Adobe Digital Publishing Platform

Today Adobe announced their Digital Publishing Platform, which in their own words is “a platform which consists of applications, technologies, and services that allow publishers to cost effectively author, produce, and distribute groundbreaking content to the broadest possible audience on a wide variety of digital devices”.

While it’s hard to tell from the web page exactly what the Digital Publishing Platform is, it’s also hard not to look at it as a response to Apple’s recent stance against Flash for their mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

From the FAQ Adobe states that it will use “Objective-C for the iPad and the Adobe AIR for the desktop and other mobile platforms”. The FAQ also states that at this time the iPhone is not supported, at least not for the Wired Magazine app which is the flagship example of Adobe’s new platform.

From what I can gather, the DPP will use existing Adobe software such as InDesign CS5 so designers don’t need to learn or use new tools to design and at the same time will compile the final output in a format that fits the Apple app store requirements.

Additionally, the DPP will also include support for HTML5 output, which is Apple’s suggested route for web-based rich media on their devices.

Adobe plans to make the Digital Publishing Platform available to CS5 users later this year via Adobe Labs.

Blank Canvas: Personal Projects

For this installment of Blank Canvas, Go Media is interested in hearing about your forays into the analog world.

With so much design work being created and used online and in digital format, it’s easy for a creator to only see their work on the screen. And typically the work you create is for a client.

Our question this time around: how much work do you create for yourself, and do you exhibit that work in shows and/or galleries? If so, how do you go about finding an outlet for your design work?

We also want to hear from you illustrators out there. How much of your work is personal creation, and do you show your art in community events?

Personally, most of my illustration work ends up being seen on-screen. I’ve been planning to create more personal digital artwork and get it out into the physical world, but to be honest I have been dragging my feet in that area.

At Go Media’s recent WMC Fest art/music/film event, I had the opportunity to display work and worked up an original illustration and had it printed out. The impact of seeing non-client work in large format print was addicting, and I plan to do much more of this in the coming months.

I’m also very curious as to those on the design end of the spectrum, what your thoughts are regarding personal creations and displaying them in a public setting. Sound off in the comments section below.

Go!

Blank Canvas: Flash vs. HTML5

Recently we published a post regarding Apple’s stance on Flash and their iDevices. The gist of the situation is that Apple has decided they don’t want to be reliant on a third-party plugin for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch products.

Apple’s suggestion is for developer’s to embrace the new HTML5 specs which are supported by most current browsers, with planned support for HTML5 coming in those browsers that don’t currently support it.

There’s actually two components to this situation: the first being a browser plugin, which allows Flash-based video players and Flash-based websites (or web elements) to run on the Apple devices; the second is the new terms for the iPhone OS 4.0, which basically state that coders must use Apple’s tools to create apps for the platform.

So on one hand, we’re talking about browser content, and on the other we are talking about the App Store.

GoMedia wants to hear from you web devs out there: what’s your take on this? Not being a web developer myself, my thoughts come from an end-user perspective.

Personally, I like the idea that video and other interactive content would be browser-based as opposed to being restricted to one single authoring tool (Adobe Flash). It just seems good for the internet in general moving forward.

As far as the App Store, I think that is beyond the scope of the Flash vs. HTML5 argument as you cannot use HTML5 to build an App Store app, but one could easily build HTML5 “web apps” for the Apple devices as Google has done with their Gmail, Google Reader and Google Voice “web apps”. So let’s stick to browser-based content on this one.

I’m sure at this stage Flash has more flexibility and options for creating content than the yet-to-be-approved HTML5 standards offer. Flash has been around much longer. But in the long run, which is better for the internet in general?

Basing interactive elements within the browser as opposed to relying on a proprietary plugin just seems like the way to go. It opens up more options for competing software development tools as well as a set standard and coding language that everyone can use without needing anything more complex than a text editor.

But perhaps I am missing something here, not being a web developer (or in particular a Flash developer). As I mentioned, I am sure the Flash tools are currently more robust than HTML5, but I am also looking forward to what HTML5 has the potential to become.

With the success of the iPad, I have seen many major websites starting to at the least implement HTML5-based options for their video and interactive content. Some have decided to completely switch over from Flash to HTML5.

Go Media wants your input: what are the pros and cons of each route? Are your opinions based on your use of Flash? We’d like to hear from web developers that use Flash, and those who don’t. We’d also lke to hear from those who have used HTML5 to either replace or supplement Flash content — what were the benefits? What were the limitations?

Go!

Flash, Floppy Disks & FreeHand

Apple’s Steve Jobs just posted a long open letter on the reasoning behind the decision to exclude Flash support on mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.

Jobs lists six major points surround the decision, but wraps it up and confirms what I suspected was the driving force behind the decision. In Steve’s own words:

“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.

If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.

We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.”

Apple dealt with this during the transition from OS9 to OS X, and Jobs even notes in his letter that only now in CS5 has Adobe finally shipped a native Mac OS X version of the Creative Suite software. With the success of the iPhone & iPad, you can’t blame them for not wanting it to happen all over again.

The Floppy Disk is Finally Dead

I find it interesting that also this week, Sony announced it will be phasing out the manufacturing of floppy disk drives. Apple chose to do this in 1998 with the first iMac. Jobs implies in his letter that HTML5 is a new era for the web, and I believe he and Apple look at Flash the same way they looked at the floppy disk in 1998. Is it really any surprise?

Interestingly, this week Apple finally opened up access to hardware acceleration on OS X 10.6.3 for plugins such as Flash, something Adobe has been telling Apple for years they need in order to optimize the Flash Player on OS X. So far it’s only supported on the newest of the new Macs, but it’s a start.

Flash Catalyst

Jobs notes in his letter regarding the other Flash issue — namely their attempt with Flash Catalyst to provide a “packager” for Flash creations that would allow them to run on an iPhone in a “wrapper.  I think most Apple-bashers on the Flash issue seem to have overlooked what Jobs points out: any app created with that sort of tool must rely on the lowest common denominator features across all mobile platforms.

Apple doesn’t want this. Apple wants developers to create apps using the unique features offered by the iPhone OS.

The Apple “Experience”

Some people look at a device as a “tabula rasa” — something that they should be allowed to do whatever they want on it. I believe the Android operating system is built on this approach. But not the iPhone OS.

Apple has always focused on the overall experience rather than a “jack of all trades” open-endedness with their offerings. They make their own operating system. They make their own software. They make their own hardware/computers. And now with the iPad and recent acquisitions, they now make their own processor chips.

It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Apple has no desire to be a company producing a blank slate device that runs every last thing out there. They want to offer a unique and specific experience for the end-user. It is my opinion that they believe the best way to go about this is to use the tools specifically designed to create for the iPhone OS platform.

FreeHand R.I.P.

Adobe has called Apple to task on this decision, calling themselves open and Apple proprietary. But it’s not like Adobe hasn’t had their share of cutting users out of preferred authoring tools. It’s a no-brainer to see that Adobe acquired Macromedia primarily for the Flash authoring tool.

But in this process, they also acquired authoring tools such as FreeHand which was discontinued in favor of Adobe’s own vector graphics software, Illustrator. There has been no relenting of the frustration former FreeHand users have felt having lost their favorite tool.

Adobe has implicitly said that you need to move to Illustrator, and no roadmap as to what will or will not be incorporated into Illustrator. While not exactly the same, still it echoes the Apple decision that if you want to create iPhone OS apps, you do so with the approved tools. In a certain sense, Adobe has said that if you want to create vector graphics, you do so with the approved tools.

I’d venture to say that Adobe’s decision to end support for FreeHand and force users to migrate to Adobe Illustrator is really not that much different from Apple telling app developers that instead of writing lowest common denominator apps, you must use the free tools offered to create specifically for the iPhone OS.

I am sure out dear readers have opinions on this situation, and I would love to hear them. Please leave us your 2 cents in the comments section below.

Go Media friend Brad Colbow has a nice comic on this topic, and I’ll leave you with that.

The ArtCast Network

This one goes out to all you illustrator types.

Children’s book illustrator Dani Jones was an early adopter of using online video such as YouTube and live broadcast video service Ustream to share her tips, techniques and talents with others.

Over time she had found that there were quite a few artists producing both recorded video as well as doing live “screencasts”, but with no real hub site to bring them all together.

The ArtCast Network

This simple thought led to the creation of The ArtCast Network — a portal site where illustrators, comic artists, painters, cartoonists and any other visual art related to illustration would have a “group home” to allow those interested to find all of them in one place.

In a relatively short amount of time, Dani had put together a slick little WordPress site bringing together all these creators and their videos.

In The Studio

The real draw to the ArtCast Network is the live “screencasts”, where artists will draw, sketch and paint live via Ustream, Justin.tv or any of the other live streaming video services. Not only do you get t watch the artists draw live, but there is also a live chat window where you can interact directly with the artists — ask a question, make a comment, give kudos.

If you’re like me, you love to watch other artists’ process of creating their images, and being able to interact with them while they do it is even better. I would have killed to have had something like this when I was younger.

The Screening Room

The ArtCast Network also has a weekly event called “The Screening Room”, where one of the many artists on the ArtCast Network do a live screencast at 9:00 PM EST. It’s a great way for those interested in watching to have a single day and time where various artists will be doing their thing.

Many artists have either an irregular broadcast schedule, or perhaps screencast when it isn’t convenient for you to watch. This is a nice solution to that problem.

Anytime, Anywhere

Of course, perhaps even that regular slot might not be ideal, so even better is the fact that all these live broadcast services allow recording, so you can go back and check out the ones you’ve missed.

Obviously you’ll miss out on the opportunity to interact with the artist, but with any luck someone asked the question you had.

Your humble editor also participates on the ArtCast Network, and I’ve hosted a couple of the weekly Screening room sessions as well. It’s a very rewarding experience, and even better when there’s a nice, big crowd of viewers keeping things active in the chat and asking good questions —on-topic or off.

ArtCast Network Wants You!

Partially we wanted to bring the ArtCast Network to your attention, but even better — the ArtCast Network wants any and all artists out there doing a live screencast to join up and be part of the site. It’s absolutely free, and very much a site that is “by artists, for artists”.

Quite a few of the artist are digital, but there are plenty who prop up a webcam and do traditional media as well. Some even switch between the two. There really is “something there for everyone”. It’s such a fantastic resource, a great way to network with other artists online, and something that we just didn’t have access to until recently.

I strongly urge you to head over to The ArtCast Network, check out some of the live shows, and again if you are an artist yourself, get a show set up and drop Dani a line to get listed on the website. The online live stream services like Ustream and Justin.tv are totally free, so there’s really no investment save for you time. There’s a great “Getting Started” page that has all the info you need.

You can also follow The ArtCast Network on Twitter.

Have another great online resource like The ArtCast Network that we should know about, or a favorite artist on the ArtCast Network? Let us know in the comments section below.

Go!

Blank Canvas: Photoshop, Crashes & RAM

“Photoshop crashed!”

I see this cry all over Twitter, on blogs, in web comics — you can’t go anywhere online that has a tangential relationship to Photoshop without seeing this complaint.

So why is it that Photoshop never crashes for me?

I’m not bragging or anything, but instead actually interested in why this happens to some people and not others. Perhaps it’s the setup, perhaps the types of files. I’d like to get to the bottom of this, and I need your feedback to do so.

My Setup

So let’s start off with a description of my setup, then an overview of a typical Photoshop document. First, here’s my rig:

  • Mac Pro (2008) dual quad-core processors
  • 14 GB RAM
  • Dual-monitors connected to the stock dual-monitor card shipped with the Mac
  • Creative Suite CS4 Premium (Photoshop CS4 Extended)
  • Wacom Intuos4 graphics tablet

I use Photoshop more for drawing and sketching than for photo manipulation, but a pixel is a pixel; a layer is a layer; a layer effect is a layer effect. Here’s a typical Photoshop document for me by the time I am done with it:

  • 8″ by 8″ (or larger) canvas at 240 DPI
  • 15-20 layers, collected in layer groups with effects such as transparency & masks added
  • RGB color mode

In addition, I am typically running Safari, my email program, iTunes, Illustrator, Acrobat, InDesign, Tweetie, an RSS reader and sometimes even recording or watching recorded video via EyeTV.

During the process I extensively use Photoshop CS4 features like the Rotate Canvas tool and other processor and graphics processor features. Rarely does Photoshop feel sluggish, occasionally do I need to wait for an extended progress bar, and as I mentioned at the outset crashes are virtually non-existent. At least no more often than any other random software application crashes on the Mac (which is rare as well).

What is RAM?

In case you are unaware, RAM (“memory”, aka ‘Random Access Memory’) is like a magic potion for your computer. Most (or all) modern operating systems use virtual memory, cache and scratch disks (even Photoshop uses it’s own scratch disk) to allow you to do many things at once (“multitasking”) with a limited amount of RAM. Basically these features use your hard drive to swap out things from the RAM to “make room” for the digital information.

Why Should I Care?

Hence, more RAM equals less swapping info with the hard drive. RAM is fast; hard drives are not. Even without RAM, you can still open 183 applications, but if there isn’t enough RAM to not only store them all in the RAM but also allow for enough room to store the information for your open documents, you’ll see slowdowns and eventual crashes because of the swapping of information to and from the hard drive.

So the idea here is the more RAM you have, the faster things should be on your computer (this is true for Mac or PC). RAM allows you to work on larger files, have more software running at once, and work with larger files faster.

Physical Limits

In chatting with other Photoshop users, one thing does play a big factor in your RAM situation: the maximum physical limit you can install on a machine. Computers are built to support a maximum amount of RAM, and once you hit that limit there’s nothing you can do about it. It seems those with older or entry-level laptops are the most affected here.

When I replaced my aging PowerMac G4 with the Mac Pro in 2008, believe me I wanted to go with a far less-expensive iMac. But back then it all came down to the RAM. The iMac back then maxed out at possibly 8, but definitely 6 GB of RAM. From previous experience, this was not sufficient. I knew I would want a minimum ceiling of 10-12 GB of RAM in my new computer. The Mac Pro holds up to 32 GB of RAM. While overkill, it was the only option that fit my needs.

Today the iMac handles up to 16GB of RAM, so when I finally do need to upgrade my main machine I will be able to go for an iMac (or the equivalent) when that time comes.

What’s Your Setup?

My question to the readers: does Photoshop crash on you on a regular basis? If so, what version of Photoshop and how much RAM do you have installed? If not — well, the question is basically the same. I’d like to hear from the readers on this so we can nail down the role RAM plays in your Photoshop usage.

And it also may be a “heads up” to those looking to buy a new machine to keep an eye out on the specs for the RAM cap on that new machine. A tool at a good price is no good if it doesn’t add to your productivity.

Go!

Adobe Creative Suite 5

It’s that time of the, um 18-month release cycle again. Time for a new version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. This time up: version 5.

For this initial overview, I’m just going to talk about the new stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator since those are the apps that I am most familiar with.

Mostly I am going to talk about what I think are the most compelling features from an illustrator/designer’s point of view.

We’ll start off with the granddaddy of Adobe software, Photoshop. Oh, and I have not used any of these new versions — but rest assured I’ll have a copy once they ship in late May 2010. Full review to come then.

Photoshop CS5

Photoshop CS5 levels the playing field with the Mac and PC versions with the Mac version finally being 64-bit. All the CS5 apps are also now native Cocoa apps on OS X, which means they finally run using the new PS X code, and not the legacy Carbon code previous versions of the Creative Suite used. this is a Good Thing. Well, at least if you aren’t running a PowerPC Mac. Cocoa is Intel-only.

From my experience, even running CS3 on a PowerPC Mac was pointless as the processor just couldn’t handle it.

Magic Delete

I’d have to say Photoshop CS5’s flagship feature is the Content-Aware Fill. If you’ve seen the videos, it looks amazing. Probably the closest thing to the “magic button” people think of when they think of Photoshop.

You can literally draw a loose selection around an object in a photograph, hit the proper delete button, and Photoshop will seamlessly figure out how to replace the background where the former object was.

It’s what you think of when you think of a computer. It also looks like magic.

Selection Heaven

Not to be outdone, the selection tools have also become more powerful, again working almost as if by magic. Adobe really out did themselves on these two features, at least as demonstrated by the videos.

What I like about these two features is that they extend and enhance the way users already work, making those tasks easier, In fact, they are no longer tasks at all.

Personally, I get sick of feature bloat when new “wow” features are added to make for good PR, but in reality the end user would prefer the tools they already use work more the way they want them to work.

In Photshop CS5, I think this may be the case with the above features. I’m looking forward to working with them to see how they hold up.

Brush Bonanaza

The last new feature that I think will also be a Big Deal is the new brush features, particularly the Mixer Brush and the Bristle Tips.

What these bring to Photoshop are new natural media painting tools that look to rival Corel Painter. Corel Painter seems to be the painting app, and it seems Adobe has been paying attention.

In conjunction with a Wacom and a tilt-sensitive stylus, this could be huge. I think it will also enhance every aspect of using brushes within Photoshop, so even if you don’t “paint” in Photoshop, these should still enhance your workflow quite significantly.

Illustrator CS5

Adobe may be featuring the new Perspective tools on their feature page for Illustrator, but from my perspective (also shared by Illustrator guru Mordy Golding, who’s actually been using CS5), the big new feature is Variable Width Strokes.

When Is A Stroke No Longer A Stroke?

Mordy Golding did a special edition of his weekly “Fridays With Mordy”, where he does live interactive screencasts showcasing features of Adobe Illustrator.

With the launch of CS5 on Monday, he did a “what’s new” episode to give all us vector junkies a guided tour of the highlights.

Mordy said that he thinks Variable-Width Strokes are not only worth the upgrade price for Illustrator, but perhaps for the entire Creative Suite. He thinks they might even be the best new feature in CS5 overall.

So what are they? As the name implies, there’s a new tool that will allow you to change the thickness of a stroke at arbitrary points along the stroke, each of which will flow into each other.

Imagine a stroke that started out at 10 points thick, then grew to 17 points thick, then tapered back down to 3 points thick. It’s like having manual control over a brush on a stroke.

Not only that, but each side of the stroke can have individual widths away from the center. And on top of that, it works with brushes, extending the level of control you have over these objects to an amazing degree.

As someone who works in Illustrator the majority of my day, and works with a lot of line art based illustrations, I am pretty stoked to start using this. It could change the way I work from now on.

Again with the brushes…

Illustrator users now also have a new natural media painting tool in their arsenal that mimics an oil or acrylic brush, all while remaining in resolution-free vector art.

“Little Big Things”

All of us Illustrator geeks were bugging Mordy on Twitter about “yeah, big new fancy features — but what about fixing the tools we already use?”.

As Mordy put it, there are a lot of “Little Big Things” in Illustrator CS5, some of which are more compelling to me than the flashy things.

A big one for me is Command-click Selections (Control-click on the PC). If you used InDesign, you know this feature, and wanted it in Illustrator. And now it’s (finally) here.

What is it? Simple, but powerful — have a stack of items, but need to select the fourth one down in the stack? Now you just need to hit the Command (Control) key and click on the stack — each click with select the object below, in order.

Next up is “Paste Into”, which is part of the new drawing modes (Draw in Front, Draw Behind and Draw Into). No need to create clipping paths anymore. Just like in InDesign, select an object, copy, select another object and Paste Into. And better than a clipping mask, the object you pasted into retains all it’s original properties as well.

Illustrator’s Artboards feature has also been greatly refined & enhanced as well. Rename them, order them up on their own new panel, and other tweaks.

Upgrade?

Honestly, as an Illustrator power-user the features I described above are enough to make me want to upgrade. But I tend to be a bit bleeding edge when it comes to my tools.

I currently work on CS4 and feel that I got every penny’s worth out of my $600 upgrade, when compared to the time it saved me, the frustrations it minimized and the ease at which I could create my artwork.

Photshop CS4 was the killer app for me in CS4, but I think Illustrator will trump this time around.

One thing that will change for me is the decision not to go with the Design Premium this time, but rather Design Standard. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I launched Flash or Dreamweaver since getting CS4. I’m sure those versions will suffice if I do need to do anything in either, however I’ve moved away from Dreamweaver for my website recently, opting for a hand-coded solution that I will update manually.

As far as Flash, well I rarely used it before, and I pretty much never use it now. I think I’ll pocket that extra $100.

Speaking of upgrade pricing, those of you going for the Design Standard like me will be coughing up $499 USD, and if you want the Premium version that’s an extra $100. And that’s for CS4 upgraders. If you’re on CS1 or CS2, tack on another $200 to each of those tiers.

If you do the math, $500 over the 18-month release cycle comes out to $27.78 per month if you keep up to date regularly. Personally that seems more than reasonable if the software enhances your workflow.

Based on the upgrade price for older versions, in the long run you save $300 over 36 months (if you upgrade every-other version). A hundred bucks a year. to me, passing up on using the new tools just isn’t worth it at those rates.

Adobe isn’t paying me to coerce you into upgrading, I just like to break things down into digestible numbers. I really don’t see the benefit of denying yourself enhanced tools to save $100 a year. Raise your hourly rate $1 an hour and be done with it. I hear so many people complain about X feature — something that’s been improved in a newer version — yet they refuse to upgrade for the “outrageous” fees.

Personally, I’ve found something compelling enough in each Creative Suite release to warrant the upgrade, and have yet to be disappointed.

So, we want to hear from you dear readers: what’s your favorite new feature? Something I’ve mentioned, or another of the new features? Or does nothing interest you? And I am sure some of you will take issue with my stance on upgrade pricing. I want to hear from you as well. Sound off in the comments section below.

Blank Canvas: Adobe Creative Suite CS5 — Are You Upgrading?

It’s that time of year again fellow creative types. Well, actually that time of the 18-month release cycle for Adobe’s Creative Suite upgrade.

I know many users out there have a feeling of “didn’t I just upgrade?”, but in fact the release cycle is indeed every 18-months and this one is right on schedule.

Come April 12th, Adobe will be hosting a live CS5 launch announcement event where we will all find out about the new features to be added.

Some of you may already be aware of some of the sneak peek videos Adobe has released for the amazing new Content-Aware Fill feature:

This looks amazing for photo editing, almost like magic!

But our question to you, dear readers: even before knowing about what’s to come in CS5, are you considering upgrading? What’s your typical policy on upgrades?

If past pricing is any indicator, upgrade pricing for the Design Premium bundle will probably be around $500 USD.

Personally, I try to always stay current with the Creative Suite upgrades, and I have heard snippets of features to the Photoshop brush tools that make it very compelling to me.

I’ve also been told by the product Manager for Adobe Illustrator that there will be a “mind blowing” feature coming to Illustrator CS5. And no, I have no inside info as to what that feature is.

I love adding new tools to my arsenal that increase my productivity and enhance my workflow. I found the CS4 upgrade to be more than worth it, and if CS5 offers anything in the way of those features, I won’t hesitate to get me upgrade license.

So leave us your opinion in the comments section below, we want to hear what the community has on their mind about CS5.

Acorn: Impressive Pixel Editor for Mac

Photoshop is the workhorse of the design industry. It’s an industry standard. But even Photoshop’s biggest fans will admit it can be quite daunting for basic tasks.

So what to do for either users who don’t need the full version of Photoshop or have a limited budget? Quality, low-priced pixel-based image editors on the Mac are surprisingly rare.

Enter Acorn

Flying Meat Software has a fantastic alternative: Acorn. Priced at only $49.95 (and read on for details on the free option). It’s a suprisingly powerful app with some features Adobe could learn a trick or two from.

The Basics

If you’ve used Photoshop, or any image editor, you’ll get up to speed quickly with Acorn. It’s got everything you’d expect, and some things you won’t.

I’d have to say Acorn’s “signature” feature is it’s all-in-one Tools panel. Here you access all the standard pixel editing stuff: Move, Zoom, Crop, Brush/Pencil, Eraser and the like. I wasn’t expecting to also have vector shape tools.

The tools panel consolidates not only your tools, but also your Layers. Again, I was surprised to find not only Layer Groups, but also a huge range of blending modes for layers as well.

All the tools for which you’d want tablet support indeed have tablet support, although I’d have to say Photoshop comes out on top here. The anti-aliasing is limited to a checkbox. Opacity levels can be set for drawing/painting tools as well.

I didn’t find the pressure sensitivity to be all that great, and I also experienced brushstroke lags at times. I’m working on a dual quad-core MacPro with 14GB of RAM, so I have plenty of power.

The Awesome

  • Live Filter Preview Animations: This blew me away—open up the Filters window, and start clicking around. A small preview window in the panel will show you an animated preview as the filter is run through the gamut of it’s option. So much easier to see what a potential candidate filter will do to your image. Big thumbs up here.
  • Screenshots: Acorn has a lot of excellent tools for taking screenshots and having them pop open right into Acorn for editing. And need to grab a quick snap from your webcam? Acorn has you covered. And even more amazing, Acorn can grab a layered screenshot, where every last element on the screen is saved into it’s own Layer/Layer Group. Impressive.
  • The Brush Editor: Acorn has a pretty full-featured Brush editor, with plenty of flexibility as far as what you can tweak. Not as full-featured as Photoshop, but more than enough for the target users of this software.

The Not-So-Great

  • Drawing tools & Tablet Support: As I mentioned above, I didn’t find the drawing tools to be standout. They do the job, but there’s no way I could use Acorn as a replacement for Photoshop for my main drawing/sketching software. At least not as-is. Too much lag, and the tablet support is passable. That said, this isn’t a power-user app so I can’t be too hard on Flying Meat.
  • Web Export: a big disappointment was the Web Export feature. Acorn seems like a perfect app for prepping a screenshot, however there was no way I could find to resize the image when exporting for the web. Seems you need to resize the document itself before saving for the web, which to me is a big downer.
  • Photoshop compatibility: I have no idea if it’s even possible for Flying Meat to offer the ability of saving layered files in a .psd format, but if so it’s not there. It’s stated on the Help that Acorn can open some very basic Photoshop files, as long as nothing fancy is going on with the image/layers etc. No layered TIFF files either. Again, I’m not sure this is a major issue for the target customer of the app, but it’s worth noting.
  • Guides: There are none. As of version 2.3.1, just enable the Rulers and then you can drag down guides just as you can in Photoshop.
  • Keyboard Support: while there are extensive keyboard shortcuts throughout the app for choosing tools and applying commands, one odd omission is the ability to toggle numeric fields up on down using the up/down arrows on the keyboard. You need to either enter the specific number, or drag the slider.

A Mighty Oak

Sure, Acorn has it’s limitations if you’re making a one-to-one comparison to Photoshop. But considered on it’s own, Acorn is a mind-blowingly awesome pixel editor app for $50. If you don’t need Photoshop or the full Creative Suite but do have a need for a pixel-based image editor at times, Acorn is an absolute no-brainer.

The number of features that are packed in to this seemingly simple graphics editor is really quite amazing the more you start working with it and digging into everything it offers.

Free?

As I mentioned at the start, Flying Meat is offering up a reduced set of features for free after the 14-day trial period runs out. You can still open images and crop, filter, rotate, add layers, add text, and touch up images. Here’s what’s disabled in the free version:

  • Web Export
  • Brush Designer and Brush tool (the Draw/Pencil tool is still enabled)
  • Layered Screen Shots
  • RAW Image Import
  • Copy Merged
  • Clone Tool
  • New Layer Groups
  • Free and Perspective Transform tools
  • Custom Plug-ins
  • Levels
  • AppleScript support
  • Bézier Curve tool
  • Shortcuts for adjusting layer opacity
  • Start Window always comes up at launch

I’d have to say that’s a pretty generous list of features that are still included in the free version. Head on over to Flying Meat and download Acorn. I think you’ll be quite impressed.

ShirtMockup.com “Retweet to Win” Winners!

As promised, here are the lucky five winners of our ShirtMockup.com “Retweet to Win” contest. Each will receive a free Shirt Template from GoMedia’s Arsenal!

And of course, a huge thanks to all the rest for participating and helping us spread the word. We really appreciate it.

If you haven’t done so, add ShirtMockup on Facebook and help us spread the word! Post the link to Facebook and Twitter and use the “suggest to friends” feature on Facebook to invite your designer friends.

Visit the site: shirtmockup.com — or take a look at the overview video to see all about how ShirtMockup.com can work for you!

New Limited Edition Art Prints for Weapons of Mass Creation Fest

Go Media teamed up with Imagekind to offer a limited edition print run of  our Weapons of Mass Creation poster in support of the Weapons of Mass Creation fest.

All proceeds of these art prints go to help raise money in support of the festival being held on May 22 & 23 in Cleveland, Ohio.

The WMC fest is a celebration of all things creative: art, film, and music. There are only 100 prints available, so order fast! Use the coupon code FreeGoMedia to get yourself free shipping!

The Weapons of Mass Creation fest includes a powerhouse lineup of artists, designers, musicians and filmmakers. Think a DIY version of SXSW.

Weapons of Mass Creation poster

From the WMC website:

There will be film screenings and discussions in the afternoon and punk rock and indie/folk bands performing in the evenings.

This all happens in the midst of a supercharged creative art show featuring some of my favorite artists and designers from across the country.

And if we’re lucky, a few of them might share their insights in collaborative panel discussion or demonstrations. It’s truly something for the creative community to experience.

Artists/Designers attending include, Justin KamererKyle CrawfordGeoff MaySam KaufmanJeff Finley and more.

Bands include: Dave DonderoMose GiganticusSpraynard, plus more.

Filmmakers include: Josh SafdieKevin CW MaistrosJason LaRay KeenerRy Russo Young and more.

By purchasing one of the art prints above, you’ll be directly supporting creativity in action.

Adobe Font Finder

Fonts. What designer doesn’t have too many? And we are always on the hunt for more.

The internet is a goldmine for fonts, but it’s not always easy to find just the font you’re looking for. It’s always good to have another font tool in your arsenal, and with that in mind we’re giving you a heads up on the Adobe Font Finder.

Adobe’s Font Finder works in a similar fashion to many online font tools, but in this case it’s wrapped into a slick Flash presentation that works fast and looks sharp.

Enter a bit of text for the samples to display in, check a few of the many font options to narrow down your search — and voila!

The fonts I checked out from my initial review of the site all seemed to lead to paid fonts, and clicking on any of the search results will take you to Adobe’s online font store.

Of course, you may want/need to purchase on of these fonts, but it’s also easy enough to use the tool to get some inspiration, or even find a font you may already have buried in your own type collection already.

I’ve included some screenshots below to give you an idea of the range of font attributes you have the ability to search by. They are pretty extensive compared to many of the free font sites I’ve used, but then again they do want you to buy something from them.

Have a great font resource of your own? Please share it with us in the comments section below.

Blank Canvas: How Often Do You Upgrade?

Design software ain’t cheap. And for us designers and illustrators using the professional-level software to create such as Adobe Creative Suite, we find a typical 18-month cycle for new releases of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and the rest.

GoMedia wants to know: how do you handle your upgrades? Do you get the latest and greatest when it comes out, or do you wait until you have to upgrade?

If you’re on the cutting edge, what compels you? If you’re the waiting type, how long do you usually hold off between releases?

Personally, I am a “latest and greatest” upgrader. Typically there are enough compelling features for me to justify the price. In the past I have skipped some of the versions of Creative Suite, but lately I have been making sure to keep current.

As a self-employed illustrator, it’s a bit easier for me in some sense since I only need to purchase one upgrade license. A studio needs to consider all the machines they own. Students have different upgrade options as well – you get your initial student license, but upgrades need to be full licenses.

I’m a big fan of graphics software so it’s a bit easier for me to justify the upgrades. Since I work almost 100% digitally nowadays, it’s kind of a no-brainer for me as long as the new features are something that I think will enhance my productivity.

Sounds off in the comments below: how and when do you upgrade, and why?

Art Files: Illustrator’s Missing ‘Collect for Output’

Plenty of designers out there do their design work not in InDesign, but in Illustrator. If you’re among those, you’ve no doubt been confounded by the lack of a “collect for output” feature in Illustrator. Enter Art Files from Code Line Software.

And be sure to read on for a special discount offer on Art Files for our Go Media ‘Zine readers.

Get it together

Art Files is a standalone program for Mac OS X that gives Illustrator users a “collect for output” or “package” feature, just like in InDesign.

Perhaps because Art Files was created for such a specific purpose, it’s dead simple to use and to figure out what it does. If you need software like Art Files, it does exactly what you want it to do.

After launching Art Files, you’ll be presented with a new document window. Here you drag the .ai files you want to process and Art Files goes to work immediately. All linked images and any fonts used in the .ai document are presented in an easy-to-read folder/subfolder structure. Color-coded symbols inform you of any errors.

Art Files will even scan for fonts in the placed EPS documents within your file. How cool is that?

What it does

Art Files is designed so that each document scanned can be saved as an .artfiles document, allowing you to run the scan again in the future without needing to go back an locate the original files. Very handy.

Another great feature is the slide-out Info panel, which gives you a visual preview of the placed files, as well as Finder file paths to the file, and buttons to open the placed file in the Finder or open them directly in Illustrator. Again, very handy.

When it comes to collecting your files, again Art Files is on top of things. You have the option to save the resulting Collection with a Notes file, very similar to InDesign’s “instructions.txt” file. The Notes text file can contain custom notes (and you can set up a default notes section in the preferences as well), contact info and a log of the collection process.

Again, as expected when you click “Collect”, you are prompted to choose a location for the Collection folder. Once Art Files is done collecting you files you have a nicely packaged Collection folder with subfolders containing your linked files and any fonts used in the document.

The right tool for the job

As with the rest of Code Line’s graphics software tools for Mac, Art files fills a niche and does it just as you’d want and expect it to. If you need a “collect for output” or “packaging” feature for your Adobe Illustrator files, look no further.

Code Line Software has generously created a special offer just for the ‘Zine readers — use this link to get Art Files for 10% off the full $49.95 license. Offer is good until the end of February 2010. And this offer is good for any Code Line bundle that contains Art Files, including multi-user licenses.

Code Line also has a video overviewing the features of Art Files:

iPad: Illustrators & Designers

Whether you’re an Apple user or not, it’s been pretty tough to avoid hearing about the iPad. The question here at Go Media Zine: what does it mean for illustrators and designers? It may be limited as far as content creation, but it also may hold huge potential for a new wave of users who want kick-ass visual content — and that means more opportunities for visual artists.

Of course none of us mere mortals have one of these devices in-hand, so much of what I am about to discuss is pure speculation. However as an iPhone owner I think there are some things easily extracted from using that touch device.

Death of the Desktop?

I don’t see the iPad being a replacement for your main computer, at least not for the present. While some may see the iPad as nothing more than an oversized iPod, I see it more as a casual internet-browsing appliance.

I see it more for those who lightly browse the internet as opposed to those who create professional content. It’s for people who really don’t need a full computer, but still want to be on the internet.

The lack of any professional-level creative software for the iPhone and iPod Touch is a good indication that most creative types will not be using this to work digitally, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that with the larger screen size we might see a new breed of apps developed for iPad. Still, the size in general is going to limit your workspace and I doubt it will be much more than a companion tool — if even that.

Digital Sketchbook

There are a few solid sketching apps available already, including Sketchbook Mobile, Layers, and Brushes — all of which support multiple brushes, layers and some even export as a .psd file. Pair any one of these up with a Pogo Stylus, and now you have a digital sketchpad.

This is something I can see myself using, and I am sure we’ll see each of these apps introduce new iPad-specific features once the gadget is shipping. And I’m sure we’ll see some new apps coming in to compete.

Adobe seems to have kept their offerings to the basic Photoshop.com Mobile app, which primarily offers basic photography tweaks. No word yet as to whether Adobe has anything planned for iPad.

The sketchpad aspect is compelling, but serious creators will need a much more powerful device. And I don’t think Apple had any intentions of replacing your desktop computer for illustration, design or web development.

Flashless

Speaking of Adobe, one of the sticking points for some on both the iPhone and now the iPad is the lack of support for the Flash plugin for the web browser. For all you web designers & developers out there, if the iPad becomes a success it may sway the decision to use Flash or to at least offer an alternative depending on the users browser setup. I suppose it all depends on your audience.

There has been a recent push by some pretty major players to use HTML5 and H264 video, which delivers pretty much the same streaming video as Flash enables, but without a proprietary plugin. If you’re using Google Chrome, Apple Safari or another web browser that supports HTML5, you can opt-in to the HTML5 beta over at YouTube. I’ve done so and the experience has been excellent.

Of course this doesn’t account for the more interactive elements of other Flash creations such as mini games, interactive websites and the like. In my opinion, all websites should offer alternatives to Flash content regardless of the iPhone or iPad. Better to be safe than sorry, you never know the technical level of people visiting your website.

iBooks

One interesting aspect of the iPad is the introduction of iBooks, which are basically digital books you can read on the iPad similar to Amazon’s Kindle e-reader device. In this arena, I can see a potential boon for designers as that full-color screen is just aching for quality design. Think: magazines, comics and graphic novels, children’s books and the like. This is a device designed to simplify things for the casual user, and these people are your potential customers.

I think there is a lot of potential here for digital content that almost demands a high-quality experience. And I can’t imagine how beneficial this will be for illustrators, creators of comic books and graphic novels. Sure, there will be print customers, but now you have an opportunity to reach a whole new group of new fans.

Sound Off

In general, I think the iPad is more of and end-user device, and while it may not affect how we create content, it may indeed affect what we create content for. There may be untold millions of people who don’t have a laptop or a computer, but would jump at the chance to have an iPad to do the basics. These people are a whole new slew of customers who will want well-designed, graphical content outside of just webpages.

So we want to hear from you: what are your thoughts on the iPad for your creative workflow? Know of any good apps that might transfer well to the iPad? What are your thoughts on the lack of Flash support?

ForeverSave: Versioned File Backup for Mac

ForeverSave-header

Although it rarely happens to me, I see tons of Twitter friends posting about their Adobe software crashing while working on a file. InDesign has a pretty robust temporary file feature that usually saves what you were working on, however that’s only useful if you work in InDesign. What about Illustrator and Photoshop users?

Enter ForeverSave.

ForeverSave is a clever application that does versioned auto-saving of your open files. ForeverSave isn’t limited to Adobe software, but it’s the primary reason I was interested in the app. It works silently behind the scenes, yet instantly accessible via the menubar icon. Very customizable, not only the app itself but also on a per-application basis. This is a sign of a developer who knows their potential customers well.

Read on for more about how this very handy piece of software can improve your workflow, and as a special treat to Go Media readers, we’re teaming up with Tool-Force Software to give away a limited number of free licenses to our readers.

The Basics

fs_01_hqThe “Control Center” allows you to turn ForeverSave on or off, and is the access point to add/remove and configure which applications you wish to monitor. Each application can be tweaked manually.

fs_02_hq

fs_03_hq

I love the fact that on a per-application basis I can set how many versions I want to keep, when to erase old backups and also excluding extra-large backups. Concerned about disk space? You can choose where the backup database is stored. Throw it on that external drive with tons of space instead of your startup drive if you want.

fs_06_hqCustomizable hotkey support is also a welcome feature for power users.

What It Does

So how does this all work? Simple: run ForeverSave, and based off your settings (per-app), ForeverSave will silently keep backups of your files according to the schedule you’ve specified. Sure, Time Machine is great for files you’ve already saved, but ForeverSave goes one step further and makes it easy to go back in time with files you’re actively working on.

The big key to the awesomeness of ForeverSave is the fact that it can be set to not overwrite your current file — it saves a separate copy to allow you to revert if you choose. This is not some generic “hit the Save command every 5 minutes” solution only. ForeverSave allows you to work on your file and save a copy every so often in the background.

Go Back In Time

So what happens if you do need to go back to one of your backups? ForeverSave has a very intuitive backups interface to do just that:

fs_04_hq

Each software application has it’s own backups window which allow you to browse the files it has been monitoring (left-hand panel) and the versioned backups for each file (main area on right). Click on a backed-up file on the left to see the versioned backups for that file.

Each backup is date & time stamped, and full info can be gathered by clicking on one of the backup files and checking the info panel at the very bottom. Each backup file has the option to Delete, Open, replace or Restore, and everything works nicely with OS X’s Quick Look feature.

Works Great

I’ve been demoing this software for a while now to prepare for this review. I wanted to make sure it ran smoothly, worked as advertised and fit into my workflow. I am very happy to recommend this software to any Mac user, but specifically to my fellow illustrators and designers out there. This really should be a part of your Mac workflow.

I’m a big fan of backup/security when it comes to my computer as I find it’s part of the creativity process — if I don’t have to worry about my tools and my files, it leaves more flexibility to concentrate on the creative side of things. ForeverSave is a tool that helps me achieve this.

Get It Now!

ForeverSave is available from Tool-Force Software for the insanely reasonable price of $14.95. There’s also a “lite” version, but it doesn’t offer most of the features reviewed above and I recommend just going for the full version. The first time you need to access a versioned backup of a file you thought you lost after a Photoshop crash will more than pay for the price of ForeverSave.

Tool-Force Software has also graciously agreed to bestow some free licenses to our loyal Go Media readers. The first 10 to reply in the comments will get a free license for the full version of Forever Save.

Be sure to have some way for us to contact you. I’d suggest a cleverly obscured email address within the comment itself (name [at] domain dot com usually works). If we can’t contact you easily, we’ll need to move on to the next.