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I don't think my editor would be happy if I submitted just a couple of screenshots each month, but I can certainly enhance my text with pictures and graphics. You can, too. A few carefully chosen and placed graphics can add impact and clarity to a report, business plan or other document. Images are easy to come by-there are plenty of sources for high-quality photographic and illustration-quality graphics-so you should be able to find something to suit your needs. This month, we'll take a look at the tools for viewing and converting graphics files, as well as placing them into your documents.
Tools of the trade
Your ability to import graphics into a document depends on the graphics file format types supported by the program in which you are using the image. Most applications let you import graphics through a variety of filters. Microsoft Word and other popular word processors include filters for importing the most common formats (BMP, PCX, TIF, GIF and JPG) as well as a few esoteric file types. You can load these filters when you install the program or add them later as the need arises. Just run the application's Setup program and install the optional components.
If the application you're using doesn't include a filter for the image type you want to import, turn to a graphics conversion program. These programs run the gamut from only providing conversion capability from one format to another to enabling a full range of special effects and editing features. Paint Shop Pro, a popular shareware application you can download from the WinMag Web site, offers support for most image file formats. It also includes a good selection of editing tools and special effects filters. For example, you can apply a filter to a photograph to make it look like a stained glass window.
One popular image editor is Adobe's Photoshop 4.0. A "lite" version ships with PageMaker, or you can buy the full version of Photoshop separately. Like Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop includes a full range of editing tools and filters to let you touch up, modify and combine images to your heart's content. Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop and many other image editing programs also support image scanning, allowing you to save a photograph or transparency in any electronic format.
Using graphics in your document
Once you have an electronic copy of the image on disk, you're ready to incorporate it into your document. Paste the image from Clipboard or through an Insert command. In Word or Excel, go to the place in your document where you want to put the image, and choose Insert/Picture to open a cascading menu of all the Word-supported image types. A preview window shows you the highlighted file; click on OK to insert that file into the document. Other programs should have a similar command.
You'll want to use Clipboard to import images that originate in formats not supported by your application. All you need is a viewing program that supports the file type and Clipboard. Open the image, copy it to Clipboard and paste it into your document.
After inserting the image, you can resize it, crop it or change the way text wraps around it. You'll probably need to modify its properties within the document. For example, you might need to resize the image. To do so in Word, just click on the image, then move the cursor to the image's side or corner. The cursor will change to a horizontal, vertical or diagonal resize arrow, depending on which side or corner you select. Click and drag to resize the image. This doesn't cut anything out of the picture; it just condenses or expands the image.
When you crop an image, you're removing an unwanted portion. To crop, select the image and move the cursor to one of the sizing handles. Press Shift, and the pointer changes to a cropping tool. Dragging the cropping tool (continue to hold down Shift) creates a dashed line, indicating the picture's new border. When you release the mouse, the picture appears with the new border.
You can also use Word's Picture dialog box to crop and resize images. Select the image in your document, then choose Format/Picture to call up the dialog box. There, you can specify cropping, scaling and sizing information, and modify format settings for a frame if the image has a frame.
You might also want to change the way text wraps around the image. To do this in Word, you must be in Page Layout view, and you must frame the graphic. Right-click on the image and choose Frame Picture. Then select Format/Frame from the Word menu to bring up the Frame dialog. Click on Around to have the text surround the frame, or click on None to make the text flow above and below the frame but not surround it. To set the distance between the frame and the surrounding text, enter measurements in the Distance from Text boxes.
How about sound?
You might want to get really creative and link an image to an audio or video clip. You can take a frame from a video clip, paste it into a document and then link the image back to the clip. The reader can then click on the image to view the video clip. Here's how to do it: First, copy to Clipboard the image you want to use to represent the media clip. Next, go to the Start menu, select Run and type packager.exe to open the Object Packager. Click within the right-hand Content pane, then choose File/Import. Locate and choose the media clip you want to import, then choose Open.
Back in the Object Packager, click within the left-hand Appearance pane. Choose Edit/Paste to paste the image into the Appearance pane. Choose Edit/Copy Package to copy the package to Clipboard. Then, within the document, choose Edit/Paste Special. Make sure that Package Object is highlighted in the Paste Special dialog box, then choose OK.
The object will be inserted in the document and represented by the still image. When you double-click on the object, the associated media clip will play.
If you think you'll want to use your graphics application to edit an image once it's inside your document, then you should link or embed the image. To link to a document, select Insert/Object, then select Create from File; type in the filename you want to link or click on Browse to select it from Explorer. Select the Link to File check box and click on OK. To embed an object, copy it to Clipboard from a graphics program, switch to your document and select Edit/Paste or Edit/Paste Special. If you expect the image file to change, and you always want to have the updated version, link it to your document. This way, whenever you access your document, it will include any updates to the source file. An embedded image is static-it remains just as you last saved it inside your document.
If you find an image on a Web site that you would like to use in a document, it's a simple process to save the image. In Microsoft Internet Explorer, right-click on the image and choose Save Picture As. In Netscape, right-click on the image and choose Save Image As. Specify a filename for the image, and your browser will copy it to your hard disk. From there, you can modify it and incorporate it into your own documents. Keep in mind that many images on the Internet are copyrighted. Make sure the image is in the public domain before you call it your own.
Before we finish, let's take a quick look at image file formats. The most common formats that you'll use are raster (or bitmapped) and vector. Bitmap graphics store data in an image pixel by pixel. Some raster file formats use compression schemes to reduce the file size, which can harm the image quality.
Raster files can store high-quality, continuous-tone images such as photographs and images created in painting programs. However, resizing raster images almost always harms the quality, and raster files take up a lot of storage space.
Vector files store graphics differently from raster files. Vector files store definitions for graphics objects such as lines, circles and fills. In other words, vector files store the information you need to draw the image, rather than the image itself. You can move, resize and change the image's color without losing quality. That's why vector graphics are better for small type and bold graphics requiring crisp, clear lines. They are used for CAD graphics and line art.
Another file format is metafile, a hybrid format that contains raster and vector data.
Most Windows-based applications enable you to import raster, vector or metafiles into your documents. Clipboard generally offers multiple data formats. If Clipboard contains a vector graphic, for example, you can paste that image as a vector or as a raster image. To choose a specific data type, choose Edit/Paste Special. The Paste Special dialog box provides a list of all supported data types in Clipboard. Choose the type that will provide you with the greatest flexibility. If you are inserting a vector image and want to be able to resize it, paste it into the document as a vector rather than a raster image.
Contributing Editor Jim Boyce is the author of Upgrading PCs Illustrated (Que, 1997). Contact Jim in WINDOWS Magazine's areas on America Online and CompuServe, or at the e-mail addresses here.
Windows Magazine, July 1997, page 245.