Software for the aspiring digital artist

August 19, 2014

 So, you went out and bought a really cool program for your computer, only to find after you installed it that most features are locked unless you shell out ten times what it cost to get their “Pro Upgrade” or “Gold Subscription Plan.”


Like any product, software has to list somewhere on the package exactly what you are buying. Your excitement at finding a digital scrapbook-maker may supplant your desire to be a crafty consumer, but take a moment to look at the box.


Most professional-grade software is going to come with either a high upfront price or various subscription plans. As a digital media designer, I have used CorelDRAW Suite X6, X7, and Adobe Illustrator CC (on which I trained in college).


The full download price of CorelDRAW Graphics Suite X7 is $499. You can pay an additional $14.99 for insurance, which will save a copy of your download for two years so you can re-install it as needed.


If you would rather pay a lot less and do not mind re-upping annually, you can pay $198 for a subscription that will retain your download copy indefinitely, as well as qualify you for modest online training via Corel’s web videos.


CorelDRAW is a wonderful program, but not without its faults. If your images are too large, it will frequently lock up your system while trying to save, and then maneuver you into forced closure, destroying all your unsaved work.


Corel is generally “raster-based” drawing, which means the images you create are pixelated to a finite degree and must be viewed at a particular zoom level to have it look right. When you zoom in, the pixels are like staring too closely at an older model television screen.


Due to unavoidable compatibility restrictions on my current PC, I recently switched from CorelDRAW to the latest version of Adobe Illustrator CC. I learned Adobe Illustrator on a Mac and using it on a PC is a much different experience.


Adobe uses “vector-based” drawing that, unlike rastering, allows you to zoom in to the highest degree and the image will still be clear. This enables you to create the same design at the same quality for a street-side billboard as a tiny business card.


The catch is that Adobe’s monthly service plan ranges from $9.99 for photography-only, to $49.99 for full access to all of Adobe’s primary applications via Adobe Creative Cloud.


In order to become proficient in these types of software, you have to become intimately familiar with the various terms they use. Corel and Adobe have a lot of similar features, but they use an entirely different language to speak them., one of several training resources used by Adobe to explain their software, has an excellent program for learning how to use Adobe Illustrator and quite a few other Adobe programs, as well as web design in general. They even have courses in HTML5 if you like to code your own.


Still, there are so many things that can go wrong with a piece of code that often your design offers up radically different results than what you intended, especially if you are working with one browser and your website visitor is using a different browser.


In terms of interfacing, I highly recommend Wacom products. I have used a cheap inferior product and it really is a matter of getting what you pay for. I currently have a Wacom Intuous 5 touch Pen Tablet, medium size ($400 after tax and shipping), and it makes the cheap Russian knock-off I had before look like...well, a cheap Russian knock-off.


It has a highly refined sensitivity, with varying nibs to simulate the sensation of using an actual brush, pencil, or pen. Every now and then Wacom has driver issues, but I imagine that’s true of just about any non-plug-and-play device.


If you need a hard copy version, what you create digitally may look different from what prints out. I purchased an inexpensive, but highly rated, oversized, wide screen, high-definition flat screen monitor to plug into my computer. This set me back approximately $150, but its color range and spacious nature increase the resulting print quality.


Web design is part art, part science, and entirely tedious. If you aspire to put your work into cyberspace, you should at least attempt a rudimentary understanding of your website needs because this is how you represent yourself to the world.


Adrian Miller is a Field Service Technician with extensive electro-mechanical training and experience. He is the Zenith’s web and graphic designer.

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