Category Archives: Arts and Crafts

ElfYourself – That’s right (Go ElfYourself)!

imageAgain this year, as they have for the last 5/6 years or so, OfficeMax is offering the charmingly humorous ElfYourself, an online animated Christmas greeting creation tool.

Working with ElfYourself is actually a bit of fun, and while the end product is not “professional”, in any sense, the result is pretty cool – especially when one considers the price; FREE.

Once the project is completed (it takes just a few minutes), you can then share your Christmas greeting by email, or post it to either your Facebook Wall, or to a friend’s Wall. This year you can even share on Twitter.

Go to ElfYourself to get started.

Once on the site, follow the simple instructions. The following screen captures will give you some idea of how uncomplicated the process is.

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The cropping tools could be a little more robust, I think. But, free is free – so, who’s complaining.

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The interface allows a number of minor adjustments.

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Once the face has been adjusted to your liking, the next step is choosing a dance to accompany the animation.

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Luckily, there’s a fair number of choices.

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New, this year – you can now download the finished video and save the file locally.

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Once you’re satisfied with the results – sharing your creation is a breeze.

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If you’re tired of the same old, same old, Christmas greetings, then visit ElfYourself and get creative. You’ll have a bit of fun at the same time.

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, Cloud Computing Applications, Freeware, Just for Laughs, Recommended Web Sites

21,000 Free Printable Documents and Templates At FreePrintable.net

imageKevin Savetz is into free with his remarkable FreePrintable.net web site. Amazingly, there are 80 sites in the Free Printable network offering you, free of charge, over 21,000 printable documents and templates.

Note: Some premium printables will incur a charge.

There are so many freebies available on this site, that it would take page after page just to list them – so take a look at just some of the sample offerings in the graphics below.

Click on a graphic to increase the size to make viewing easier. Better yet, if your Internet browser has a Zoom feature, crank it up!

Free Printables 1

Free Printables 3 Free Printables 2

FreePrintable.net

Before you begin downloading, checkout the FAQ page where you will find instruction for getting the best out of Kevin’s printable documents and templates.

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, Communication, Free Documents and Templates, Freeware

Go Elf Yourself! – Christmas Is Coming!

Again this year, as they have for the last five years or so, OfficeMax is offering the charmingly humorous ElfYourself, an online animated Christmas greeting creation tool.

Working with ElfYourself is actually a bit of fun, and while the end product is not “professional”, in any sense, the result is pretty cool – especially when one considers the price; FREE.

Once the project is completed (it takes just a few minutes), you can then share your Holiday greeting by email, or post it to either your Facebook Wall, or to a friend’s Wall.

Go to ElfYourself to get started.

image

Once on the site, follow the simple instructions. The following screen captures will give you some idea of how uncomplicated the process is.

image

The cropping tools could be a little more robust, I think. But, free is free – so, who’s complaining.

image

The interface allows a number of minor adjustments.

image

Once the face has been adjusted to your liking, the next step is choosing a dance to accompany the animation. Luckily, there’s a fair number of choices.

image

Once you’re satisfied with the results – sharing your creation is a breeze.

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imageA tip of my Hat, although since it’s winter here in Canada – a tip of my Toque, to my good British friend John B., who was kind enough to put me on his list of ElfYourself Christmas greetings. Check this out.

If you’re tired of the same old, same old, Christmas greetings, then visit ElfYourself and get creative. You’ll have a bit of fun at the same time.

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, Cloud Computing Applications, Email, Freeware, Just for Laughs, Recommended Web Sites, Social Networks, Software, Video, Windows Tips and Tools

Hallmark Card Studio 2011 – Greeting Card Software On Steroids

imageThe history behind greeting cards is fascinating. Did you know for example, that greeting cards may well go back as far as the ancient Egyptians? Or, that there is evidence that in ancient Chinese culture, greeting cards were used to convey New Year’s  “best wishes”?

Stepping into the modern age, greeting cards are now exchanged on virtually every occasion, from Births to Deaths, Marriage, Divorce, Anniversaries ………….. and on special days: Birthdays, Valentines, Thanksgiving ……… and of course, Christmas. By some accounts, more than two Billion Christmas cards are exchanged annually, just within the United States!

There’s no doubt that the greeting card business is BIG BUSINESS. We’re all pretty familiar with the extensive display areas often set aside in retail outlets –  displays that can be captivating, and designed to influence our purchasing preferences.

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Personally, I find that buying a premade greeting card can be, more often than not, a daunting experience. It takes me forever to decide whether the card should be funny or serious, traditional or new age, sentimental and sappy, or …………

But, technology has come to my rescue, in a sense. Using the right computer software, I’ve found that I can construct my own greeting cards that are just as attractive as a premade store-bought card. And better yet, my self made cards seem to be more meaningful to those on my mailing list.

Recently, I tested the new Hallmark Card Studio 2011 application, which now includes – not only the tools to construct spectacular greeting cards, but integration with YouTube, Facebook, and other social networks; exclusive Hallmark fonts; and graphics for designing custom calendars, photo cards, note cards, matching stationery and envelope sets, as well as invitations and scrapbooks.

As a bonus, Hallmark Card Studio 2011 provides the user with an Event Planner which includes an address book and mailing list. Event Planner takes the worry out of trying to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events.

Fast facts:

New! User Interface – Easier than ever before with popular design tools now at your fingertips.

New! Integration with Facebook and other social networks.

Enhanced! Hallmark Graphics Collection with even more images.

Photo Cards, Calendars, 3D Cards & 3D Projects.

Hallmark Note Writing Guide.

Easy to Use! A tutorial gets you started fast.

6,700+ Hallmark Greeting Cards and customizable projects.

1,000+ Spectacular Graphics to complement your designs.

Search projects easily by design theme or occasion.

Event Planner can help you keep track of your schedule and contact information (including birthdays and anniversaries) for all the special people in your life.

Hallmark sentiment library with 5,400+ sentiments.

Installation, from the DVD, is the usual click – click – click, and you’re done – straightforward and simple.

The user interface has been designed, it seems to me, to appeal to the hobbyist and is a bit retro.

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But, once past the opening screen, the interface reverts to a more familiar classical layout – as illustrated in the following screen capture.

The following screen shots represent a walkthrough in choosing, and then emailing a personalized Christmas card. Clicking on any graphic will expand it to it’s original size. Since these shots were captured on a 22 inch screen, they are very large.

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I’ve chosen a rather sentimental card – but aren’t all technologists sentimental?  You’ll notice that there are an abundance of tools and selections available so that you can customize to your hearts content.

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Rather than having to stay with an old familiar message, you’re sure to find just what you’re looking for with the extensive “greetings” menu.

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Adding sounds, and music to your card is a snap, and adds that “just so” finish.

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Emailing your creation, or sharing it on Facebook and YouTube, couldn’t be easier. Simply select, and go for it!

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I’ve been using this type of application for years, but Hallmark Card Studio 2011 is a major step up from what I’m use to. The choices and customization possibilities seem endless – very impressive.

Despite the fact that I’ve been using this application for only a few days, and I have yet to really dig below the surface, I have no hesitation in recommending Hallmark Card Studio 2011 to those who enjoy that special feeling that comes from construction their own greeting cards.

The application is available at $29.99 at the the publishers website here.

System Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, Win 7.

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, Digital Media, Email, Interconnectivity, Productivity Software, Software, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP, YouTube

Wipe Out Unwanted Photo Elements With Free PhotoWipe

As an amateur photographer (very amateur), I know how hard it is to get that perfect picture. Countless times, over the years, I’ve ended up with the perfect shot only to have it spoiled by one small detail that if removed, would enhance the photo a great deal.

PhotoShop of course, is a terrific software product for all sorts of photo manipulation, including removing unwanted objects from photos. The downside with PhotoShop is, the learning curve is particularly steep. As well, PhotoShop is definitely at the upper end of the price range for software, and probably out of reach of the average user.

Recently, I came across a great little (1.5MB), free Windows application, PhotoWipe, (last updated March 18, 2010), a basic photo editing tool which makes it easy to get rid of unwanted elements from photos.

The GUI is very simple since it includes just a few basic tools.

photo effects editor

Using PhotoWipe doesn’t require that the user learn a complicated process.

All you need to do is:

Open the image to be worked on.

Paint over the parts to be removed black, using one of the brushes which are available in a number of sizes.

If you make a mistake you can use the eraser tool to correct your error.

Use the built in preview viewer to check your work.

Save your new file.

Take a look at the photo below, taken from my Dock a few summers ago, which shows an unsightly TV tower deep in the background.

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Using a simple PhotoWipe tool and bingo! No more ugly TV tower.

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PhotoWipe does a good job when removing, or repairing, minor elements within a photo, but don’t expect miracles. Even so, it should be part of every amateur photographer’s image editing toolbox.

System Requirements: Windows 7, Windows Me, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows Vista, Windows NT, Windows XP

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, downloads, Free Photo Applications, Freeware, Photo Tools, Software, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Blender 3D – Open Source Animation to the Max

image Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be a James Cameron, or a Steven Spielberg, and watch your dreams and creative impulses take shape before your eyes?

Imaginary worlds, imaginary characters come to life; through the magic of computers and software.

I’m not an artist, a movie producer or director, but I like to “fool around” with creative software of every stripe and color. I suppose that goes with the “geeky” side of my nature, and I do have some experience with 3ds Max.

Last year, I came across an astonishing open source, cross platform program, capable of building complex and realistic simulations, and interactive 3D applications.

Blender is an incredibly robust 3D software animation program. It’s been designed for modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging, skinning, animating, rendering, particle and other simulating, non-linear editing, compositing, and creating interactive 3D applications.

The program is made up of a feature set that is characteristic of high-end modeling software such as Cinema 4D, 3ds Max and Maya. These features include advanced simulation tools including rigid body, fluid, and soft body dynamics, modifier based modeling tools, powerful character animation tools, Python for embedded scripting, and a node based material and compositing system.

Take a look at a number of movies and videos (just click on the pic), created with Blender; I guarantee that you will be astonished!

My Australian friends will love this first one!

Blender new 1

Blender new 2

Blender new 3

Blender new 4

In a review of this type, it’s  not possible to adequately describe all of the advance features that make up this incredible software package. Only selected features have been highlighted review, and there are many more features other than those noted below.

Features:

· Revolutionary non-overlapping and non-blocking UI delivers unsurpassed workflow

· Flexible and fully configurable window layout with as many screen setups as you prefer

· Undo support on all levels

· Anti-aliased fonts with international translation support

· Windows for animation curves/keys, outliner, schematic scene diagram, generic node editing system, non-linear video sequence editing, character animation action editor, non-linear animation mixer, image/UV editing, file/image selection and file management

· Built-in text editor for annotations and editing Python scripts

· Graphical user interface for Python scripts

· Custom themes

· Consistent interface across all platforms

Rigging:

Rigging

· Fast skeleton creation mode

· Interactive 3D paint for vertex weighting

· Fast envelope based skinning

· Mirror editing (bone creation and weight painting)

Animation:

· Armature (skeleton) deformation with forward/inverse kinematics

· Auto IK allows posing FK chains easily

· Non-linear animation editor for mixing individual actions created in Action editor

· Automated walk cycles along paths

· Animated constraint system

· Vertex key framing for morphing, with controlling sliders

· Edit and create new blend shapes from existing targets

· Character animation pose editor

3D/Game Creation:

Game 1

· Graphical logic editor for defining interactive behavior without programming

· Collision detection and dynamics simulation now support Bullet Physics Library. Bullet is an open source collision detection and rigid body dynamics library developed for Play Station 3

· Shape types: Convex polyhedron, box, sphere, cone, cylinder, capsule, compound, and static triangle mesh with auto deactivation mode

· Discrete collision detection for Rigid Body simulation

· Support for in-game activation of dynamic constraints

· Full support for vehicle dynamics, including spring reactions, stiffness, damping, tire friction etc

· Python scripting API for sophisticated control and AI, fully defined advanced game logic

· Support all OpenGLTM lighting modes, including transparencies, Animated and reflection-mapped textures

Modeling:

Modelling

· A range of 3D object types including polygon meshes, NURBS surfaces, Bezier and B-spline curves, metaballs, vector fonts (TrueType, PostScript, Open Type)

· Very fast Catmull-Clark subdivision surfaces with optimal iso-lines display and sharpness editing

· Full multiresolution sculpting capabilities with 2D bitmap/3D procedural brushes (Paint, Smooth, Pinch, Inflate, Grab) supporting symmetry

· Modifier stack deformers such as Lattice, Curve, Armature or Displace

Rendering:

Rendering

· Very fast inbuilt ray tracer

· Over sampling, motion blur, post-production effects, fields, non-square pixels

· Tile-based and fully threaded

· Render layers and passes

· Render baking to UV maps (full render, ambient occlusion, normal, textures)

· Render engine tightly integrated with the node compositor

· Halo, lens flares and fog effects

· Vector motion-blur post-process effect (using node compositor)

· Realistic defocus (DOF) post-process effect (using node compositor)

· Edge rendering for toon shading

· Interactive preview rendering panel in any 3d view

Shading:

Shading

· Diffuse shaders such as Lambert, Minnaert, Toon, Oren-Nayar, Lambert

· Specular shaders such as WardIso, Toon, Blinn, Phong, CookTorr

· Node editor for creating and mixing complex materials

· Material previews rendered by main render engine

· Fast, realistic subsurface scattering

Physics and Particles:

Physics

· Particle system can be attached to any mesh object. Control methods include weight painting, textures, curve guides, wind and vortex effects. Particles can be deflected by moving geometry

· Hair strands can be created by a static particle system, supporting all particle control methods

· Fluid simulator with fully animated inflow, outflow, obstacle and fluid objects. Gravity and viscosity settings can also be animated. Supports vector blur and is integrated with the particle system

The Blender Web Site is an astonishingly complete site which includes the following: Features & Gallery, Download, Tutorials & Help, Community, Development, and e-Shop.

If you’ve ever wanted to try 3D creation, then this solid, free program, will more than meet your needs.

System Requirements:

Windows 98, ME, 2000, XP, Vista, Windows 7 (64bit compatible).

Note: The 64bit release of Blender for Windows is still in a development stage: it doesn’t support all possible features yet, like FFMPEG, OpenAL and Quicktime.

Mac OS X (PPC and Intel)

Linux (i386)

Linux (PPC)

FreeBSD 5.4 (i386)

SGI Irix 6.5

Sun Solaris 2.8 (sparc)

Download the latest version (2.49b), from the Blender Foundation .

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, Digital Media, downloads, Drawing Software, Freeware, Geek Software and Tools, Multimedia Tools, Open Source, Windows 7, Windows Tips and Tools, Windows Vista, Windows XP

Serif DrawPlus SE – Outstanding Free Vector Graphics Application

image SerifSoftware puts an interesting and unusual twist to the common “try this application for free for 30 days”, something with which we are all pretty familiar.

Serif releases free, older versions, of their current software for download – to entice at least some users to upgrade to current versions of their popular software. In my view, this “creative marketing” is something more software developers should consider.

I have used, and tested, Serif’s free editions for 10+ years now, and I have found that even their older software is more than up to the tasks I set.

Sure, the applications may be older than the current versions, but in terms of functionality and features, generally you are not missing much. In these older free versions there are not as many tools as one might find with more recent versions of Serif’s products, but those that are there, tend to be the ones that are most used by typical users.

Despite the slightly “older” appearance of DrawPlus SE , this is not an old program that’s been revived just for give-away. DrawPlus SE is still an amazing free drawing and graphic application, with which you can turn out vector graphics, high-impact graphics, and even web animations with tools usually only available in high end applications.

Serif SE

On top of that, DrawPlus SE is also a graphics design program that allows you to create logos, high quality print graphics, artwork, drawings, animations, labels and more.

Serif SE 2

The straightforward and intuitive interface is simple, but surprisingly powerful, so even first time users will get professional quality results.

If you like special effects, DrawPlus SE is loaded with them, so it’s easy to create high impact text for headlines, logos, banners, Web pages, or wherever your imagination takes you. You can add bitmap, conical, ellipse, plasma, radial and linear fills to your creations to produce spectacular results.

DrawPlus SE supports industry standard bitmap and vector formats including: JPEG, BMP, EMF, WMF and PNG for the Web.

Fast facts:

Drawing & Sketching – Say goodbye to complicated tools and ‘shaky hand’ drawings. DrawPlus makes drawing simple with easy to use Quick Shapes, Natural Curve Editing and Curve Smoothing.

Export Optimizer – Easily export your drawings and images optimized for email, websites, printing, or to your specific requirements in any supported image format.

Studio Resources – Choose from hundreds of pre-set lines, fills, transparencies, fonts and Wizard elements from the Studio tabs to save yourself time and still achieve amazing results.

Color Selection – Apply color fills to backgrounds, shapes and your own drawings from the simple on-screen studio palette.

Animation Mode – Bring your designs to life with the fun animation tools, which include easy-to-use, yet advanced features like onion skinning, backgrounds, overlays and frame management.

Blends – Use the blend tool to automatically ‘morph’ two images into one another. You choose the number of steps and let DrawPlus do the rest – easy!

If you’re looking for a free drawing and graphic application to test your creative skills, then DrawPlus SE will fill the bill admirably.

System Requirements: Windows XP (32 bit), Vista

Download at: Download.com

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Filed under Arts and Crafts, downloads, Drawing Software, Free Full Versions, Freeware, Photo Tools, Productivity Software, Software, Windows Tips and Tools