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BATH, UK – British researchers have solved the problem of video scaling by developing a new video codec that uses vectors instead of pixels for continuous tone images.

Conventional digital video is represented by a grid of pixels, which are not scalable and have to be rendered to a fixed size, thus limiting the distribution of digital video films to the formats for which they have been prepared. For example, standard TV is rendered at 768×576, HD TV at 1920×1024 and Internet and mobile phone video at anywhere from 384×256 on up. Read Full Story

DENVER, CO – On August 9, 2011, Quark Inc., maker of QuarkXPress page layout software, has announced that the company has been acquired by Los Angeles-based private equity firm, Platinum Equity. This is huge news because QuarkXPress is a major software application for page layout, used by designers all over the world.

QuarkXPress was one of the first major page layout applications to be used by professional designers since the late 1980s. At that time, there were only a few page layout applications to choose from. Its competition mainly came from Aldus PageMaker, which was later in 1994 acquired by Adobe Systems and Xerox Ventura Publisher, which was later acquired by the Corel Corporation in 1993. Read Full Story

SAN JOSE, CA – Adobe Systems Incorporated announced today the release date for its flagship product line – Creative Suite 5. The company sent out email notifications to its user base today and the release date for the official launch of CS5 has been set for April 12, 2010.

Recently (on January 25, 2010), I received a notice from Adobe Systems reminding me that my upgrade window for CS4 would be closing soon. The notice did not say specifically when my upgrade window would close, so I called them on the phone and asked when exactly that would would be. The sales rep didn’t know the date, either. I believed that this meant only one thing – that CS5 was due to be released very soon, so I bought the upgrade to CS4. I was upgrading from CS to CS4 … that’s a long stretch, I know, but times are tough, you know.

So just 60 days after I got the notice, Adobe Systems did, indeed, announce the release date for Creative Suite 5, so my hunch was right. I understand that the official release date of any new version of a software application is always a closely guarded secret. Otherwise, if people knew the release date ahead of time, the sales of existing versions would drop off and lead to a sharp decline in revenues for the developer.

This is the teaser from the announcement email:

With the right tools, your creative horizon changes. A tree is still timber, but suddenly in a whole new way. Old ideas germinate again, and new ideas branch into unexpected opportunities.

Now we’ll just have to wait about 2 1/2 weeks to find out!

FREEFREEHAND.ORG – About 3 months ago, a new website was launched at www.freefreehand.org to try secure a future for the FreeHand application. Soon after Adobe Corporation bought out Macromedia, it appeared like FreeHand’s days were over when the software giant decided to stop further development of FreeHand in order to encourage users to switch to Illustrator. Currently Adobe still sells FreeHand, but without support for future operating systems it will be destined to work only on current and older computers.

The FreeFreeHand.org website was put together by Thomas Thü Hürlimann (graphic designer & multimedia artist who has worked with FreeHand since 1987), Jabez Palmer (from Bez Design, Seattle – founded 1997) and Mark Gelotte (book designer and illustrator).

The FreeFreeHand.org website currently has about 4000 members and is currently on a membership drive to increase its numbers to raise awareness about FreeHand and to campaign for its future. Membership is free. If you would want FreeHand to be viable for future operating systems and would like to see it have a good future, then please feel free to join and at least get on their mailing list so you can keep up to date.

My Personal Experience With FreeHand

FreeHand has been around for a long long, time is still used by many designers. I remember the first time I heard about FreeHand. I heard about it from an art instructor who was hired to do a photo shoot of an industrial product line for a new catalog. At the time I was just getting started and I was planning on buying Illustrator (Illustrator 7 had just been released that year). He said that most graphic designers used Illustrator but that those who were “really in the know” were using FreeHand – indicating that the real insiders preferred FreeHand over Illustrator.

I bought Illustrator as I planned, but shortly afterwards I also bought FreeHand 8. I used Illustrator mostly, but only a couple of years later I was involved in a book publishing project with a whole team of people. I was doing some technical drawings for the project. It was during this time that I began to use FreeHand on a regular basis for a couple of reasons – first, it was just faster and simpler to work with than Illustrator and second, we were dealing with sub-contractors who had very specific requirements for how they wanted files to be handed off. Their specifications called for all line art to be done in FreeHand format.

When I found out that FreeHand was bought out by Adobe, it looked like it was the end of my favorite drawing program. Then I found out about the FreeFreeHand.org website and signed up. If there is a chance that through their efforts, they can keep FreeHand alive somehow, then I am for it. I hope all designers who love this program will sign up. I don’t know exactly what the outcome might be, but if there is a chance Adobe could be persuaded to allow FreeHand future development and support, then that would be a good thing.

The Rosetta library is required to be installed in Mac OS X for current versions of FontLab applications. By default, the Rosetta library is not enabled in Snow Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) so you must install it from the OS 10.6 installer.

The Rosetta Library

The Rosetta library is included with Mac OS X. Its purpose is to allow Macintosh computers with Intel processors to be able to run applications written for PowerPCs. Rosetta is installed by default in Mac OS X 10.4 and 10.5 but not in Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). If you’re installing Mac OS X 10.6, you can choose the “Customize” option during the installation. In the Customize option you can enable Rosetta and it will be installed on your system.

If Mac OS X 10.6 is already installed on your computer, during the installation of a FontLab product a dialog box should appear that says, “To open this application, you need to install Rosetta. Would you like to install it now?” If this should occur, then simply choose “Install” and proceed with the installation of Rosetta. Once Rosetta has been installed, the FontLab application should install normally.

FontLab says that they have tested most of their major applications on Mac OS X 10.6 and have not found them to be incompatible. They have posted a tech note on this topic at their website.

In it’s continued support of its flagship graphics application, the Xara Group Ltd has just announced its latest release of Xara Xtreme version 5 on June 8, 2009. The new version has some long awaited improvements:

New Object Gallery – The addition of a new Object Gallery provides better object level control. The Object Gallery functions much the same as the Layers palette in Adobe Illustrator, or the Object Manager in CorelDRAW. Users can find, select, lock or hide individual objects rather than having to fish around for them in the document window with the Selector tool. This is a big improvement and one that was very much needed.

Spell Check – There is a new “Spell Check as You Type” functionality with English, German, Italian, Dutch French, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian supported languages.

Improved Text Handling – This is another important feature upgrade that was badly needed. While other competitive graphics applications had much better text handling, Xara has been working to provide some improvement in this area.

Improved Web Page / Website Export – One of the nice features of Xara Xtreme is its built-in support for web page creation and export. Xara also has a dedicated website creation tool – Xara Web Designer – but it has included some of the more basic functions inside Xara Xtreme. This can be handy for web designers.

Misc Improvements – It has some new functions in it’s built in Photo Tool – one of them is “Content Aware Scaling”. This feature allows you to scale an image automatically without upsetting the foreground objects that it detects automatically. Xara has also integrated a new red-eye removal tool, easier crop adjustment, photo “temerature” control, etc.

Xara is offering special upgrade pricing until July 31, 2009.  Owners of Xara Xtreme 4 can upgrade to Xara Xtreme 5 for $39 or to Xara Xtreme Pro 5 for $159. Owners of Xara Xtreme Pro 4 can upgrade to Xara Xtreme Pro 5 for $69. All prices are USD. Details can be found on their website: http://www.xara.com.

Welcome to the new Mike’s Sketchpad blog. We hope you like our new look. We’ve changed over from Blogger to WordPress so we could offer some better features:

  • Categories – Blogger was a little inadequate in this department. WordPress has full support for categories and we are now able to take full advantage of them.
  • Tags – Tags are very important in blogging.
  • Sidebar Widgets – Designers will appreciate widget support in WordPress. You can totally customize the look of your sidebars with WordPress widgets.
  • Plugins – One of the best features of WordPress is support for plugins. There are a ton of quality free plugins available online.
  • Better Custom Theme – We were able to give the blog a better look with a new custom theme.

We’re still tweaking it so please be patient.

Since I wrote the “Porting Fonts Tutorials” section of the website, there has been a new font conversion utility from Morrison SoftDesign (http://www.morrisonsoftdesign.com) that has been released. FontXChange is available for the Macintosh only and is for OS 10.3 or higher. It will convert fonts from Macintosh format to Windows format and vise-versa. The single-user license sells for $99 (US). It can convert fonts to OpenType PostScript (single-file format), PostScript Type 1 (two-file format) and TrueType for Macintosh and Windows.

One of the nice features is that it can batch convert an entire library of fonts. It also allows you to set preferences for different font encodings. It supports Adobe Standard, Unicode, Mac Roman, and Windows ANSI, and European encodings. With the new single-file OpenType format now being used, it can come in handy for converting PostScript two-file fonts to single-file OpenType fonts. This is especially helpful when working on page layouts with DTP applications where the document files will be edited on Macintosh and Windows computers. One of the biggest problems in the past was text reflow caused by font incompatibilites between Macintosh and Windows systems. Using OpenType fonts can help because the same font files can be used on both platforms.

Xara Xtreme is an all-in-one graphics application that is also a great value for only $89 USD. You can get it at the Xara.com website (http://www.xara.com/us/products/xtreme/). This graphics application has full vector drawing capability plus image editing all rolled into one. It has a large customer base and the gallery at the Xara website features several professional artists with some very impressive work (http://www.xara.com/gallery/). The Xara company is based in England. When you order the software, they will ship it to you on a CD-ROM.

Recently, after the demise of FreeHand, Xara began marketing Xtreme to FreeHand users as its replacement. Xara began to offer the Xtreme Pro version with PANTONE support and color separation support. The Xtreme Pro version goes for $249 USD.

Xara Xtreme has some really cool built-in features like 3D Extrude and named colors. Many users are already familiar with Xara 3D – a user-friendly application for making cool 3D headlines and graphics. Xara has incorporated some of the main functionality from Xara 3D into Xara Extreme. The named colors functionality is also very handy because you can define a few basic colors and change the whole look of a button or even a web page design by shifting the HSB values of the main color (the HSB / HSL color model is referred to as HSV in Xara).

This is just a short post on some of the high points of the software. I hope to explore this application in greater detail and provide more info on it in future posts.

The quickest and best free online font identification is to be found at WhatTheFont from MyFonts.com. (http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/). You simply upload an image file either from a url on the Internet or from a file on your local drive. The website will do character recognition on your image and separate the image into individual letters on a subsequent screen. Here you will have a chance to make corrections, such as replacing lower case letters with uppercase or vise-versa. On this screen you can also re-combine compound shapes that have become separated like the dotted “i”. You simply drag and drop the dot over the dotless “i” and assign the letter “i” to that re-combined shape. You can repeat this process for any letters that have become separated. After you have made corrections, simply click the “Search” button. You will be directed to a list of possible fonts that match the uploaded sample.

Tips for preparing images for upload:

  1. The maximum image size allowed is about 360 px x 275 px. I believe it goes by total number of pixels.
  2. The recommend ideal letter height is around 100 px.
  3. Try to make sure that each letter is separated and not touching.

The service will accept most common image file formats like GIF, JPEG, TIFF or BMP.

This free service is dead-on. If you have a good quality image that has been prepared well, it rarely misses. This is an invaluable tool that I use all the time. Here are a few tips that I have figured out from my own experience using Photoshop to prepare the images to be uploaded:

  1. Try to use black letters over a white background. If you are working from a color image you can convert it to grayscale first, then use the Photoshop Levels adjustment or brightness and Contrast adjustment to make the letters black.
  2. If you are working from a low resolution image sample that is not accurate enough for a good sample, sometimes it is possible to upsample the image to 150 ppi or 300 ppi.
  3. As an alternative to upsampling, you can sometimes use the Magic Wand to either select the letters or select the background – then invert the selection – whichever gives you a better selection of the letters. Make sure the “Anti-aliased” checkbox is selected in the Magic Wand Tools options. Then you can copy the selection to a new layer or a new file, then click Select > Transform Selection. Hold down the Shift key while dragging one of the corner selection handles and enlarge the selection area to a decent size. Then click Edit > Fill and choose Black as the fill color. This is one way to get a little more detail for the letters.

I can’t tell you how many times this service comes in handy. Many times I will get a job that requires small changes to some website graphics. Most of the website owners don’t have access to any of the source files that could be used to identify any of the fonts and have no clue what the fonts are. With this free service I can ID the fonts in short order.