So just what do I need to know?

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So what do I need to know?

If you are new to computer graphics and are trying to decipher the role of each software — and therefore deciding which programs you need for your projects — you'll first want to understand some terms. Specifically, Bitmap vs. Vector vs. Page Layout. A bitmap graphic is a graphic made up of a map of pixels. The more pixels there are, the more detail is available. Almost always, files taken from a digital camera or a scanner are bitmap. Bitmap is a good format for photography and artwork with complicated texture or lots of detail. The main drawback of bitmap graphics, is that you can't scale an image larger than the size it was captured without loosing quality.

Photoshop mainly deals with bitmaps. It's great for retouching photos, compositing images, creating digital art in the bitmap format and making web graphics. For web sites, Photoshop is an excellent tool for creating mockups of the site and exporting the graphics to be used into Dreamweaver or HTML. Adobe Fireworks is an alternative to Photoshop for web graphics.

A vector graphic is "resolution independent". That means you can scale it to any size without loosing quality. Unlike bitmaps, vector graphics are made up of many sets of mapped coordinates. Between each set of coodinates (points) a line is drawn (path) by the computer. Each path can be straight or have a curve and fills can fill the shapes created by the paths. Text, logos, pop art and line art and good candidates for vector graphics, due to their need of maintaining sharp, crisp edges...both on the screen and in print. Adobe Illustrator is a program that is especially good for working in the vector format.

Page layout software includes Adobe Indesign and QuarkXpress. Page layout software allows you to combine files from both Photoshop and Illustrator (bitmap or vector) with text, and has tools to manage multi-page documents. If you have a newsletter, catalog, newspaper, book, long brochure, etc., you're going to want a page layout software. There is some overlap... you can create a page layout in Illustrator and that's fine for a page or two. However for anything larger, you wouldn't have the multi-page tools that would make your job a heck of a lot easier. Photoshop should not be used for most layouts, as text (especially small text) usually prints low quality and fuzzy.

Lastly if you are into web design, you'll probably be interested in Dreamweaver, Photoshop or Flash. Flash however, is not the first software I would recommend learning if you are a beginner. Flash can be very cool, but if neccesary it should be used sparingly. The problems with sites  built entirely in Flash include poor search engine rankings (it's very hard to get your site indexed properly), they are much harder to maintain, and adding dynamic features are more complex. That said, some Flash or javascript effects can go a long way. More important to a beginner would be to focus on Dreamweaver, Photoshop and/or HTML/CSS. If learning how to add interactive features like ecommerce, social networking, blogs, forums and giving your clients the ability to manage their own content interest you, I highly recommend either Joomla or Wordpress. This type of software is open source (no cost) and requires little, if any programming experience (html/css is helpful). Depending on your paticular needs and preferences there are other choices, and you could consider learning a programming language like PHP and MySql (database).

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