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Computers in Collage
A computer coupled with a digital camera, a flatbed scanner, and printer is the best tool a collage artist can have. Need art 3" high to complete your design? You can acquire an image and print it to size!
To acquire images you can use a digital camera, flatbed scanner or download public domain art. A flatbed scanner is used to scan reflected art, such as an original drawing or Dover clip art. Some flatbed scanners can also scan film negatives and slides. Most scanners use a USB 2.0 interface, a few have Firewire or IEEE 1394. You can also scan 3-D objects, just place them on the glass and scan! Many scanners include a great software bundle, such as Photoshop Elements.
Adobe Photoshop is the professional software standard for editing bit-map images. The less expensive alternative Photoshop Elements, is a good choice too. You might also consider a Wacom graphics table, for about $100 you can get a small tablet with Photoshop Elements and other software included! The advantage of Photoshop versions is the wealth of support in books and on the internet. They are complex though.
The choice of computer platform and operating system does not much matter. I used Apple and operating systems from Mac OS version 6 to OS X. I switched back to PC's and the Microsoft XP operating sytem. Photoshop runs great on either platform.
You have two main options in graphics printers: ink jet and laser. Ink jet printers output in color. You need to look for water resistant, archival pigmented ink printers. These are available from Epson and HP. Epson calls it UltraChrome K3 ink, printers start at about $400. I use an Epson9880 which can print 44" wide on paper or canvas. Dry prints can be covered front and back with acrylic medium with no problems. Make sure the print is completely dry! Ink jet printers interface with USB or an Ethernet connection.
While you can get color laser printers, black and white laser printers are more versatile for collage. The toner is pure carbon and very archival, especially when printed on rag art paper. You can then glaze color of your choice over the prints. A good letter size office printer (8.5" x 11") costs as little as $200.
Best Free Software
I use a lot of open source software. This body of work is free, legal and this selection are great! Open Source means the actual source code used to compile the application is available. While you probably are not going to personally do that, groups of programmers worldwide do. This helps to fix bugs (errors) and enhance the software.
These download sites usually have documentation too. Look for either on-line or .PDF manuals. You are able and encouraged to pass these applications to everyone you know! Your office, employees, friends, even artists. Once again - free and legal! Unless indicated they are open source and available for Windows XP and Vista, Macintosh OS X, and Linux.
Firefox is the best browser and it's free, open source. I always download Firefox first and then proceed to download the following applications. Download at www.mozilla.com/firefox. It's fast and there are many free 3rd party add-ons.
Thunderbird is a great e-mail reader. Also from the folks at Mozilla. It's at www.mozillamessaging.com/thunderbird. All E-mail readers are somewhat complex and need to be setup with your account information.
Filezilla is a really cool FTP (File Transfer) program. If you don't maintain a web site you probably don't need a FTP application. Filezilla is easy to use and I use it often - but I have lots of web sites I maintain. Download at www.filezilla-project.org.
Libre Office is a full featured office suite that can read and write Microsoft and other file formats. I have been using Libre Office and Open Office for several years and it's great! If includes Writer (a word processor), Calc (a spreadsheet), Impress (a Power Point like presentation application), Draw (a simple vector graphics program), and Base (a fairly complex database). I use Libre Office every day and it has never failed! Libre Office is a spin-off from Open Office, which is also available.
Download Libre Office at libreoffice.org. For all platforms.
Download Open Office at openoffice.org. For all platforms.
AbiWord is an Open Source word processor. If you only need word processing and not a complete suite, try AbiWord. It's easy to use but powerful. Download from www.abisource.com. I tend to use Open Office, but AbiWord worth having.
Sunbird is an calendar and scheduling application. Get organized! Download from www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird.
Here are some free alternatives to Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. They are mature and available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
There are two main types of graphics applications - bit-map and vector. Bit-map or raster grapahics use an array of pixels (picture elements). All digital cameras are bit-map devices. If enlarged to extremes you get aliasing or jagged lines, sometimes called jaggies.
Vector software uses geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves, and shapes to represent images. Since vector does not suffer from jaggies. These images are often drawn with a mouse or on a graphics tablet.
Gimp is the classic open source bit-map application. It's very powerful and very complex. Download at www.gimp.org. Use the Single Windows Mode of Gimp 2.8 and it's easier to use. I don't use it, but you might take a look at Gimp Shop, below.
Gimp Shop is a Gimp hack that makes Gimp easier to use and much more like Photoshop. It's pretty cool. www.gimpshop.com.
Paint.Net is another easier to use bit-map editor. Highly rated. www.getpaint.net. Available for Windows only.
Dia is a fun diagram creation program. It has a wide variety of built-in symbols, scientific, business and even jig saw puzzles. www.live.gnome.org/Dia.
Inkscape is a full featured vector graphics creation program. The web site has tutorials and documentation. www.inkscape.org.
Audio and Video Applications
VLC Media Player will play back virtually any audio or video file format plus CD's and DVD's too. Super easy to use, it is a must have application. Get it at www.videolan.org/vlc. I use it a lot.
Audacity will let you record audio. It's fairly easy to use but powerful. If you are not into recording or editing audio, you don't need it. Download at www.audacity.sourceforge.net.
Utility and Other Applications
Casual computer users may not need these applications, but I find them handy.
7-Zip creates (packs) and extracts (unpacks) compressed, archived files. Some of the files you download from the Internet are archived and this program will easily open them. Download at www.7-zip.org. For Windows only.
Notepad++ is a text editor, a specialized word processor. I use it to write web sites and programming source code. Easy to use and handy to have. Download at www.notepad-plus-plus.org. I use it a lot! For Windows only.