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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Free Design Software

Save yourself some pennies this Christmas.
Designers' often find that the software tools we need for our work are expensive. If you are just starting out in design and you are keen to save money (who isn't?) then you need to investigate some of the free or low budget software that is available to download on the web.

You would assume that much of it wouldn't be worth your hard drive space, but suprisingly there's some great free software (for both Mac and PC) that you don't have to spend a penny acquiring. The following list will help you save some serious money:

Photo and Image editing programs:
It's hard to move away from Photoshop but there is a free alternative to this great graphics package, for those on a budget. GIMP which can be downloaded for free from http://www.gimp.org is a very powerful image editor with channels, levels and masking tools. The program comes with a basic set of graphic tools, but you will find hundreds of plug-ins for the program. It's not as good as photoshop but well worth it for those on a budget.
It's similar to GIMP and offers mask and layer editing for images. It seems a little more complicated to use. Both programs have their own benefits. Download from http://park18.wakwak.com/~pixia/ and watch out for people selling this software, it's supposed to be free.
Is a vector graphic drawing tool, it's suitable for a wide range of vector applications. In particular, it is widely used for creating images such as a logo, icons, flags, maps, diagrams, etc. A nice starter graphics program, before buying Illustrator. Download it here http://www.inkscape.org
We suggest that these 3 programs are the best freeware replacements for Photoshop and Illustrator. But they will never beat the capabilities of those 2 programs.

3D Programs:
Open source 3D modelling, rendering and animation program. It has a steep learning curve but it's very well made and can do almost any 3D work, from buildings to small objects. A really great value program and it can be downloaded from: http://www.blender3d.com/
Developed for the conceptual stages of design, SketchUp is powerful yet easy-to-learn 3D software, it's more focused on 3D scenes and landscapes. The basic version comes free from Google at http://www.sketchup.com/

Video Editing:
Jahshaka 2
Offers realtime video editing. It allows the user to add effects over the top of video. Download it for free from http://www.jahshaka.org

Web Design:
NVU (pronounced N-View) is a web design program using a WYSIWYG editor which will help you create your first web sites. It has a great interface and can be easy to use. It isn't the best at controlling databases but it can work with PHP. Download this free web design program here: http://www.nvu.com/index.php
Mozilla's Composer comes together in a free package called SeaMonkey. Composer allows you to edit your own web pages again in this WYSIWYG editor. It does not allow form management but offers many other features (such as source editing), it's worth downloading from http://www.mozilla.org/projects/seamonkey/
Also note that Mozilla produces Firefox (the increasingly popular free web browser) and Thunderbird (a mail application that allows HTML editing of emails, so you can make e-cards). Both can be downloaded from the same web site at http://www.mozilla.org
There are also times when a designer might need to record audio (i.e. for either a presentation or a web site). Audacity is a great free program for recording audio and saving it as multiple formats. It can be used on both MAC and PC and details and the download can be had here: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/ or as we found the download isn't always working you can get the files from Sourceforge.net.

For more free graphics programs you can search for what you need at www.download.com or www.versiontracker.com (some of which require small payments for their use).

There are other options to free software for new start-ups. The big major companies are all offering (save enabled) 30 day trial versions of their software to download and use for free (most have no obligations but do read the small print). So our final recommendation would be to go to www.adobe.com for a free trail of their products which now also include all the Macromedia range (from Flash to Freehand). At least you can start work for free with all the above options, have a cost effective Christmas.

If you know of any free software programs that you think the design community might be interested in, then please add a comment to this post with a link.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Flash - Web and Interface Design

Flash has come a long way since 1996, when it was purchased by Macromedia. Back then you would use it for basic animation and website intros. It now boasts a range of uses through it's fully developed programming language 'Actionscript' (based around Javascript). You can produce anything from a website to an online application using Flash 8.

Macromedia developed the program to take full advantage of the, ever-increasing, interactive media market. The tool has come a long way and is now classed as a tool that most website designers should know how to use. The coding side can become very complex, as it's powerful enough to make games with the software. The program is unlike many other web design programs, it uses linear progression to plan out a website (much like a movie) unlike other web design programs that would use, the better, flow chart method (with multiple avenues for the user to take).
Despite its backward methods, the program is powerful now and can make nearly any GUI (Graphical User Interface). A free 30 day trial of the software can be had from the new owners (Adobe).

Click here for Flash free trial.