Monday, March 8, 2010

Graphics Tool Box, A TOS Homeschool Crewmember Review

Little Mrs. Semi-Techie feels like Little Mrs. Not-So-Techie when it comes to any type of graphics software. This time was a little different. I still don't feel competent but at least I figured out how to make something after several hours of several days trying to create projects. I guess left brainers can learn how to be creative after all. Here is the story of how I stepped out on a limb to learn this new thing that actually turned out to be a little bit of fun.

 I received an email from TOS that assigned me to review a new software item called Graphics Tool Box and I became kind of excited. At the same time, I was scared out of my mind. I always fail at these kind of programs because I have shaky hands and don't think as abstractly as you might need to in order to be good at it. But I signed up for a training class and "got my groove on". The training class was done via the GOTO MEETING format online where a group of people telecommute to a meeting via phone and internet to learn about or discuss a program.

The first part of the training struck my attention right away when the teacher taught us about the program's "color stories," which are kind of like a painter's pallette. (I have done a little bit of painting in the past, with an instructor guiding me and as a novice of course--check out the painting in the top of my blog where it says,"Leaders in Learning". I actually painted that even though I'm not creative in that way.) I do like to talk about "stories" though. I like to write them  but in this software program, you "paint" them onto your page for background or font choices. This part of the lesson was interesting. You have a gazillion choices inside the color library from which to choose or you can make up your own color schemes up to 16 million colors. There is also a color finder in case you can't find the colors you want. There were many, many "gadgets" to use in decorating projects from patterned borders to shape benders to pattern creators and duplictors to help you make your own designs and all kinds of creative tools. I'm sure I didn't even skim the surface of what this program is capable of helping one to create.  Once I figured out how to make something, it was really fun to play with.

I have to admit that I was probably one of the few who were quite unfamiliar with the terminology used in graphics programs so it was a bit overwhelming to take in all at once. I'm a bit of a chicken to ask for personal tutoring in the presence of my collegues who may likely be more technically apt than I so I just listened and watched the screen.  The good thing is that the teacher/creator of the program gave ample opportunity to ask questions so I listened and learned as others asked questions or while she demonstrated varous features of the program.

Later on, I was pleased to see that many of the training sessions became available to download. This enabled me to slow down and stop them when necessary to learn what to do. As I have already stated, I get frustrated easily with these types of programs and being able to take my time with this one helped.  I'm not an airhead but creative things like this make me feel like one since others can easily use them and I struggle so much to figure them out. (I can read technical manuals and product instructions, even encyclopedias and enjoy myself thoroughly doing so, but being artsy, well, that is another story.) This definitely had a learning curve but it was worth climbing up there to investigate and achieve.

The tools utilized by this program work with:
  • color
  • drawing
  • framing
  • image manipulation
  • embellishing
  • page layout
  • scanning
  • zooming and panning
  • page layout
  • drawing tools
  • advanced graphics
  • help screens with shortcuts
  • a variety of options within each category

All of the training videos I watched are available right here on the company's website so that new customers can have visual examples of what can be accomplished through this program.  Several of my crewmates had a great time with their families while manipulating images and taking the heads off people and placing them elsewhere on other bodies. I laughed very hard at that but I didn't have quite as easy of a time creating things with this program as they did. I did eventually learn how to virtually trace, cut and move things around though, as you will see from the projects I share with you later in the review.

  I think one thing that helped was that there was a very detailed, downloadable manual. I printed it and consulted it as necessary. This was helpful for my brain that needed to consult written step by step instruction. I would also like to note that the customer service options were very good since unlimited technical support was available if I needed it and the creator of the program also communicated frequently to make sure that this reviewer was successful in trying out her product. I would imagine that this would apply to her customers as well. She went the extra mile to make sure we were all happy and knowledgeable about the product, sending us several emails which contained helpful information and samples of projects made by customers and reviewers. It was obvious that the creater of the program is highly experienced in graphics designing from her years in the fashion industry. Because of this, she originally created this product for use by professionals and then discovered that it would be a great tool also for homeschoolers and home business owners.

Of course, as a TOS Crew member, I received her product for free for 30 days in exchange for an honest review, but she was gracious to offer me and other reviewers a permanent license to use the program. I am really thankful for this as I think there is great potential for my family to benefit from the use of this software.

I am a published poet but I have thought for a long time about creating my own greeting and sympathy cards using my poetry and beautiful scenery. I just never could figure out any graphics programs enough to make something attractive. With this program, I think I made some progress in that category. I can't wait to play more with it when I have some spare time. Above is a picture I made for a possible sympathy card. I made a few mistakes on the spacing and I hadn't learned how to center it yet at that point so I would want to redo it, but you can see a sneak peek at what is possible. Of course, the limited text features are designed for brief use so if you want to add a poem in or lengthy text like I did, you might want to create your photo image or design in Graphics Toolbox and add text later, but even the text I used wasn't all that bad. They had several options for the font so it was useable at least.

I'd also like to make children's books based on some of my stories and story ideas. I would love to use this program to illustrate them and make them into ebooks.   One of my teen boys really likes to use "paint" and all three love our pets. Two of them sat with me while I created the following cute cards. I will at some point allow them to create some things too but we have recently had computer issues so I couldn't spare my computer time to let them play without me there.  Here are the "cards" or posters that I made. I'm sure that once I use the program more, I will improve in making things like this. 

Of course, these are not perfect, but that is because I am unskilled in the creative arts, not because the program doesn't have the capability for perfection on this. If you want to see some more professional looking creations, then visit the Graphics Toolbox website and the TOS Crew page. You will see what my crewmates and others were able to do. Click here for details.

If you would like to purchase this program for use in your home  or business, it will cost you $129.00 for your user license and you can download and start using it today. If you aren't sure but want to try it out, there is also an option for a free 30 day trial. They also offer specialized training at $65.00 per hour. This might or might not be feasible for the average homeschooler, but a business person might want to take advantage of this to learn how to create their own graphics for signs or letterheads or even products.  It would be good for churches, too! This could save money on hiring others to do what they could learn to do themselves with a little help using Great Software Tools', Graphics Toolbox. 

In summary, Graphics Toolbox is a program with almost unlimited possiblities for creating: cards, posters, scrapbooks, signs, logos,  advertisements, school projects, personalized stationary, books, educational materials, fashion designs, paper dolls, book covers, puzzles, pictures for your blog or website or any other creative idea you could cook up. For this type of program, the price is cheaper than professional grade programs on the market and it has many more features.

Even though I still had a little bit of a challenge in using it, it was easier for me than many others I've tried and it had more user friendly features. Once I worked with them a little bit, I saw that it was simpler than it looked. It did take a large quantity of time invested before learning all the features but that is somewhat expected if you're inexperienced in that area. I still had some frustration with not being able to go back and undo as much as I wanted to when I made mistakes but I was still able to create some things that looked alright despite my mistakes. (I could only undo so many layers back but this has to do with configuration and available space on your computer, I believe.)  The software does require large resources available to run on your computer. It will be interesting to see what types of projects I will be able to create over time and more use. I think this program has great potential.

If you want to read what other reviewers thought about this program, click on the banner on the upper right hand side of my blog. This has been a TOS Homeschool Crewmember review of Graphics Toolbox. To read more reviews of other products interspersed with parenting articles and general info on homeschooling and adoption issues, please browse my blog,  Leaders in Learning.

Thank you for reading my blog and review. Please feel free to leave a comment and come back soon.