My job as Director of Media, Communications, and Technology means that I have to handle a lot of tasks that involve a lot of different things. I’m in charge of getting CD and DVD Messages together, creating and updating multiple websites, creating advertisements, running internet social networks, and sending our newsletters and e-letters. In all of this I have to work with a lot of different applications. Frequently I’m asked how we do this. After being asked a few times I’ve decided to put all the information together in a list. And since I realize not everyone has the money to buy Photoshop and a bunch of other high priced apps, I’ve put in some cheaper and free alternatives. This may not be the best way, the easiest way, the most popular way, but for now, it’s how we do things.
The number one program that we use at work for graphic design is Adobe’s Photoshop. If you don’t know, Photoshop is the end all, to be all program. Every professional graphic designer either uses it or wishes they did. If they don’t, then they are the exception to the world. We use Photoshop for every visual print or web graphic, and even some in our DVD menus. Our message inserts, advertisements, and some more things are all done with Photoshop. I’ll get to the ‘more things’ later.
Though we use Photoshop, I understand not everyone can. Photoshop ranges from around $500 to $1500 depending on the suite and the version. You can get the normal Photoshop or an Extended version that does 3D and some other stuff, which costs more. If you get the design standard suite, you also get Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, and Bridge. Bridge is a program for organizing files, Illustrator creates and edits vector files, while InDesign does your desktop publishing. Acrobat makes and edits PDF files. All of these are professional standard programs. This means the magazines you see on the racks at Walmart, are probably made using this software (in some way, shape, or form). Photoshop also has a ‘lite’ version called Photoshop Elements, but if you’re serious about graphic design, I’d pass on it. Now if you want an alternative to this, you can always Google “free alternative to Photoshop.” But one of the big alternatives to Photoshop is a program called Gimp. For a free program, I’ve heard wonderful things about it. There’s also Krita, Adobe Photoshop Express (free web-based program), and Photoscape (among many others).
If you’re looking for alternatives to Illustrator, you can check out a program called Inkscape. It’s along the same lines as Gimp. And again, for a free program, pretty good. Again, you can do some Google searches and come up with some good stuff I’m sure. If you’re looking to buy a graphics program and don’t want to pay the high cost for Photoshop, you can do that too. There’s Paintshop Pro, Pixelmator, Pixel Image Editor, and many more.
I’m going to wait until I get to talking about how we do our newsletters to say anything about alternatives to InDesign.
As you probably can tell, I do a lot of photography. If you do a lot of photography or just do some and want to streamline the whole process, then I recommend Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. However at a price tag of $300, unless you do a lot of photography and need to edit your photos a lot, then you may just want to stick with doing this in a cheaper/free graphics program. There is a free program out there called DarkTable that tries to mimic some of the features of Lightroom. You can give it a try. I used it for about a week off and on before I decided to fork out the cash for Lightroom.
Since I’m putting this list together, I might as well add this. If you want to do some stylized photos and want to try some HDR, then check out Photomatix. It’s gotta a pretty price tag on it too – the Pro version is $100. But they do have another version that sells around $40 I believe. But if you’re going to get it, go all out. If you want to do some HDR, there are some alternatives. Nik’s software has a piece of software called HDR Efex Pro, however, it’s more than Photomatix. There’s three free alternatives that I know of, but they are free and it kind of shows. There’s Luminance HDR or QTPFSGUI as it’s also called, Picturenaut, and Essential HDR.
To make our newsletters we have used several different programs in the past. At one point we were using MS Publisher, which is what we currently use to make our e-letter. To do that, we create it in MS Publisher, then export it to MS Outlook to send out through email via MS Office’s features. Currently though, we use Apple’s Pages, which is part of Apple’s iWork suite. We occasionally Adobe InDesign as well whenever we do magazines. Scribus is a free, open-source program for page layout that you could use as an alternative to those. If you want a free, open-source office suit, try Open Office.
To edit our CD messages, we use SoundForge. However we used to use the free Audacity program. And for all of our video editing we use Final Cut Studio. Apple just came out with a new version of Final Cut Pro, which we don’t care for really. We’ve decided to stick with version 7 for all of our stuff. So for all of our video production, we use Final Cut Pro to do the editing and importing. To burn it to a DVD we’ve used a variety of things. To do a complete and professional DVD in the office, we use the programs that come in the Final Cut Studio suite. Those pieces of software include Soundtrack for composing music, Motion to do motion graphics, and DVD Studio Pro to actually make the DVD. However if you want to do some video editing you can try the free Avidemux, which does simple video editing. You could also look at HyperEngine-AV (Mac only).
Also, check out Light Works. It’s still in beta and is only available for PC, but by the end of the summer it is supposed to be on Mac as well. Also, it’s the video editor that was used to edit “The King’s Speech,” so you know it’s good. To make your own music on the computer you can use the Soundtrack program mentioned above, as well as Apple’s Logic Pro and Logic Express (both are meant for professional musicians, while Soundtrack is just meant to add a score to your videos) As far as free software, there isn’t much. But for video editing and audio editing you can check out some of Adobe’s Creation Suite. They have Premiere for video editing and Audition for Audio editing. Premiere comes in three versions as well – Elements, Express, and Pro. There’s also After Effects for motion graphics. Avid has ProTools and ProTools LE for audio creation and editing. You can also check out Sony’s software – Acid for audio creation, and Vegas for video editing, andDVD Architect for DVD and BluRay creation.
Like all other areas of media, there’s a lot of options. For web design, the options are as limitless as Google search results. However, this is what we do. To actually create our web site we use a Photoshop plug-in called Sitegrinder. This plug-in takes Photoshop files and converts them into HTML websites. From here we edit anything that needs to be edited in the code using various text editors. Right now I’m jumping back and forth between TextWrangler and Aptana Studio (both free). Of course if you invest in Adobe’s Creative Suite, you can use Dreamweaver to build your websites and get a visual and a code design interface. There’s cheaper alternatives to Dreamweaver though. Check out Coda, Espresso, RapidWeaver, and TextMate for Mac. You can also look into Web Image Studio, EditPlus. You can also just do a Google search for “alternatives to dreamweaver.”
If you’re looking for a free version, you can try Kompozer. I’ve tried it and I don’t care for it much, but you may be different. You could also look into Amaya, Bluefish Editor, Screem, and as I mentioned earlier, Aptana Studio.
After you get everything edited and fixed up you’ll need an ftp client to upload the site and most likely, you don’t want to use your host’s ftp. We use cyberduck, which works on PC and Mac. You can look into fetch and Filezilla also, as well as classicFTP.
Many people want to do podcast today as well. We actually take our messages and turn them into podcast, instead of actually recording programs in a studio or something like that. To do that, we edit the message as described above and then we cut them into podcasts and attached intro and exit tags in either Soundtrack or Garage Band. We then upload it using iWeb. However, with Apple discontinuing iWeb in 2012, we’ll have to figure out another way, which I’ll then probably update on here then.
That’s about it for now. I’ll update later on Mobile App Development, which we’ve started looking into recently. Now, the professional paid version of all these pieces of software is always going to have more features and be better, but the free, open-source versions aren’t really that bad in themselves. But with a little research, Google-ing, and asking others who have been there, you can find a toolbox of programs that works best for you.
So what about you? What do you use?