management that seem to be clearer and more modern. I think.
Of course, you can have both: they’re the same price. Still…after using both, I’m more fond of Paint.NET than I was before.
Update, February 22:
As I was maybe procrastinating a little on preparing the Powerpoint slides for the talk that features this book, I found myself touching up that lower strip with Paint.NET. Not redoing it entirely, but doing a little selective modification. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better. And I found it easier to do on Paint.NET.
After which, I did do the PPT…