Sunday, June 14, 2009

New Old Software: GrafX2, Compact, Cross-Platform, and Old School

It seems like every step we take into the future brings us reminders that even old things, well designed, are still useful and even exciting. GrafX2 seems to be a good example of how this works in the software world.

Grafx2, originally distributed as freeware in 1996, was a widely-used graphics-editing program in the demoscene. Here's how it looks:

Okay, so I didn't create the music studio graphic in GrafX2. It's from MS Paint, but I do wish I had the neat tools in Grafx2 when I created it.

Anyway, being open source, the software is still under development, with a very recent release ready to be downloaded. And that's pretty darn cool.

Grafx2 is an old-school graphics software package with personality and some serious power when it comes to manipulating raw pixels. Pixel artists need to be able to do some amazing stuff, often interpolating by hand in areas where even some of the best computer algorithms would fall short.

Here are some of the bits that I like about Grafx2:

1) The famous "gradient circles" tool (not sure why, but I love how it works. Draw the circle, then click inside the circle where you want the start of the gradient to be)

2) You are limited to 256 colors. My computer graphics students know that I love to drone on and on about constraints, but really, you need to know that in a 16.5 million (and more) color world of Photoshops and Painters and whatnot, one of the best creative things you can do is back up, choose a palette of 256 colors, (or hey, even 8 or 16!) and get workin'. No complaints, just do it, and see what happens. Can you be just as creative with these limitations, or do you need to be schooled some more?

3) Terminology like "oops," (undo) "zap"/"kill" (delete); an interface font choice of "fun" or "classic," all the great little bits that give the software some personality. Where is that personality in Photoshop? Answer: Sorry, we're afraid that using "kill" may offend your know, the one with the purchasing power.

4) It started as freeware, which is cool, but sort of scary to use - who knows when it's going to go commercial or just disappear, right? But the developers decided to release it as open source software! The sky's the limit. Grab it, take it apart, add more fun terminology, and use your remix. Or submit your ideas to the developers and see if they go prime-time.

If you are in the market for pixel-art editors, you might also want to check out MT Paint and KolourPaint as well. I like them both in different ways.

Note that Grafx2 is not super-easy for beginners. The learning curve isn't what I'd call super-steep, but pay attention to the "?" button on the toolbar for help and browse the manual for more information.

By the way, Ubuntu users: If you are using Ubuntu 9.04, you can go to the Launchpad download page for 9.10 and install the .deb file. It will work with 9.04/Jaunty just fine. Here are the steps:

1) Go to the link above, then "Build", then click "Karmic i386" (or whatever platform you have...most are i386)

2) That takes you to this page (for i386 only) where you can click "Resulting binaries" in the right-side column.

3) Then you'll be taken to a page with a link to download the .deb file. Download and double-click it to install.

Have fun!

Overview: Split Image Script for GIMP

GandalftheGray, the contributor responsible for another script I reviewed, also created a script called Split Image. (Yo Gandalf, the link on your user page is broken)

What does it do? Simple: It divides your image into tiles, and puts each tile on its own layer.

Be warned though: This script will not function without the "Paste as New Layer" script installed.

The scripts appear on the GIMP "Layer" menu. Here is an overview of the "Split from Rectangle" option:

...And here is an overview of the "Split from Matrix" option:

Here are their two interfaces...pretty simple:



I'm trying to imagine what use someone would get out of this script, but I don't have any ideas. Anybody?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Overview: Visibility Manager Script for GIMP

If you work with layers a lot, you might like the recently-uploaded Visibility Manager script. This GIMP script offers useful functionality like hide all except the current layer and swap visible layers (making visible layers invisible and vice-versa).

Click the image below to see an annotated screenshot-overview:

If you pair it with GIMP's Dynamic Keyboard Shortcuts, this could be a very handy tool. However, if you don't work with a lot of layers very often, you might not see the point.

As always, Linux users should save this script in their GIMP scripts folder to install it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Overview: Sample Average Color for GIMP

I was interested to see a "Sample Average Color" GIMP script appear at the repository. The image below is a rundown of how it works. To install it in Linux, drop the .scm file in your ~/.gimp-2.6/scripts folder.

This script may be helpful to some; people who have taken my computer graphics classes may recall that there is a similar, and quite comprehensive tool online at More tools are listed at the color tools section of the Art 86 website.

Eliteness note: Yes, I taught Photoshop and other Adobe products to college students, and I enjoyed it. And I do use GIMP too! Don't be afraid to add new tools to your arsenal - learn their strengths and weaknesses. GIMP is especially handy now that my creative workflow has gone entirely Linux-based due to buggy software. There are some really nice third-party plug-ins and scripts available for GIMP, too.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wallpaper-tray vs. Drapes

Short version: Wallpaper-tray wins.

I was looking for a wallpaper-rotator for my desktop. Man, how spoiled we are! Anyway, looking through Add/Remove Programs in Ubuntu, I found that I had a mystery-meat choice: Wallpaper-tray or Drapes. So I installed both, tasted the mystery meats, and here's what I found.

Wallpaper-tray (hereafter WT) shows a thumbnail of the current wallpaper on your panel. I really like this touch. Drapes does not seem to do this.

WT lets you do an instant search if you know you have a wallpaper image with a certain word in the title; Drapes has no search.

WT expects you to know what wallpapers you want ahead of time, and you put them in a folder. Drapes sort of does this odd abuse-of-checkboxes thing where you're "able" to pick which ones you really want or don't want to show through the Drapes interface. It didn't really work for me.

WT seems to have more options overall, though. It's sort of like more options + sane defauts. In WT, a single click on the icon changes the wallpaper. In Drapes, you double-click.

Overall, Wallpaper-tray seems a better fit to me. More polished. Looks cooler in the panel, too. Drapes will work in a pinch, but man, those checkboxes bug me.

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