Sunday, March 7, 2010

Review: Graphics Toolbox

I've always admired all the fancy graphics that others have created. In an effort to be equally creative, I've played around with MS Paint, included on most Windows computers, and similar programs. After each session I've come to the same conclusion: I'm terribly inept and my learning curve for graphics programs is flat. I've long written off being a graphics guru in my future.

When I found out that the Crew would be reviewing Graphics Toolbox, a powerful graphics program, I was both excited and nervous. Graphics Toolbox is the brainchild of Lynda Holler. Lynda's background includes 25 years in the fashion industry, where she used a powerful software program for her work. A number of years ago, she realized that there was not a professional level graphics program that was both easy to use and affordable for the average user. Together with William Tsao, the developer of the software used in her fashion work, Lynda created Graphics Toolbox. The end result was a program with intuitive and creative graphics tools, added functions for new users, and an affordable price.

I am not in a position to discuss in detail how this program compares to other programs available to the average person. I simply do not have the technical knowledge nor experience working with other programs. Some of the links below may help those a bit more knowledgeable better determine how Graphics Toolbox may compare.

Introduction Video
Graphics Toolbox vs. Other Window Programs
Download User Manual

When I first opened the Graphics Toolbox program for this review, I was overwhelmed. Granted, I'm overwhelmed with any graphics program. However, some of the functions that I had become somewhat familiar with on other programs did not work the same on Graphics Toolbox. There were also a number of things that looked entirely new. After a few clicks, I took a deep breath and closed the program. Luckily, the Crew was also offered some training sessions by Lynda.

Both my 13-year-old daughter and I attended a 90-minute tutorial titled Bobby at the Great Wall of China, where Lynda showed us the basics of the program as well as how to create a fun school project by manipulating photos. This tutorial, among others, is available at the Graphics Toolbox website. After seeing the software in action, it didn't seem so intimidating. My daughter was thrilled to find a program that she could use to color her hand-drawn pictures on the computer. Shortly after the session, she scanned in one of her drawings and added color. After adding some texture to the color and creating borders and ribbons to match, the first project was done.

After the tutorial, I as able to get up to speed with the basic functions. There are a few functions that I really like about the program:

  • the framing tool - various sized frames are provided to size out your final project. The rest of the space on the screen is used as a work area. Objects can be manipulated in the work area, and then applied inside the frame of the final project.
  • colors - there are many color options and the ability to create your own color card. For example, users can bring in blog and website colors and create a color card for potential designs.
  • zoom function - zooming in and out is as simple as placing your cursor over an area and rolling toward or away with the mouse's roller ball
  • ribbons and fancy lines - many options for easy embellishments

Lynda suggested that it is best to have a particular project in mind to learn, rather than just playing around with the program. For me, I found that to be true.

Inspired by the tutorial, I decided to play around with some photographs. My son absolutely loves Legos and he's always taking pictures of his various creations. I came up with the idea to place him in one of his many Lego projects. Using the irregular framing tool, I clicked around the outside of the boat that he made. Next, I found a picture of my son. Using the same irregular framing tool, I cut him out of the background and then resized the image. Next, I placed him on the boat. The background was found at Google Images. I resized the background image into my frame and then moved the boat with my son from the workspace on top of the image.

I do not scrapbook, but I have no doubt that the ribbon and color options would appeal to those who do. Below is a display of several of my daughter's drawings by hand. All roughly the same original size, I scanned them directly into the program. I resized and rotated the top two drawings. For the frames, I selected from one of the many patterns available and then copied a color directly from the the drawing I was framing. Once I had my page how I wanted it, I chose the striped ribbon to frame all the drawings. The original ribbon color didn't match, so I again pulled colors directly from the drawings and used the change color function.

I have barely scratched the surface with this program. Now that I have a better understanding of the basic functions, I look forward to playing around with the program and using it more for both fun and educational projects.

Overall, this was a very fun program to use after getting over initially being overwhelmed. To give it a try for yourself, I recommend that you take advantage of the free, fully-functional, 30-day trial Before downloading, make sure you check the system requirements in the FAQ section of the website. I originally had this program on our older computer, and it ran too slow for my liking. However, I had no trouble after downloading to a different computer.

Graphics Toolbox retails for $149. For more ideas on how to use this program as well as find more information on its capability, visit the Graphics Toolbox website.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew. I was given the provided with the product free of charge in exchange for my honest review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.


Mrs. White said...

You did far better than I did!! Great pictures!!

Mrs. White

TOSHeidi said...

Heidi~ you did an amazing job with this! I wish I could have got more into it - I tried, but felt so lost. I'm very impressed with both your daughter's artwork and the creations you made with GT. Way to go!

Mama Squirrel said...

What they said--congratulations for sticking with it!