My original PowerPoint on Reclosers contains some fairly useful graphics, but the quality is pretty poor. So, I have a couple of options. I could re-shoot the graphics if I had access to the equipment, had the proper photography equipment to properly take the photos, and had a subject matter expert to help me out. Sometimes, that’s the best choice when you really can’t use stock photos and need something very specific. You’ll have to consider the lighting, plan your shots carefully, and do a bit of scheduling.
My constraint for this project is that I don’t have access to the equipment directly. So, I considered creating Photoshop graphics from the existing photos. If you’re handy with a tablet pen, it’s pretty easy to use the paintbrush and trace over a photo on different layers and recolor it any way you want. The end product can be quite pleasing with a “cartoon” feel to it. For example, I have a great shot of a recloser, but the background is really busy and the quality of the photo is very poor. It’s been copied and pasted and stretched beyond the point of being usable for me. But, it contains the basic elements of what I need. If I could just trace over the parts that I need, I’d have something I could really use. The problem is that the quality still may be lacking. The problem? It’s still a raster graphic.
Raster Vs. Vector: Huh?
Now I have a choice to make: raster or vector? Most photos are in raster format, a compressed file made up of thousands of pixels in various colors that look like a professional photograph when you look at it on a screen. Their file formats are probably familiar to you: jpg, jpeg, gif, png, tif, tiff, bmp. When you look up close on a raster image, you can really see its pixels. A lower quality raster photo has fewer pixels that make up the image, which is the case with my existing photos. If I re-size them in my authoring program, they have a jagged appearance and my audience may focus on its poor quality rather than the training content. I have the same problem if I create a raster graphic from scratch: it does not re-size well.
Vectors are different when you re-size them. They remain smooth and clear, no matter what size they are. They are made up of points that use mathematical calculations to form geometric shapes. Yea, it sounds VERY geeky and a little scary! It’s pretty easy to understand a pixel. It’s another thing to wrap your mind around a vector shape. Instead of getting into the technical details, just think about them as different tools you use for different jobs. If the graphic needs to be photo realistic, you’ll need to use a raster graphic. If the graphic needs to be scalable and realism is not an issue, use a vector.
Let’s say you’ve been asked to design a logo for a company. Logos need to be reproduced in a variety of formats and sizes. Creating the original logo as a vector makes the most sense and your print shop will thank you for it. They can scale it up or down without losing quality and color is not an issue. The company can easily convert it to a raster image if they need to use it on a website.
The tricky part is learning how to draw a vector graphic in Photoshop or Illustrator. It’s very different than just picking up a pen and drawing. And I’ll be honest; I’m not the best at it. The Pen Tool in Photoshop is a very neglected part of my toolbox. But, I decided to take the opportunity to dive in and get better at this. It’s a necessary skill and I think it will benefit me a lot in the future.
Back to School!
So, how do I learn it? I found a VERY useful tutorial for beginners, “Making Selections with the Pen Tool in Photoshop”. It’s not version-specific, and it took a while to step through this one. But, it got me comfortable with the basics. Then I went through “Creating a Vector Image in Photoshop”, another pretty lengthy tutorial, but very worthwhile. After I “marinated” in these tutorials, I felt a whole lot more confident about creating the graphics using this technique for my Reclosers presentation.
I started out with a photo of a recloser:
Then I created some paths in Photoshop and filled them in with color:
And then I added some effects and details:
Voila! I was learning along the way, so it’s certainly not perfect. But, if I want to change the colors a bit or I want to take something out, it’s very easy to go back into my Photoshop file and adjust it.
Next post, I’ll talk about diving into Storyline and adding my content into it. Pretty soon, it’s going to start to look like a real course.
Additional Reading (go ahead and geek out)
- Team Photoshop Tutorials: http://www.teamphotoshop.com/Tutorial-15,8.html
- Photoshop Essentials Basic Tutorials: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/basics/
- Two Kinds of Computer Graphics: http://www.sketchpad.net/basics1.htm
- Raster vs Vector: http://vector-conversions.com/vectorizing/raster_vs_vector.html