For the many people who don't want to shell out a huge amount of money for software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, I HIGHLY recommend Apple Pages for Mac users (only $19.99). Pages is Apple's version of Microsoft Word, but with amazing page layout tools and some pretty nifty easter eggs. I won't get into much on the page layout, except to say that most people use InDesign for page layout in creating magazines, books, etc. You can see below a screen shot from Apple's website demonstrating a well-designed layout.
The following tools are two reasons I think Pages pays for itself:
1. Instant Alpha Tool (Click on photo; in the menu bar, click on Format > Instant Alpha)
This tool will take the background out of a photo with a simple click and drag over the areas you do not want. You can click and drag more than once, so it pays to take your time clicking and dragging on certain sections of color , as pictured below).
Granted, it's not as powerful as it's Photoshop predecessor, but it definitely does the trick, especially for photos where the background is more solid in color and contrasting with the main foreground element. I recommend placing a bright colored square shape in back of the photo before you start so that you can clearly see if you've gotten everything as you are using the tool. Also, as you are deleting the background, don't forget you can undo (command+z) any time you take out too much. Below is my finished collage.
2. Pen Tool (click on Shapes in toolbar and choose the last icon with the calligraphy pen tip)
The pen tool is the bread and butter of Illustrator, and it's in Pages! Like the tip above, it definitely does not have the full functionality of the mighty pen tool in Illustrator, but it can do quite a bit. The most common uses I've recommended would be for creating your own logos. While I recommend hiring a professional, if you're strapped for cash and want to try something on your own, this would definitely be a good place to start for custom shapes or tracing over a sketch/illustration. It works a little like "connect-the-dot" – each click you make creates a line.
The illustrations below were all created in Pages by my friend and former co-worker Carlos Joaquin, from "What A Dream I Had". Check out this awesome time-lapse of him in action as he draws a Charlie Chaplin illustration!
So after all of one week doing a Tip of the Tuesday, missing a week, and now 20 minutes away from Wednesday, I have even more respect for bloggers who are consistent and punctual. To better organize myself, I'm definitely going to have to keep a list of tips I'd like to blog about in Evernote. If you're not already an Evernote user, I highly recommend it for its affordability (free!) and great features like syncing, formatting options, and notebook/tag organization. For online retailers like myself, it's a great place to keep track of descriptions for products you sell (specifically, for Minted challenges, I keep track of all my entries in Evernote; that way when something doesn't get picked, I can easily copy and paste a description when I sell it elsewhere).
Speaking of free apps, here is my actual tip, great for the thrifty app-aholic: when you see a free app that you are remotely interested in, don't hesitate: DOWNLOAD it. You don't have to keep it on your device, and you can always re-download it later. Why encourage this pack-ratish/hoarder behavior? Some apps don't always stay free. There have been countless apps that launched free or went on sale as free, but later jumped to prices well over the $.99-1.99 "comfortable" range. My favorite example is Adobe Ideas, which launched free but after a major update a year or so later, the price jumped to $9.99. I didn't use it for the first year I had it, but it's now one of the apps I use the most for sketching out ideas on my iPad.
It's a tiny tip, but could save you a lot of money in the longrun
I'm hoping to force myself to blog more consistently with a "Tip of the Tuesday" weekly post. While most tips will be design/productivity focused, I can't promise that a random tip or two might slip through!
Today's tip won't wow any of my former apple coworkers, but it's something I use many times a day on my Mac: SPOTLIGHT.
It's kind of a misnomer because it's actually the tiny magnifying glass icon sitting in the top right corner of your screen, but in this case Apple didn't name it as literally as it has done with other apps like "Address Book" or "iCal". The keyboard shortcut for Spotlight is command+spacebar (unless you have changed your default shortcuts). While Spotlight can definitely be used for searching anything on your local drive in a manner of seconds, and give it to you categorized, I actually also use it for a few other reasons, and below are my top three:
1. Application Launcher
If you're like me and you don't like cluttering up your dock with Apps you don't use on a regular basis, simply "command+spacebar" and start typing the first couple letters of the app. The app usually pops up by then and you can just press "enter" if it's highlighted on the app you want. I still find it faster to use than Launchpad, although I haven't upgraded to Mountain Lion yet.
For calculations, you don't even have to launch the calculator app, you can just activate Spotlight and start typing -- i.e. "1499*1.0775" will yield the cost of the $1499 item plus sales tax in my state. Just use the asterisk for multiplication and the slash for division. You can also include parenthesis to indicate priority (A+B)*C.
Simply type in a word and if you hover your mouse over the "Look Up" section, the definition will pop up. If you click on the highlighted word, it will launch the Dictionary App and you can then have access to the Thesaurus and Wikipedia.
Have any Spotlight tips for me? Would love to hear them!
When I was in high school, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend was to look for nearby garage and estate sales (yes, I was a geeky gal, or ahead of my time as I'd like to think). I love the whole idea of "one man's trash, another man's treasure". It's an on-again, off-again hobby I've kept up over the years, but this summer has definitely been more of the on variety.
When my sister came to visit in June, we went on a yard sale binge, and now every Saturday morning I'm free, I'm on the lookout for garage sale signs (husband, toddler and, of course, big car in tow). My pet peeve is when someone advertises their sale as an "estate sale" when there are only some meager offerings in the driveway. My designer's eye appreciates bold, informative signage, and I've found that usually when someone puts the effort into good signage, their sale tends to be better. That's tip #1.
My next tip would be to haggle with humility and don't pay until the very end. Gather up all the stuff you like and then negotiate your price down. After living in Beijing, I tend to offer half the asking price, but it's not a hard and fast rule (beware of lowballing and offending the seller). It really depends on how fair you think the person is being. If you're offered a great deal, don't get greedy!
While we're on the subject of "don't gets", DON'T get suckered in by stuff you don't really need, or you yourself will soon be hosting a garage sale to get rid of all the junk you've accumulated. Trust me, it's really, really easy to do this.
Tip #3 is that the early bird doesn't necessarily catch the worm. While "everything" is available at the beginning of a sale, by around 10-11, many sellers are getting hot, tired, bored, etc. and are willing to give steeper discounts. You can definitely find better deals than on Craigslist if you're willing to do the physical legwork of hunting down sales and sifting through junk. (**this tip doesn't really hold for professional sellers at swap meets and flea markets; they are much harder to bargain with**).
As a techy geek, however, I love how Craigslist has brought the whole barter/sell thing to the comfort of the home. In fact, my last tip is that if you're looking for something very specific, Craigslist will still be the best option.. And if you're willing to drive a bit further (1 hr vs. 30 min), you may get a better deal. Just make sure the cost of gas is worth the deal. I've been using a free app for the iPhone and iPad called Craigs'list by escargot, and I LOVE it! You can do multi-city searches, save searches and favorite specific ads, and in the iPad version you can view results on a map view. Enjoy!