Sumopaint a Middleweight Contender

While unlikely to supplant Photoshop, Sumopaint is a surprisingly smooth and powerful image editor. Unlike Photoshop, Sumopaint operates in your browser. Powered by Flash, the program sports many of the same tools as Photoshop. The program also supports layers and filters. The filters are available only if you pay a one-off fee, and for slightly more, users can download an offline app version. The interface is very clean and professional. Now to search for a browser based image editor that runs on html5...

Neat Freaks United

File under: people with way too much time on their hands, or: how to make your fetish into a business. Austin Radcliffe spends his days shooting and curating images of objects arranged in aesthetically pleasing ways. In some ways his obsession is quite old school — collectors have long organised their finds by all sorts of esoteric criteria. While the neat aspect will probably irk messy people, the various collations, coteries and concatenations are often quite pretty, fun, and interesting for the sheer variety of things revealed in the world.

The Past is a Foreign Country

Looking backwards in time is to be constantly surprised. There's always so much that has been forgotten, and is genuinely strange and unfamiliar Seen in detail, eras often belie their stereotypes. How to be a Retronaut posts themed photo galleries chiefly from any decade of the last ten. Topics include Colour tourist photographs from the Soviet Union (1960s), Harlem Street Scenes (1930s), Pepsi advertisements (1950s), an Apple Gift Catalogue (1983), portraits taken in fake snow (Victorian England) and abandoned buildings of Detroit (2000s) and many, many more. The photographs and ephemera are often hard to contextualise and integrate, yet in an odd way, bring the past momentarily into the present. 

360 degree world

Google Street View gives users the chance to 'stand' on any of millions of streets and pan to see the scenery. But as every viewer knows, the average street is pretty prosaic, and the image quality is not fabulous anyway. Which brings us to 360cities. This immersive site has thousands of high resolution 360 degree images from all over the world — views of mountains, canyons, urban scenes, forest glades and massive crowds. The images are seamless, sharp and occupy your full screen with thousands of details that you can absorb at leisure. The interface is easy to navigate, piggybacking on Google maps (and also appearing as a layer in Google Earth), and once you get started, stopping is a problem. Check out some of their ultra high resolution images — the London Eye panorama is a jaw dropping 80 gigapixels.

Patterns and Colour

Fascination with combinations of repeating images/symbols and colour seems to span cultures and appear in every historical period. The Mayans, the Egyptians, the Persians and Victorian-era Britons were obsessed with pattern, whether applied to walls, monuments, clothes or jewellery. Those similarly afflicted in the 21st century can use programs like this. While they may not be designing a grand tomb, they could at least generate a nifty wallpaper for their mobile phone or PC...


Art in the public domain

One of the best aspects of working on cover designs for histories and historical fiction is the removal of copyright as a limiting factor. Although the photograph of the artwork is sometimes copyrighted and requires permission, the artworks themselves have long been in the public domain.  Being able to use a brilliantly executed portrait or landscape gives the designer access to nuances of tone and form very hard to find in contemporary photo libraries. The three covers below were designed for local publishers in 2010. Three-covers
Read More

Flickr in Colour

ideeFlickr users add over 4,000 images per minute to the wildly popular image-sharing site. Over ten million images have been tagged with the Creative Commons tag -- allowing for creative, and sometimes commercial re-use. Ideé Inc has taken those ten million-odd images and created an interesting little search engine called Multicolr Search Lab. The only search 'term' allowed is colour. Click  on the little grid of colour swatches at top right, and the main part of the screen will be filled with images primarily containing that colour. Click on another colour, and the engine locates images with both the original colour and the new colour.  The results can be quite startling, and very useful if you are looking for a background image, or a texture. Not much use if you need to refine the search by subject or theme, but an interesting pointer as to the kind of capabilities that smart search image engines will soon be able to offer.
Read More

Commons Explorer

An Australian programmer has devised a neat little Java-based app for browsing commons-tagged images. Once installed, the application displays a list of public domain image libraries. Click on one of the libraries, and a cloud of tags appears, along with tiny image thumbnails gridded up below. Hover over one of the tags, and links to other tags are displayed, and images labelled with those tags light up in the grid. Click on one of the images, and a larger version appears, with the option of viewing it in Flickr. This is a really interesting app that graphically shows the power of image tagging and offers and excellent way of searching a collection. Hopefully the programmer will add more libraries and more images in each library.
Read More

Image Searching in Safety

When a search engine enables users to search for images, and offers search parameters such as pixel size, aspect ratio, dominant colour and image content, they must know that many images are going to be used contrary to the laws of copyright. With the 'everything's free' ethos of web 2.0, such image use seems a victimless crime. Most users don't have the budget for expensive images from online image libraries. However, those who do suffer twinges can now choose from a new set of options relating to the kind of license attached to the image. Options range from "not filtered by license" through to "labelled for reuse (but not commercial use) to "labelled for commercial use with modification". Choosing the latter option dramatically reduces the number of hits for a given search, but at you are probably on the side of the angels (provided the web developer who set up the site in question is the legitimate owner of the image). As more people become aware of the range of image licensing options, hopefully more sites will be set up with this kind of image labelling, and the online image feast will get a little less risky.
Read More

Images for peanuts

picframe1Typing ‘free images’ into Google is an interesting and sometimes dispiriting exercise. Some of the sites listed are ad-laden, spyware infested monstrosities. Others are merely royalty­-free, which is not free at all. There are however quite a few legitimate and useable sources of free images worth considering, of which the following are a small sample. 1. Wikimedia Commons: from the folks at Wikipedia, a fairly clunky search engine and a rather arbitrary system of classification. All of the images are in the public domain. 2. Flickr: A monster photo sharing website with literally billions of images. Some are just happy snaps, but others top flight professional images. The search engine is organised around tags and extremely easy to use. Many are copyrighted, while other images (100,000,000 at last count) carry the Creative Commons licensing system. This allows for use by others in certain circumstances dicated by the creator. 3. Mayang’s free textures: Wood, paint, metal and more. Useful as backgrounds, licensed for unrestricted use. 4. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs catalogue: over a million images held by the Library of Congress, many of which are in the public domain. The search engine is old-school librarian – heavy on text, light on thumbnails. 5. Picture Australia: contains a vast archive of historical images relating to Australia. The images belong to various Australian institutions. Some are still under copyright, but many are in the public domain. Picture Australia maintains a tagged category at Flickr, on an experimental basis. 6. Easy Stock Photos: a nuts and bolts free image site. The quality is moderate and the range limited, but it is easy to use and not infested with malware. For further searches, try: For Chameleon Print Design’s list of pay and free sites, go to Note: Please read the image use policies of the site from which you are downloading the image. Some allow for private use only, others restrict modification of the image in question and some don’t care what you do with it.
Read More

HDR - Too Much Reality?

[caption id="attachment_210" align="alignleft" width="167" caption="A canyon with all shadow detail visible"]
A canyon with all shadow detail visible
[/caption] Traditional film-based photography involves a great deal of compromise, much of it arising from the limitations of the equipment. Digital photography removes or diminishes many these limitations.  For example, digital photography is extremely good at rendering tonal range and colour. High dynamic range imaging (HDR) takes this capability to extremes. HDR involves combining differently exposed images of the same scene. The resultant image retains useful information from all of the exposure settings. The idea is not new, but digital photography has made HDR accessible to vast numbers of amateur and professional photographers. And they trying it out en masse -- a search for HDR images on Flickr yields over one million results. HDR images are unsettling. The level of detail is almost overwhelming, and the colours just too rich. Where the human eye usually sees only partial detail, HDR picks up everything. One can imagine a superhero with the capacity to see in HDR. Mere mortals may prefer the ordinary world of muted colours and imperfect perception. Software is available for those wishing to try their hand at HDR, some of it free.
Read More

Clipart you don't really own...

stick1Is it ever OK to use Microsoft clipart for commercial purposes? Leaving aside aesthetic issues, the answer is ... not really. Microsoft and other companies have immense legal muscle and will often act to protect their intellectual property. In general, Microsoft has deemed that non-commercial use of their clipart is permissible, provided the clipart comes from a legal copy of a Microsoft program or was downloaded from Microsoft’s online clipart site ( by a Microsoft user. Clipart may not be on-sold. According to Mr Gates' lawyers: The following guidelines apply to the use of clip art: 1. You may use clip art in your school assignments and projects. 2. You may use clip art in your church brochure. 3. You may use clip art for personal, noncommercial uses. 4. You may not use clip art to advertise your business. 5. You may not use clip art to create a company logo. 6. You may not use clip art to illustrate the chapters of a book. Given the sheer amount of hideous Microsoft stick figures in business brochures and the like, one might think that particular horse has well and truly bolted. Fortunately, better clipart is available in many places on the web, some free and others rather less so. There is even a website devoted to storing the vector logos of the world's major brands.
Read More

New Resolution

rgb1Not all digital images are equal. Some are so small that they are adequate for web purposes only, while others are suitable for the more rarified heights of print. There are a few simple rules of thumb to be employed when judging which is which and how much an image can be enlarged without ruining it. 
Image Building Blocks
The ancient Greeks were the first to guess that if you cut matter into small enough pieces, you would eventually end up with the fundamental particles from which all things are composed. Digital images are similar. Peer closely enough, and every photograph resolves into a grid of tiny dots. On a computer screen, each point of colour (or pixel) is composed of three tiny image elements. The three elements are red, green and blue, and when each is illuminated in various combinations at one of 255 levels, give rise to one of many millions of potential colours. Back out at the human scale, viewers see a seamless blend of colour, detail and motion. Dots Per Inch The pixel density on a typical computer screen is 72 pixels per inch, which means 72 pixels on each side of a square inch, yielding a total of 5184 pixels per square inch. Images for use on the Internet are hence set up at 72 pixels per inch. Unless the absolute pixel size of an image is quite large, it is relatively unusual for a web-optimised image to be suitable for print purposes. Print images usually require a minimum of 300 dots per square inch, which equals 90,000 pixels per inch squared. Hence, print demands much larger file sizes. Interpolation All digital photos are comprised of a grid of pixels, also known as a raster image. When a digital image is enlarged, the image software automatically adds (interpolates) additional pixels. If enlarged too much, the resultant image can become noticeably blurry. Judicious use of image sharpening software can correct this to an extent, but not if there wasn't enough information to begin with.  Also. many jpeg images optimised for web purposes suffer from the effects of 'lossy' image compression, where image information is discarded and the picture becomes 'blocky'. Sharpening an image degraded in this way can be counterproductive. For example: An 300dpi image that is 500 pixels along each side translates into a 4.2cms on a side print image. An 72dpi image that is 2000 pixels on a side works out as a 17cms on each side image when resized (without resampling) to 300 dpi.  Hence the image that is larger in terms of absolute pixel dimensions is always the best option, even if it is nominally at 72dpi. Resize without Resampling If using a good quality image editor such as Photoshop, it is possible to resize an image without resampling (interpolating) it. In other words, you are able to change the size at which an image will print without altering the overall number of pixels. The value that changes is dots per inch. For example, a 1000 pixel image at 72 dpi would print out at 35cms across. If the resolution is reset to 200dpi without resampling, the image will now print at 12.7cms across.  At 300dpi, the image will be 8.47cms across. The same image, the same overall width in pixels, but a changing relationship to the resolution, and hence the print size. Example from Photoshop CS3: resize without resampling example image Note the pixel size, print size and resolution After resizing without resampling The pixel size remains the same, but the relationship between the print size and resolution has changed Summary:
  • Try to use images at, or close to, the original size unless there is a lot of image detail to work with.
  • Look for images with large pixel sizes (1000 pixels and above, preferably). Anything smaller than 400 pixels across is likely to be of little use for print.
  • When saving in the jpeg format, use the highest or next highest quality level.
  • when converting an image from 72dpi to 300dpi or similar, resize without resampling to discover the 'true' size of the image at print resolution.
  • If an image has to be enlarged for print purposes, use a sharpening filter afterwards
Read More