Computer programs are an important tool for cartooning in a digital age. It's safe to say that in today's world, most cartoonists — whether they draw comic strips, editorial cartoons, panel cartoons, comic books, greeting cards, webcomics, or animation — use computer programs in some fashion. The following sections focus on the three most commonly used software programs available.
Photoshop is the program most cartoonists use. It enables you to do all sorts of cool things to alter images like photos, downloaded icons, and scanned artwork. Altering an image includes changing its colors, modifying its size and scale, and putting one picture within another. Image alteration or modification also includes technical adjustments such as changing the mode of image compression from one type to another, or changing the number of bits used per pixel.
In addition to altering images, Photoshop has a vast array of tools that help you create images from scratch. On the Web, you often need to make custom icons, buttons, lines, balls, or text art. Photoshop makes all this excessively easy and fun.
Photoshop is not a "classic" drawing or image creation program. Unlike a drawing program that stores information about images as mathematical expressions (called vectors), when Photoshop draws a line, the line is converted into little dots, called pixels. (See the "Comprehending vectors" sidebar for an explanation of the difference between vectors and pixels.) When small enough, and with blended colors, these dots can come to look like lines. Of course, when magnified or reduced, the optical illusion is dispelled and you get ugly, choppy lines. Check out Chapter 16 for more info on using Photoshop.
Photoshop isn't the only Adobe game in town. Illustrator, another Adobe product, is primarily used to create graphics and logos, but like Photoshop, it can also manipulate, color, or enhance existing images or artwork. The difference between how Illustrator and Photoshop create images has to do with what's known as vectors.
The primary advantage in using a vector-based program like Illustrator is that the image you create can be blown up as big as you want and it won't show any pixilation or distortion. This is especially helpful when you need to blow up an image or logo the size of a billboard, for example.
Painter, a program produced by a company called Corel, is very much like Photoshop. And like Photoshop, it's gaining popularity among cartoonists. Painter also uses the layering process and has similar tools and the same abilities to import images into the program and then change, copy, color, and manipulate them. The difference between the two comes down to personal preference. If you can afford it, buy them both!
Computer displays are made up of small dots called pixels. The picture is built up from these dots. The smaller the dots are and the closer they are together, the better the quality of the image, but the bigger the file needed to store the data. If the image is magnified, the resolution deteriorates and it becomes grainy — our eyes are able to pick out individual pixels.
In contrast, a vector graphics program uses a mathematical sequence to construct the screen image with graphics files that store the lines, shapes, and colors of the image. The mathematical data determines where the dots that make up the image should be placed for the best quality image possible.
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