Gathering digital images

by Alan Zisman (c) 1997. First published in Computer Player, July 1997

Some of you, I'm sure, are real or aspiring artists, happy to start with a blank screen, and via the miracle of  combining software and talent, able to end up creating something wonderful.

But for the rest of us, that blank screen can be pretty threatening!

It's a far, far better thing to be able to start with some sort of image on the screen, and maybe use the software to stretch it, bend it, colour it, shrink, or otherwise make it fit our needs. So where might that initial image come from?

* Clipart and stock photos.

Applications often include libraries of clipart, in quantities ranging from a mere handful of images, to the CD or more included with most of Corel's products. In addition, a number of companies sell dedicated collections of images, licensed for reuse. Check the license carefully, however... in some cases, you can only use the images for personal use; in others, purchasing the CD allows you to reuse the images in public or even commercial settings. Calgary company, Image Club ( has a wide range of clipart and photos for sale.

* On the Web.

Yes, you can capture graphics from the Web. But the File menu's Save option will only give you the text on the page. To get the graphics, Windows users should right-click on the desired picture, and choose the Save option from the popup menu. (Mac users, with their single mouse button will need to experiment). Note that graphics on the Web are usually in 256-colour GIF format or in 24-bit JPG format, but in both cases, will typically be more or less 72 dots per inch-ideal for on-screen display, but less ideal for high-resolution printing.

* Scan your own

Scanners are becoming a more popular accessory, as prices drop. For graphics use, pass up on hand-held or sheet-fed scanners. Instead, spring for a flatbed scanner, which looks (and works) much like a small photocopier. Models start at about $300, for 24-bit colour, with popular models from U-Max and Microtek even bundling a SCSI card so they can be used with PCs or Macs. If you don't like cracking open your PC's case, the Plustek 4800 gives decent output for under $300 while plugging into the printer port.

* Catch that video

You can get still photos from a video camera, VCR, or even your TV cable... with a TV input device. Snappy (about $300) plugs into a PC's printer port, while ATI's ATI-TV (about $200) is an add-on to recent ATI video cards. ATI also offers an All-in-Wonder video card, with TV input and output right on the video card (about $350).

* Smile, click, it's a digital camera

No more film-digital cameras let you save your snapshots directly in computer-usable form. At the low end, Connectix offers its QuickCam black and white ($150) and colour models ($300), which lower the price by staying connected to your computer at all times. Ranging from $500-$1000, you can get the digital version of a camera that you can take anywhere.

(Note that your use of images captured, scanned, or downloaded from the Net, may violate copyright if used for publication).

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan