Random Tip #6: Pixabay

Snow Leopard photoThe snow leopard got your attention didn’t it? There is no question that graphics appeal to audiences, no matter their age. Color, layout, subject matter, tone….all are visual design qualities that engage the interest and imagination. When Microsoft Office did away with embedded clipart in their software, I had to turn to other “free” options, such as: 1) Clipart websites with popup ads; 2) Google image searches, which would require citations/attribution; or 3) Use my own photos. While #3 is fun, it’s time consuming. #2 is reasonable, but citations are cumbersome, and they don’t actually cover me legally for copyright infringement (though, citations do set a positive example for students). #1 = annoying.

I never really invested a lot of time in finding websites with free images that I didn’t have to worry about using, but when I accidentally found Pixabay through a design website I was using, it was like getting a “free pizza for life” coupon. I feel like the rest of the world knew about this website, but no one clued me in. So, if I’m not the last person to find this resource, go check it out!

Other than free and easy use of quality images, here are a few other qualities I like about Pixabay:

  • Details about the photo are provided (e.g., camera lens, shutter speed, etc.), which makes it a learning experience for photographers who want to take their own photos.
  • Three size choices are generally provided, so you can choose the file size and graphic dimensions without having to crop/edit.
  • There are three different types of media: photos, illustrations and vector graphics (think cartoons or clipart like graphics), and videos
  • License and use information are provided with each graphic. Generally, they’re CC0 Public Domain, free for commercial use, and no attribution is required. You can also modify the image, so that if you want to use Photoshop/GIMP to remove the background, then that’s fine.
  • Signing up provides an account where you can keep track of your favorite images (by clicking on the star as you roll over the image).
  • They have a Facebook page that updates daily to share a good looking photo. Since it doesn’t fill up my feed with senseless posts, I like it. Also, in December 2015, the website had some stability issues, but the site creators were on their Facebook page responding to our cries for access. So, if you’re having trouble accessing the website, check their Facebook page to see if it’s a major issue (or if it’s just you).
Caution signCaution #1….there are links to Shutterstock images, which aren’t always free or Public Domain. These are marked with the Shutterstock watermark. Look before you click.

Caution #2…..you can lose hours and hours of your life going through the website and downloading images for future presentations/projects. You have been warned.

Here are good insights about the use of the Creative Commons (Public Domain) images (Please ignore the article’s typos, as the rest of the content is worth your time.): Public Domain Image – What is allowed and what is not?

Here is the link to Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/.

I’ve included some examples below, but it’s best to just go and explore the website yourself.

Samples images from Pixabay

BeFunky….everyone can use a bit of funky

Name: BeFunky
Cost: Free for some features ($25/year for full features)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 4/5

BeFunky logoThe first draw towards this tool was the title: BeFunky. I’m not really the funky type, though I sometimes accidentally hit on funky and claim that it was intentional. The second draw was the website’s slogan: Photo Editing and Graphic Design Made for Everyone. Since I’ve spent more time as a student than not, I’m all for gaining ground on other careers without going back to school. The photo editing aspect is like PicMonkey, though perhaps with a few other options, such as adding mustaches to your photos. The tool allows you to create collages to bring together several photos (and perhaps add text), along with a “Designer” mode that provides templates for a variety of situations (e.g., creating a menu or invitation image). I am not at a “social” point in my life, where menus, invitations, and thank you cards are needed, but I’m realizing that perhaps my blog could use a bit of help. I generally let my photos and graphics speak for themselves, but the design aspect of this tool allowed me to consider how text can enhance the photos.

BeFunky's Artsy Options

Like PicMonkey, there are themes and overlays you can add to your photos. Here are a few options.

Goal: Find an easy to use tool for creating graphic design like projects or graphics (with text) to use in the classroom.

Benefits:

  • There is a brief tour when you first get started, though the tools are fairly intuitive. As you use the tool, there are pop-up windows with further insights, so just start clicking if you need more tutoring.
  • No login or registration is required.
  • There’s an app version.
  • Really easy to use. Start with a design template. Swap out the photo for your own (even adjust the photo coloring, etc.), if you don’t like the one in the template, and then modify the text as needed. Done.
  • Your completed photo can be saved as JPG or PNG to your computer or you can upload it to various social media options. Quick and easy.

Drawbacks:

  • Slightly addictive. There are several free templates and other features to play around with, so be prepared to drop into the abyss and lose hours at a time.
  • If you are even a little experienced with graphic design (and related tools), then this tool is too simplistic for you since you don’t need to start with simple templates to edit photos and add text. (But if you’re pressed for time, then see the Benefits listed above.)
  • Related to the previous point, the infographic templates are simple, yet tedious to swap out the existing information in the template. I would not use BeFunky for these types of projects. (See Piktochart instead.)
  • If Flash crashes while designing, your work is completely lost.
  • In order to access some graphics, you need to create a login. (But, the “free” options are pretty nice if you choose Pixabay.)

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Random Tip #5: Free Power Point Templates

FPPT.com logoThis website wasn’t extensive enough to be categorized as a tool and warrant a full review, so I opted for a Random Tip. You do need to be familiar with PowerPoint (and have access to that software) in order to find any value in this post. The FPPT website (www.free-power-point-templates.com) provides access to a variety of PPT templates that can be used in almost every situation (e.g., business, education, medical, religious, etc.).

Some things to be aware of:

  • There are advertisements on this website–some in the form of links that look like they’re part of the website’s content, and others are annoyingly flashing. The ads also slows down the loading process of the pages.
  • You need to download a zip file to obtain the template.
  • Although text can be added/changed on each slide, along with modification to the layout, you cannot change the graphics on the slides. For example, there was a beach graphic on a slide that I wanted to swap out with a different photo, while still keeping the same overall design.
  • Most of the templates don’t have the diversity in slide design that is available through MS PowerPoint. In other words, you get a title slide and text slide (i.e., two slide designs) versus MS PowerPoint templates. There are exceptions, where the FPPT template will have a few different slide designs for the template, but you don’t know that until you download and open it.
  • For several of the templates, you can remove the FPPT logo/website. I didn’t see any mandates on the site that you need to give the website credit for the template.
  • There is a blog with some interesting insights about using the different templates. There isn’t an indication as to how often the blog is updated.
The highlight of this website is that it provides backgrounds for slides that might be more professional or graphically designed than what you might be able to do on your own. The zip file you download will have the JPG version of the background graphics, so you can add it to an existing PPT you’ve created if you don’t want to copy/paste all your content into the PPT template file you download. This is especially good for those folks who can create their own templates (modifying font and layout as needed).
FPPT.com category view

To find the categories of all the templates available, either click on a “tab” at the top of the screen, or scroll to the bottom of that first page to see these buttons.

Not-So-Free: JibJab

As I dig through the Internet for digital media tools and the like, I often come across tools that seem free, but are not. Sometimes I don’t figure out that they aren’t free until I’ve already downloaded software or tried to save my final product. All of the reviews on my blog will indicate how “free” the tools are, but there are tools that are deceptively not free, which I find frustrating. So, here is a head’s up about a not-free tool.

JibJab logoThis website is hysterical! The premise is to use headshot photos of yourself or others you want to include in the video and insert the photos into an ecard (video) where the characters will dance and perform other silly acts. For a classroom setting, I can imagine this being a good icebreaker to show students you have a sense of humor. On a personal level, these ecards are likely to garner many “likes” on Facebook, especially if you don’t have the permission of friends/family to use their photos in the ecard.

JibJab Roller Disco sample

Yep, this is me as a Roller Disco (Fabulously Dressed) woman. As you can see, getting a photo without any of my hair would be a better option for this tool. (In the original, I was outside, so the lighting is way off for this scene.)

I wasn’t too sure I wanted my students to see this silly side of me, but I thought that I’d create something to post on Facebook (which students don’t generally have access to). I uploaded a headshot of myself after choosing a template to work with. You have to maneuver your headshot to make sure the eyes line up with the guideline (which gives the software a sense of where to place your face on the character when it’s moving around). It seems ideal to choose a photo where you’re looking at the camera straight on. (I also have long hair, so much of it was cut off to fit in the oval template.) You also have to indicate where your mouth is so that the chin can move up and down if there is a singing component to the video. I didn’t add other photos other than my own, so the characters performing around my character were generic.
I was really excited to see my face taking part in a holiday cartoon scene (which was a sled race). My character got to the top of the hill, got on her sled, started to race her opponent, and then stopped. Well, she kept going, but I couldn’t see the rest of the video unless I paid for it…$4.99 to download. Or, $18/year for ad free membership, though you still pay $1.99 to download your creation. I guess this isn’t too bad, but nonetheless, it isn’t free or worth my time if I don’t intend to pay.¬†Note that when you create an account, you’ll get emails from JibJab to entice you to subscribe to the pay version or finish what you started.
JibJab Sled Race sample

This is me ready for my sled race.

JibJab is all over Pinterest as the holiday approaches, so if you’re willing to invest money to have a funny ecard with your mug on it, then check it out. Otherwise, don’t fall prey to this not-so-free tool.

Random Tip #4: Seeing in color “blindness”

As an novice photographer and mostly self-taught designer, I have a notable appreciation for color. I especially like greens complimented by golden-orange or blues complimented by subtle-yellow. I digress. My point is that I often design with colors that have as much of a visual impact as emotional impact on my audience (or me). A few years ago, I made a significant technical writer faux-pa when I designed my slides to have a gray background and keywords to be bright orange. To a color blind student, the orange key words blended into the background so they were nonexistent to him. Not very helpful. I had to read everything aloud to make sure he could note the “invisible” words. After his feedback, I made all the text black or white and the key words bold. The online platform I teach with does not translate underscore, small caps, or italicized text, so color or bold are my only options.

Colorblind simulation

The homepage has a simulator for common colorblindness

Rather than being restricted in my color options, I realized that I needed to see my design through the eyes of the colorblind. The We Are Colorblind website is an educational website to help me see what works and what doesn’t work. While the website is not actively updated, the few examples are good ways to start to understand how every day designs don’t consider the colorblind population. Even just scrolling through the simulated colorblindness tool on the home page is interesting.
Colorblind good/bad examples

The website provides a few examples of common visuals that work and don’t work for the colorblind

Slides.com…simple slides–no twists and turns

Cost: free (limited options)
Type: Internet tool
Rating: 2/5

Slides.com LogoAt this point, you may be asking, “What’s wrong with PowerPoint? Why keep reviewing different slide presentation software options?” Honestly, I like PowerPoint (even the older versions). But, I fear that my use of PowerPoint for many many years has stunted my creativity and design abilities. I don’t often even try different features in PowerPoint any more. It’s not the software’s fault, but my “shortcut brain” taking the easy route every time I open PowerPoint. So, I keep looking for different tools on the Internet. It’s kind of like looking for a new job when your current job isn’t so bad….job searching helps you appreciate your existing job (at least for a few months). Slides.com is a free tool, but probably doesn’t meet my needs as a way to engage student interest or further develop my design skills. To me, it seems like this tool was developed for a specific group of users, though the website is not clear on the group they’re really trying to appeal to.

Goal: Create “inspired” presentations

Slides.com Workspace View 1

This is what the blank workspace looks like

Benefits:

  • Allows you to add math and programming code. I teach writing (English), so I don’t have use for these features, but perhaps math and IT instructors recognize the value.
  • Forces me to consider simplicity in design, as the themes are not graphically focused (e.g., colored background with white/black font).
  • Although I have not tried this feature, you can use your smart phone to advance slides while giving the presentation. Kind of a cool idea if you are not standing next to your laptop when giving a presentation.
  • I really like the gridlines in the workspace to help me line up graphics and text. I’m not very good at eye-balling it without guidance.

Drawbacks:

  • There is a quick tutorial when you first open the workspace, but it really doesn’t provide many insights. If you know what you’re looking for and why, then the blog and support pages are helpful, though not detailed.
  • No media library to draw from. It’s BYOM (bring your own media). And, there is a 10MB file limit on what can be uploaded.

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